Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Nyamwange, a Byron, Illinois native, is behind “Etana,” a technology that aims to address the world’s identification problem. Nyamwange witnessed the direct impact of this issue in 2020 when she visited a shop owned by her aunt in Kenya. She observed that many women were unable to purchase products because they lacked a bank account.
She further realized that they had no bank account because they had no ID. That inspired her to find ways to address this problem. Nyamwange took an app development course and combined her passion for social justice with programming to start developing a device to fix the issue while attending the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.
The young entrepreneur consequently focused on creating a prototype. She bought a 3D printer and submitted a grant application to help with development. She claims she was able to collect more than $60,000 despite the difficulty of raising money because of her age.
Etana was eventually founded in 2021 as a result of the support, and just last year, through the Solv[ED] Youth Innovation Challenge’s three prizes, Nyamwange received a total of $36,000 for Etana, according to Shaw Local.
Per a statement, Etana is a blockchain-enabled solar-powered gadget that enables women to produce distinctive biometric digital identification without relying on internet or electrical access, which are not often available in nations like Kenya. Seventeen.com reported that the code she wrote for Etana “converts a physical fingerprint into a mathematical algorithm that uploads to a private blockchain server where it is stored and used as identification.”
Since blockchain is decentralized, Nyamwange explained that it is the only reason she even considered utilizing it. Essentially, she needed something that cannot be hacked, stolen, or faked. With Etana, she hopes to close the digital identification gap that many women around the world experience and enable women to participate in the most fundamental operations, including banking, obtaining employment, receiving healthcare, gaining legal protection, and more.
The device is being tested currently and the funding she recently received from the three prizes is being directed to get a patent, Nyamwange said. She will subsequently go into a pilot program.
Around a billion people globally, according to the World Bank, lack legal identification. Opening bank accounts, casting a ballot, and even purchasing a cell phone are difficult or even impossible without formal identity proof. Around half of women in low-income nations lack identification documents, which restricts their freedom and the resources they have access to. This problem disproportionately impacts women.