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Building trust

Samson M. Mahari
Published:
November 19, 2018

What would you do if you found out that after years of studying, you couldn’t find a job because your degree was worthless? What would you do if you found out that the person you hired because of their impressive college degree never even went to graduate school? What would you do if a person applied to you for a job with a degree that you ultimately had no way of verifying? Despite the leaps and bounds that technology has made, these questions are still difficult to answer.

However, when it comes to the question of certification, these are questions that need to be answered. After all, a certificate isn’t just an official looking piece of paper. It’s the physical proof of an institutions endorsement of you. It’s a sacred confirmation given in recognition of one’s accomplishment. It is presented in the spirit of trust. But, if that trust is compromised, then it both loses its value and does irreparable damage to the reputation of both the individual and institution.

For as long as there have been “official documents”, there have been just as many fraudulent documents. This has been a near-global pandemic with few countries unaffected.

Cases of Fake Degree

Diwala is currently testing our platform in Uganda with our pilot customers, as our design research & last pilots has proven that they would benefit greatly from our service. The country has been rocked by a series of certificate fraud involving several educational institutions over the years.

Most of these cases involved the revelation that students from certain schools had managed to graduate, despite failing to meet the minimum requirements. Also, graduates of other institutions had either been denied the opportunity to secure proper employment or entry into a relevant union because the aforementioned institutions weren’t considered accredited. In addition, it came to light that several individuals who had managed to secure high ranking positions both in the public and private sector had used forged educational certificates to acquire said positions.

A Vocational School in Uganda explaining the challenges of fake and real certificates.

During a graduation ceremony at the Bugema University, the executive director of the National Council for Higher Education, John Opuda, warned against institutions partaking in the act of providing false certificates for a price.

“The council is aware that individuals….have been approaching institutions of higher learning to secure diplomas and degrees to meet academic qualifications to vie for various posts. If a university is found to be involved in this racket, there will be dire consequences. We cannot allow people to buy degrees,”

To put it bluntly, this is alarming. The integrity of these certificates and the institutions that issue them is dependent on trust. The issue of certificate fraud is still quite complicated, despite whatever measures are taken to ensure their authenticity, such as official seals, watermarks, specially designed paper/sheets and so on. For every measure that is taken, new methods of counterfeiting are being developed.

As if this wasn’t already a huge challenge, we also have companies that provide falsified certificates for “novelty purposes”. If its to be used as home decor or to replace lost or destroyed certificates with a novelty item. The reasoning might be fair and the items themselves are harmless enough, yet in this context, they contribute to an already overwhelming challenge for certificate verifying bodies.

Geographic Nightmares

Worldwide migration has certificate validation somewhat more difficult

When we take into account immigration and globalisation, this already complicated issue becomes increasingly challenging. This is especially true when considering the innumerable institutions that people can graduate from overseas, the various legitimate certificates these institutions can produce, the equally as many fraudulent copies that can come about and the vast amount of time, energy and resources required to thoroughly verify these certificates. Ultimately, so many different universities produce so many different qualifications that verifying all of them is challenging.

Earlier this year, an expose that aired on BBC’s Radio 4 reported that thousands of British nationals had purchased fake degrees and certificates from a Pakistani-based diploma mill. Within a two-year period, this organisation had sold more than 3,000 fake qualifications that included master’s degrees and doctorates to buyers based in the UK, raking in millions of pounds.

In a global study on occupational fraud and abuse, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners discovered that 13% of initial fraud detection was done through management review, which implies initial technical limitation and administrative negligence on the part of employers.

In a 2014 article published in the Guardian, HEDD reported that 1/3 of all job hunters in the UK had embellished on their resume at one point or another.

They added that this figure had been consistent. They also cited a couple of cases where individuals not only acquired certain positions through fake certificates but had committed other offences as well, such as embezzlement.

From the perspective of the law, it’s noteworthy that although it is illegal to apply for any job or school program using a fake degree, buying a fake degree isn’t considered a crime.

Blockchain to the rescue

To challenge the certification fraud problem all over the world, we in Diwala are using decentralised technology to build a platform that verifies peoples skills and education. With the platform we will provide a digital skill identity to individuals, acting as a proof of identity, ensuring the validity of one’s skill-set, education and certificates 📚

Like Sylvain Kalache, co-founder of the Holberton school states, blockchain do offer a much faster and easier solution for certificates in today society.

“It’s much more efficient, secure and simple than what you can find today in the industry…..It will also keep certificates safe and impossible to copy or hack”.

A key feature of blockchain is that it offers a secure and verifiable method of storing information. Translating that into this context, anything from a graduates name, field/school of study, grade point average and much more would be both securely stored and easily shareable within the network.

Also, because of the easy access, one would have through a networks node (an access point into a peer-to-peer/blockchain network (refer to list of key terms in the previous article The Basics of Blockchain)), the act of sending-receiving documents would be much faster and more efficient. Another benefit is that it requires a minimum amount of printed paper, if any. Not only would this be a reduced expenditure over time, but it’s also eco-friendly. 🌳

We are working hard to provide a service that will benefit all. Although our initial focus will be on Uganda, we will rescale our efforts for the rest of the world as soon as we can. Through our service, we will enable anyone to digitally store, share and verify authentic certificates on their phones, whether it’s a student wanting to ensure the integrity of their documents or an employer wanting the best person for their company.

We hope you’ll follow our journey and vision, to incentives growth and independence for all.

-Diwala 💜