BlocRecs: A startup that aims to combat degree forgery in Lebanon

The idea is to digitize papers while simultaneously protecting the data they hold.
by Maysaa Ajjan

15 April 2019 | 14:38

Source: by Annahar

  • by Maysaa Ajjan
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 15 April 2019 | 14:38

This photo shows Amir Abdel Bakie, Rawane Madi, and Hanady Al Ahmadieh. (HO)

BEIRUT: When LAU student Hanady Al Ahmadieh was applying for her Masters’ Degree, she was overwhelmed by the number of papers and transactions required. Not only that, but she was dumbfounded when a university in Europe asked her to manually mail them her Bachelor’s Degree, foregoing the use of emails and online applications.

It didn’t make sense to her, and at that time she was learning about blockchain and “how it makes data secure and immutable.” So, she got the idea of digitizing papers while simultaneously protecting the data they hold.

Although Al Ahmadieh was just an undergraduate student at the time, that didn’t stop her from teaming up with colleague Rossa Debian and presenting her idea, which she named BlocRecs, to Smart ESA accelerator in February 2018. She got accepted to the accelerator’s third cycle.

But Al Ahmadieh, who is now the COO of BlocRecs, was determined to prove that her idea of storing educational degrees on blockchain to prevent degree fraud was viable. She started taking online courses and watching educational YouTube videos to study “use cases” of blockchain, and she found out that a perfect use case could be the storage of educational certificates and degrees on blockchain.

Blockchain is a distributed database that cuts the middleman in any transaction/transfer process. For example, it cuts out the role of the employee when the user wants to send his degree or any document to another user in the blockchain network. Not only that, but it takes the document at hand and encrypts it, which means that while a copy of the encryption may be available to all the users of the network, it cannot be tampered with.

Amir Abdel Bakie, CEO of BlocRecs told Annahar that “blockchain protects any store of value and any sensitive information can be stored and they cannot be tampered with.”

Al Ahmadieh met Abdel Bakie when he was also a participant in SmartESA, while he was working on a dating app called 7abbayna.

As they neared the end of the acceleration phases, both founders found themselves in unfortunate situations: Debian decided that she didn’t want to proceed the work with Al Ahmadieh and chose to focus on her studies instead, while Abdel Bakie was floundering with his own startup without a cofounder by his side. He asked to join Al Ahmadieh’s BlocRecs, and she accepted. “I had completed my MA in Political Theory and was eager to contribute to a positive change in my country, and her idea gave me the chance to fight fraud and corruption without meddling in the political domain,” Abdel Bakie said.

After Al Ahmadieh proved her concept to be viable, a technical co-founder was needed to help turn it into a prototype; and this is where Rawane Madi comes in.

She is an old university colleague of Abdel Bakie who holds a BA in Computer Science and an MA in Cognitive Science, along with eight years of work experience in corporates. “I introduced Rawane to Hanady and the two hit it off instantly,” Abdel Bakie said.

Madi was able to finish the prototype by October 2018.

After that, it was time to find clients and start touring universities. Abdel Bakie, who was responsible for the business side of the startup, contacted over 10 universities in Lebanon, but they only got the executive approval of one: ESA.

He told Annahar that many universities weren’t interested. ESA, however, wants to put all of its students/alumni on the blockchain. The registrar only needs to upload the data of the students and each one becomes present as a profile (encryption) on the blockchain.  

Another agreement that Abdel Bakie secured was the Center of Excellence for Information Assurance at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “There was an old colleague of mine who worked in the research center of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, and I got him to pitch our idea to KSU. He’s been helping us sell our solution ever since,” he said.

On a local level, the co-founders are pushing for a solution to Lebanon’s degree forgery problem by asking for an appointment with Adel Afiouni, Minister of State for IT affairs, Akram Shayeb, Minister of Education, and Nadim Gemayel, Head of the IT committee of the Parliament.   

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