Viewpoint by Natalia Fuller
TOKYO (IDN) – Several aid groups are now looking at blockchain’s potential to improve humanitarian aid. By providing refugees with a virtual identity, and assuring the public that their money is being properly spent, aid groups are hopeful that they can attract more donors.
UNICEF is one of the largest charitable organisations in the world that is hoping to streamline their operations with blockchain.
“We are at the very beginning (but) there is a lot of hype,” stated the leader of UNICEF’s Ventures Fund.
UNICEF is planning to develop a smart contract that would facilitate transactions if certain conditions were met. A blockchain’s smart contract is tamperproof, making it the perfect database for checking the status of refugees as well as transactions that involve donations.
Ethereum’s blockchain-based smart contracts
The most popular cryptocurrency used in creating smart contracts is Ethereum. FXCM clarifies that Ethereum supports user-built applications, which makes the recording of customised smart contracts possible. Ethereum can also be coded in such a way that it will automatically validate a condition, and determine whether an asset should go to one person, or be immediately refunded to the person who sent the digital funds.
For example, a donor can create a smart contract with UNICEF, on the condition that the funds go to refugees from Palestine. The smart contract would then scan the profiles of refugees, and then divide the donation to refugees that fall under the smart contract’s condition.
UNICEF hasn’t stated whether or not the organisation will use Ethereum’s blockchain to create smart contracts. It did, however, launch a project that requested tech geeks and gaming enthusiasts to install on their computer a game that can mine Ethereum. It is called Game Changers, and the scheme recruits gamers to use the powerful processing power of their computers to mine Ethereum for the sake of Syrian children. It’s still in its infancy but it has already been able to raise more than £795 (€900).
Corruption that affects charitable efforts
The UN’s support of blockchain comes at a time when some relief efforts are still lost to corruption. One of the biggest corruption scandals that plagued charitable efforts involved the UN in 2012. In an article by Devex, it was reported that at least 30% of relief money by the organisation was lost due to dishonesty.
In addition to corruption, some people are losing faith in money’s power to help the needy. Yet digital money could be the way forward. Faith in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies remains strong. Blockchain’s technology paired with the popularity of cryptocurrencies could potentially boost charitable efforts all over the world.
Potential implications of blockchain
Using blockchain for charitable efforts has some downsides. While it does streamline charitable efforts by making records secure, it opens UNICEF to technical constraints such as the need for donors to have an internet connection before donations can be received. In addition, despite blockchain’s secure nature, refugee data is still being authenticated by organisations, and this does not bode well for countries under dictatorial rule.
“It’s hard to navigate the regulatory environment or the lack of it,” noted Rosa Akbari of the US charity Mercy Corps. “Blockchain has enormous potential but still has a long way to go.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 May 2018]
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