Since its first introduction in 2014, “blockchain” technology has been garnering increasing attention across sectors. Originally designed as a backbone to support the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain is an “incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Despite the vexing technical complexity of this cutting edge technology, its potential to revolutionize economic transactions certainly makes it deserve a closer examination. Blockchain has the power to make financial transactions, supply chain, data collection and management, and tracking of assets, personnel, processes, and outcomes much more efficient, secure, and transparent. These benefits could lead to not just massive cost savings, but a more secure and transparent way of conducting its operations.
Engineers and practitioners are finding new potential uses for blockchain. Social impact is no exception to this trend. Although still in its nascent stages, leaders in the social impact space are beginning to explore how the cutting-edge blockchain technology can be applied to enhance the delivery of impact to the most marginalized.
On Friday June 1, the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC)hosted the BSIC 18 conference in Washington DC. The event convened tech industry leaders, blockchain experts, thought leaders, and practitioners in the business and social impact sectors to discuss and showcase the potential use of cutting-edge blockchain technology to make social impact more secure, transparent, and effective.
BSIC was initiated by ConsenSys, one of the leading blockchain software technology companies. The coalition seeks to leverage the
power of the Ethereum blockchain, one of many open software platforms based on blockchain technology that enables developers to build and deploy decentralized applications, to develop and implement blockchain products and solutions that can address social and environmental challenges across the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Lesly Goh, CTO of World Bank kicked off the all-day event by delivering the opening keynote remarks. Goh outlined the need to continue the efforts to provide access to digital economy to more than 1.7 million “unbanked” adults. The work of World Bank’s innovation lab is exploring blockchain use cases that help deliver this goal by building a digital economy, boosting the ability for marginalized population to the digital technology through STEM education, and brokering effective public-private partnerships to achieve greater active usage of emerging digital technologies
The keynote was followed by a host of panels and breakout sessions which covered a wide array of subtopics, current and potential use cases, and issues related to blockchain within the social impact sphere.
For example, Robert Opp demonstrated how the UN World Food Program is incorporating blockchain to its digital food voucher programs for refugees in Jordan. Rather than providing physical vouchers to refugees to purchase food items with, blockchain technology allows refugees to scan their iris into machines placed at designated grocery stores and digitally deduct their voucher balance when they make purchases. While this process itself can be done with conventional technology, blockchain technology allows for greater cost-efficiency because there is no need to go through third party intermediaries to complete the transactions. Furthermore, blockchain’s strong verification functions prevents potential frauds or misuse, making the transactions and protection of data much more secure. Opp mantains that “through blockchain, [WFP] aims to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies. Using blockchain can be a qualitative leap – not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community.”
GBC-Education member company Microsoft was represented at the conference by Yorke Rhodes (Founder Blockchain, Microsoft) who spoke about the company’s efforts to incorporate blockchain solutions to improve internal fulfillment logistics systems and to create sustainable supply chains. Another major area of Microsoft’s efforts to harness the power of blockchain technology focuses on exploring ways to standardize existing data formats and schema to ensure greater compatibility and smoother incorporation of blockchain with existing technological solutions.
Other notable use cases featured at the conference included Peace Tech Lab’s “Ground Truth Global” project, which seeks to use big-data, machine learning, and blockchain technologies to use locally sourced data to create indices based on locally sourced data to inform potential high threats and issue early warnings for economic and social disruptions around the globe.
Although still very much an emerging technology, blockchain holds vast promises for both business and social impact. As a shared infrastructure, there is ample room for actors from diverse sectors to collaborate to come up with applications that could revolutionize the way we conduct business, participate in global marketplaces, access essential services, and protect personal data and assets.
To see the full list of speakers and topics featured at BSIC 18, click here.
Also, check out the following links for further reading on blockchain:
- BlockChain: A Technical primer (Deloitte)
- MIcrosoft Azure Blog: Blockchain (Microsoft)
- The Truth about Blockchain (Harvard Business Review)
- The Blockchain Primer That George Washington Would Understand (Medium)
- Blockchain 101 (IBM)