25 February 2020

Blockchain has long been seen as an important tool to support initiatives focusing on social impact, and today there are hundreds of organisations around the world looking to implement blockchain in areas ranging from banking the unbanked and providing identity services for vulnerable populations to protecting land rights and combating climate change.

At our “Use cases for in social impact” workshop, held in Barcelona on 30 January, 2020, we took a deep dive into the subject with a number of practitioners working on the front lines of blockchain for good. Below are some highlights from the day.

Update from the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition

In the opening presentation, Vanessa Grellet, President of the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC), gave an update and learnings from the organisation’s latest work. Among the more impactful use cases BSIC has seen are identity and vulnerable populations, financial inclusion, supply chain and energy and environment. An analysis of 20 case studies out of BSIC and ConsenSys-related projects showed that most were connected to one or more of the UN SDGs, demonstrating that the SDGs do serve as effective guideposts for channeling activity.  On a positive note, some 40% of these projects were live and another 40% in advanced testing phase, showing the maturity of the space. That said, many social impact projects face hurdles in terms of regulatory uncertainty as well as the fact that many large actors remain uncomfortable with blockchain due to its connection to cryptocurrencies. And while funding is available for SDGs, it is often challenging to match funds with the right projects.

Supporting financial inclusion and empowering citizens

Grellet’s talk was followed by two panels featuring representatives from different projects focused on either financial inclusion or citizen empowerment. 

The financial inclusion panel focused largely on the role of stablecoins and local currencies.. Large stablecoin projects like Libra had a lot of potential for supporting financial inclusion, panelists said, particularly as they would likely be acceptable to institutional users, but they also raise questions in areas like governance and control. For these reasons, smaller local currencies, provided they had enough liquidity, provide an interesting alternative. To be successful, local coins need to be inclusive of the whole community, poor and rich. Central bank digital currencies (CBDC) could be a positive addition to the equation, helping the adoption of crypto currencies, but such currencies also raise privacy issues. 

During the citizen empowerment panel discussion ranged empowering knowledge workers to support a more democratic knowledge economy, the World Food Programme’s blockchain project to support Syrian refugees through grants of blockchain-based digital cash, as well as different approaches to blockchain-based e-voting for giving voice to members of different communities.

Blockchain for the World Food Programme

After the panel Bernard Kowatsch of the World Food Programme presented a deep dive into the WFP’s blockchain projects. Building blocks is a WFP project to provide cash transfers on blockchain that was first piloted in Pakistan and is now live in Jordan. The program provides cash to Syrian refugees in Jordan so they can buy food in stores using a ledger on the Ethereum blockchain. Blocks for transport is a project to create a digital platform to digitise the supply chain between Djibouti and Ethiopia, while The Atrium is an interagency development sandbox designed to enable collaboration across UN agencies who are interested in blockchain technology. Such knowledge sharing is important, Kowatsch said, as experience had shown that the solution for one use case is often transferrable to other contexts.

The day ended with a panel on the subject of using blockchain to reconnect people with society. Here the conversation turned largely on different aspects of the personal data/digital identity discussion. Fostering the sharing of data for the common good, panelists noted, is one of the promising use cases for blockchain, but this has to be done in a safe, privacy-preserving way. Doing so will require more user-centric digital identity approaches than we have today. That in turn means developing standards as well as improving the usability of applications designed to help users manage their own online identities. As in so many other blockchain scenarios, panelists also said that we need work on the legal and regulatory side before we can have truly user-centric identity regimes in Europe.

Workshop details

A detailed report on this workshop, including links to the presentations and the video of the day, has been published on our Reports page. 

The Workshop took place in Barcelona on 30 January, 2020.
There were 50 people registered for the event. 
Speakers and panelists included:

  • Vanessa Grellet (ConsenSys, BSIC)
  • Miguel Prados Rodríguez (Caja de Ahorros Digital)
  • Gustav Arentoft (MakerDAO)
  • Raphaël Mazet (Alice)
  • Franck Nouyrigat (Electis)
  • David Bovill (DEIP)
  • Bernhard Kowatsch (World Food Programme)
  • Ivan Basart (Validated ID)
  • Mara Balestrini (Ideas for Change)
  • Arancha Martinez (itwillbe)
  • Faustine Fleuret (ConsenSys, Moderator)
  • Ludovic Courcelars (ConsenSys, Moderator
     
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