Redshed: Investing in new solutions to aid

How aid flows and the speeds in which it reaches disaster zones and impoverished areas is a critical lifeline for communities across the world. The current system of aid flows - whilst playing an important role in supporting communities - is opaque, slow and costly. A Welsh social enterprise start-up called Disberse is working on a solution to this. Disberse uses blockchain technology with a goal to build a new financial institution for the aid industry. Its online platform enables donors and aid organizations to manage their funds globally and combats the loss in exchange rates and intermediary fees involved in aid flows. The platform is also looking at ways to improve the traceability of fund flows, current UN estimates show that up to 30% of official development assistance is lost to fraud and corruption.

An example of how it works is its pilot program working with UK-based charity Positive Women which reduced losses at delivery points for a Swaziland aid project to zero. Funds were tracked as they travelled from the UK to four Swaziland schools by way of a non-governmental organisation; the project's savings were enough to pay the annual fees for an additional three students.

Here at Comic Relief we have invested £250,000 into Disberse through our social investment fund, called Red Shed, as an equity investor. By being an equity investor, we are investing into Disberse as a long-term partner and shareholder in the social enterprise. How we would look to get our investment back could come from a number of ways including selling our stake in the enterprise, being bought out by another investor or Disberse being sold on to another organisation – all dependent on the growth of the organisation. This form of investment is still very new in the UK social investment market and only made possible through the unique nature of Red Shed and what it is looking to do around investing in new and innovative ideas. Here’s why we’re investing in Disberse:

  • We are keen to understand more about how solutions such as this that use a tech approach will change the way in which money is distributed.
  • How technology such as this can better improve efficiency and transparency.
  • Through Red Shed we are looking to use investment structures to support organisations that are looking to innovate and change the way services are delivered – Disberse is one such organisation.
  • This is the first ever equity investment that we invested in and we are keen to learn more about this approach.

Disberse has secured partnerships and contracts with donors including the UK Government Department for International Development, Start Network and the Dutch Relief Alliance and is looking to grow its activities by working with more institutions. 

We are looking forward to working with Ben Joakim and Paul Currion (the co-founders of Disberse who have collectively spent 30 years working in the aid sector) and to support them in the scaling up of Disberse as it looks to change the way aid money is mobilised. For more about Disberse please check out this article by Forbes on the enterprise and what is looking to do.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Comic Relief’s social investment work contact Amir at a.rizwan@comicrelief.com.