Blockchain For Social Good: Real Life Applications Non Profits Should Know
Similar to the emergence of the internet, the second wave of truly innovative technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence promises to transform business models and disrupt entire industries.
Blockchain (also called the distributed ledger), is the technology enabling cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum to facilitate a new era of openness, transparency, decentralisation, and global inclusion. Blockchain technology can host and manage an unlimited amount of digital assets through publicly distributed ledgers. The information contained in these ledgers cannot be forged or altered without immense difficulty once published. This data, in the case of public blockchains, is open and free.
There is still scepticism among the general population of the technology’s real use beyond the hype. The reason is that...
much attention is given to the implications of blockchain to commercial pursuits which often leaves the social impact of this technology under-appreciated; this is where the technology has its most significant power.
Let us not forget that the most prominent application of distributed ledger technology thus far, Bitcoin, was borne of a desire to see social change. Blockchain has the power to revolutionise the lives of those who need it most. While media attention is given to the speculative aspects of cryptocurrency, many projects exist quietly to empower and change humanity. Despite the popular view that the technology is over applied, some of the most impactful use-cases were driven by necessity.
Necessity is the mother of invention:
Necessity drives many practical applications of highly sophisticated technologies. While the average individual is still getting used to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the United Nations World Food Programme developed blockchain systems that support a 75,000-person refugee camp in Jordan. The systems consist of money transfers using iris scanning technology, which reduces reliance on local banks and improves the efficiency of the operation through lower transaction fees. Naturally, one may think that the lack of technological access would impose a limitation, but the very paucity of viable alternatives resulted in the implementation of technology that would be considered advanced by Western standards. This phenomenon is not new; the lack of banking infrastructure resulted in Africa having mobile payment solutions in 2007, ahead of developed countries, through M-Pesa.
Beyond payments, blockchain has the power to help refugees own their identity. When refugees are forced to abandon their home countries, many leave behind essential documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, passports, and ID cards. These documents are nearly impossible to retrieve after the person(s) have left their country, assuming they have not already been destroyed. These individuals become marginalised, and their existence becomes unaccounted for. Incredible projects such as ID2020, a non-profit public-private partnership with the support of large organisations such as Microsoft and The Rockefeller Foundation, is combining blockchain and biometrics to create a persistent form of identity.
NPOs of the future:
Another innovation that has been driven by blockchain technology is the creation of new types of decentralised collaborative organisations. In 2016 a concept known as the DAO was introduced. The DAO stands for Decentralised Autonomous Organisation. Christoph Jentzsch had a realisation: companies at their core can be broken down into a series of contracts. Employees and stakeholders have contractual relations. Realising this, work began to create the first company that was to live in lines of code on the Ethereum blockchain.
Imagine a company’s constitution and governing documents being transformed into code that was executed automatically by machine rather than man.
This organisation was stateless; it served planet earth. At its peak, it had 18,000 stakeholders. These stakeholders owned tokens (the equivalent of shares) in this entity that was controlled not by a board, but by the owners. It leveraged the wisdom of the crowd and had a fair system of voting and control. This project was shelved but the vision lives on.
While these organisations may seem impractical to effect change in the not-for-profit sector due to their inherent complexity, their benefits are numerous.
This technology allows the organisations in society that require the most trust, not-for-profit organisations, to be completely transparent.
Any interested member of the public can query the records, distributions, and decisions of the organisation. It would guarantee that the information the public sees is not fraudulent. While adopting such transparency can be daunting, not-for-profits must be brave in embracing the future. The author is part of a charitable organisation that is working on making this a reality in the Australian landscape. Tokens for Humanity is an ACNC-registered charity working on applications of blockchain technology specifically for the not-for-profit sector. Fundraising and governance are key areas the organisation is focusing on. The organisation adopts its own products, and when it launches in September of 2018, the public will be able to see live financials of the organisation and every decision its directors make.
The future of this technology in the not-for-profit space is promising.
Over time these structures will become commonplace and allow for effective organisational collaboration. A non-profit organisation would be able to leverage the collective wisdom of their volunteer staff and employees to receive real-time votes and feedback on important organisational decisions. These voters must belong to the organisation, which is easy to prove using blockchain. The detrimental impact of unconscious biases can be improved, marginalised employees such as those who identify as LGBTQI will have an equal voice when it comes to decision-making, and organisational opinion will be heard swiftly without identification. The ease of attracting funding will improve as the cost of capital will fall with such levels of transparency.
We are on the cusp of the most exciting period in the history of the not-for-profit organisation.
Peter Thiel famously created and popularised his concept zero to one. Taking a working idea that already exists and re-applying it elsewhere is a one to n practice – replicating without creating anything novel. Creating something genuinely innovative requires going from zero (nothing) to one (something).
Blockchain’s most inspiring and practical uses are found in social applications where NGOs and companies are truly moving from zero to one and re-inventing the way things are done using this technology.
About the authors
Bryce Thomas is co-founder of Tokens for Humanity, an ACNC-registered charity working on applications of blockchain technology specifically for the not-for-profit sector. Fundraising and governance are key areas the organisation is focusing on. He has a passion for finance and technology. Bryce holds a Master of Finance from UNSW and is studying an MBA.
Frederick Brien is co-founder of Tokens for Humanity. He has internal audit and business risk management experience from his previous role at a leading management consultancy firm. It was early into his working career when he discovered his interest in blockchain technology and its potential widespread application in creating process efficiency and greater accountability through improved records management and information flows.