For the Greater Good: Using Blockchain for Social Change

Platform UpdateJune 12, 2024
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Although most people know blockchain is the underlying technology driving the crypto craze, some have no idea this tech has other uses. By leveraging its core principles of decentralization, transparency, and security, blockchain is enabling innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges — namely within impoverished communities and during natural disasters.

From providing secure digital identities for the unbanked to enhancing the efficiency of supply chains and fostering greater accountability in charitable donations, blockchain projects are proving to be powerful tools for promoting social equity and economic development. This article explores the multifaceted ways in which blockchain initiatives are reshaping communities, empowering individuals, and fostering inclusive growth, highlighting the potential of this technology to create a more equitable and sustainable future.

Sure, you’ve probably heard about blockchain projects that donate money to NGOs and help out via actions, but this article talks about those developing social change-focused apps and projects. Enabling people to have digital identities, fostering financial inclusion for unbanked people, and powering renewable energy in impoverished areas are just a few examples of how blockchain can be used for the greater good.

Humanitarian Aid & Relief

The decentralization element of blockchain technology allows people to self-organize and create novel solutions within communities, and even make humanitarian aid and relief logistics leaner and simpler — foundations and companies a bit all over the world are creating new ways to help people in need, be it natural disaster survivors or refugees. The Algorand Foundation partnered with other institutions and AID:Tech to create a cool solution for people who lost everything in the event of a catastrophe — a mobile app called Kare Survivor Wallet, which confirms each individual’s digital identity, thus allowing them to manage and receive allocated funds. The platform has numerous uses, from publishing notifications on natural disasters to collecting information from survivors, allowing them to submit requests for aid, and providing money after each case approval.

In 2018, a refugee camp in Jordan was also run with the help of blockchain — this was one of the first successful cases of blockchain used for humanitarian aid. World Food Programme (WFP) executive Houman Haddad, led a joint WFP and Building Blocks initiative that enabled Zaatari camp refugees to buy their groceries and prove their identities just by looking into a camera. Blockchain played a key role in achieving this: the individuals’ identities are stored in a blockchain system and are then used to activate their digital identities (DID) and access their accounts with money from the WFP.

According to an article from MIT Technology Review, “the downside of the used solution is that since the WFP has control over who joins its permissioned network, it also has the power to rewrite transaction histories. Instead of cutting the banks out of the equation, it has essentially become one. Switching from simply providing refugees with food to empowering them with the means to buy groceries has saved the WFP millions.”

Back in 2018, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) did a pilot program in Kenya to evaluate the feasibility of a blockchain-based humanitarian aid system. The idea was to create a Cash Transfer Programming (CTP) platform to help cut the intermediaries and provide timely delivery of products.

According to their report, “there are numerous opportunities that KRCS can explore using Blockchain Technology including the identification of funding gaps based on impact rather than institutional requirements, crowdfunding, and supply chain management. Other opportunities include cash assistance, the use of smart contracts to secure forecast-based financing arrangements, volunteer and membership data management, the deployment of durable, self-sovereign digital identifications, tracking of peer-to-peer donations and payments, and the potential use of cryptocurrencies”.

Energy Sharing

Imagine being able to buy electric energy from your neighbors instead of having to pay the prices that big companies offer. Brooklyn Microgrid, a community-driven initiative based in New York, did exactly that. The more residents joined the program, the more successful it would be.

Quartierstrom is another project worth mentioning, as it was Switzerland’s first blockchain-based peer-to-peer (P2P) energy market to be successfully implemented. The idea was to explore the feasibility of creating and sharing the use of energy in the town of Walenstadt — participants included 37 households and one retirement home. “Via a user interface, both prosumers and consumers were able to indicate prices at which they were willing to sell/buy locally produced solar energy. The transactions were automatically calculated, managed, and stored on a blockchain system in real-time. If energy demand or supply could not be traded within the local community, the local utility”. For a deeper understanding of the technical details and infrastructure, read the full report.

Germany-based OLI Systems is also working on a blockchain-based energy market solution built on Integritee. “Local Energy Markets (LEMs) were introduced a few years ago with the main goal of lowering consumption costs and mitigating the negative effects of external management. LEMs basically provide a market platform for trading locally produced energy at the distribution grid level, which means people from the same community can exchange energy with each other, which leads to a net reduction of CO2 emissions”.

Feeding Crops

It might not seem so, but agriculture is essential for the livelihood of animals and humans — without it, we would have no vegetables, fruit, flour, and so many other key components of our meals. People living in impoverished and emerging economies away from the sea live on basic foods such as cereals, tubers, nuts, and seeds, while coastal areas have access to nutrients from fish, seafood, algae, and other sources. The global population has grown immensely in the last decades, but the number of crops and livestock hasn’t. So how can the produce issue be solved? We find other food sources, or help preserve and multiply existing ones.

According to an Insight Ace Analytic report, 2023’s Blockchain in the Agriculture and Food Supply Chain Market Size was valued at around 403 million, and predictions point to a huge increase — more than 7,400 million by 2031. Some companies are focusing on finding new ways of creating food and harvesting nutrients from sources such as plants, algae, and even insects. Others are working on solutions to increase the amount of food coming from traditional sources, by using blockchain to enhance crops’ performance, for example. Earnest Agriculture designed a microbial consortium that protects crops against diseases: “[…] can boost yields by 7x, reduce synthetic chemical use, and make crops more resilient to climate change”. If you’re interested in knowing more about how blockchain can be leveraged to have a positive impact on agriculture, read this report.

Some companies are using blockchain to help minimize costs and waste in agriculture, namely by enhancing traceability — this is more important than you might think. It can help farmers pinpoint crop contamination and avoid spread, but also ease the supply chain management by automating transactions, deliveries, and other processes that would otherwise have to be done manually. Others are invested in connecting farmers to smaller buyers instead of big corporations, which allows both sides to earn more and helps other players enter the game. AgUnity is one of such companies. The Australian-based company developed a platform that directly connects farmers in rural areas and businesses without the need for middlemen. Read this article to understand the project.

Emerging Markets

Startups like Marketforce Technologies (in Africa), and Dastgyr Technologies (Pakistan) are dedicated to creating B2B marketplace platforms connecting small-scale retailers and displaying all the information online — from sourcing to ordering, transacting to reselling.

A Bright Future Ahead

There are countless other areas where blockchain is becoming a key element in helping people in need, but also creating connections that were previously virtually impossible. This is an ever-evolving technology, and although some hyped projects fell through, other are striving with no signs of stopping.