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Blockchain technology and its application are transforming environmental, philanthropy and NGO work. Here are 5 sectors of social impact where it is at implementation and/ or proof of concept stage:
Though Donald Trump wants to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord, cities, communities and companies around the world are forging ahead with projects and applications that aim to improve the environment and tackle climate change.
Carbon emission trading
Carbon trading has suffered from a lack of transparency, systemic corruption and low prices due to over allocation of credits. This has prevented investors from seeing carbon credits as an credible asset. Blockchain could be used to improve the system of carbon asset transactions by recording carbon assets on a public blockchain. If carbon emissions and credits were tracked transparently, consumers could understand the- negative and positive- environmental impact of the products they are buying at the point of sale, eco friendly purchasing could be incentivized through the collective scaling up of millions of micro-transactions.
Peer-to-peer energy trading
Energy production is becoming decentralized through microgrids as a result of the lower cost of solar energy systems and increased capacity of batteries. Indeed, India has been able to achieve a smaller price per watt for solar than coal. ‘Net metering’ is a billing arrangement that allows businesses and individuals generating their own electricity- from renewable energy sources-to feed unused energy back into their local power grid and receive a credit back for its retail price. Smart contracts on a blockchain allows customers to buy and sell excess energy from each other at agreed prices. In 2017, the EU signed the Tallinn e-energy declaration which has the aim of ‘digitising the energy market further’. Consumers will be able to buy, sell or exchange renewable energy with each other, using tokens or digital assets representing a certain quantity of energy production for trading. Though a lot of big electricity companies will inevitably push back against this disruption, the smarter ones will get ahead of the curve to take advantage of the new market opportunities.
One of the main drivers of civil wars, corruption, crime, disease, illiteracy, and the resulting poverty that has plagued the developing world, is bad governance. Until local and national governments perform their assigned tasks, and do so in a basically efficient manner, development efforts will be limited in their effectiveness. In 2012, the then secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, estimated that almost a third of development aid was lost to corruption. The use of blockchain to track, trace and verify transactions and the unchangeable nature of blockchains could be a game changer for aid organizations. Blockchain technology can also be leveraged by governments and civic organizations to strengthen democratic processes and voter participation. Ballot boxes and current online voting systems are vulnerable to manipulation and disputes, a blockchain-based system could guarantee security, transparency and accurate election results.
The World Food Programme (WFP)has shown actual results in blockchain based projects. At camps in Jordan for instance, over 10,000 refugees are being fed by a World Food Program project that gives food vouchers to refugees via supermarkets located in the camps. The cashiers are equipped with iris scanners which both identify the customer and settle their entitlement payments by verifying the data with various UN database. The blockchain-based transacation logs can track food distributions in multiple locations, boost efficiency and prevent fraud. Handing out money rather than food also helps local markets and economies in crisis-hit areas. However the biggest benefit is a big reduction in the costs of payments to the middlemen, the financial services firms for transactions. Akshaya Patra is the largest non-profit supplier of cooked lunches for schoolchildren in the world, feeding more than 1.6 million children across India every day. They have collaborated with Accenture Labs to use AI and blockchain on a pilot programme to ‘improve their audit capabilities, attendance recording, invoice processing and payment, order and data collection, and food preparation operations, allowing for expanded production capabilities and establishing a blueprint for operating other kitchens.’
Two-thirds of the world’s population lacks access to a formal system of property rights. The Latin American economist, Hernando de Soto, says the №1 issue in the world in terms of economic mobility is proof of land ownership. If you don’t have a valid title to your land, you can’t borrow against it to set up a small business and you can’t plan for the future. In most countries around the world where poor people hold property, their ownership is usually based on informal rights rather than any official government record. So big companies or corrupt government officials can simply seize their homes and land. Blockchain can change this. This concept is now being explored by developed nations like Sweden, Bermuda and US states like Vermont.
The World Bank launched a Blockchain Lab in 2017 as part of an effort to pilot projects that can improve governance and social outcomes in the developing world. Accenture Plc and Microsoft Corp have teamed up to build a digital ID network using blockchain technology, as part of a United Nations-supported project to provide legal identification to 1.1 billion people worldwide with no official documents. Since 2015, Finland has used a blockchain based digital money system for asylum seekers. Developed by Moni, a Finnish startup, to supply accounts and debit cards to recently arrived refugees. The system makes it easier for migrants to send and receive money, and helps streamline administrative processes for governments. According to the CEO, Annti Pennanen, it will also lead to them entering the banking system quickly, and “ makes them feel part of the society.”
Blockchain is a very new technology and most of these projects have yet to be developed at scale. However, as can be seen from the examples given, the use of Blockchain to improve transparency and address the perennial problem of social mistrust has enormous potential. As Joseph Lubin- co-founder of Ethereum says “If you put all the economic social and political systems we have built on a more trustworthy, secure and equitable foundation — they will be much better.”
About the author: Paul Henderson is a content strategist with a background developing digital content projects for companies including Bloomberg and Microsoft as well as local government health departments. He is the founder of Blockheads, a consultancy that advises blockchain and fintech startups on content strategy and social media marketing.
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