On 19–20th March, I was honoured to represent BPF as the Chief Education Manager at the Blockchain For Social Impact Summit in New York, held by theRockefeller Foundation. As a 2-Day conference co-hosted by theInternational Civil Society CentreandMercyCorps, its key purpose was to facilitate early thought-leadership discussion amongst blockchain entrepreneurs and leaders who are currently using this technology to create social impact.This meant establishing our interest in creating a global network where we could safely share our key industry learnings, ideas and resources, as well as create a set of universal standards that will help guide sustainable and ethical blockchain developments well into the future.
Here are some of my key learnings and reflections from this conference:
There is a Need for a Blockchain Paradigm Shift
The first conference topic introduced the concept of the “blockchain paradigm shift”. Whereas organisations have generally adopted a tactical approach to focus on improving the technical efficiency of systems through blockchain technology,this conference signals the start of a new movement where diverse, socially-minded leaders are banding together to form future strategies on a more holistic and constitutional level.
And yet, how can we best collaborate in practice? And how can we ensure that these conversations will produce valuable and sustainable frameworks for future collaboration?
With a mission to develop a collaboration model that would help members of the blockchain community maximise their social impact, this summit sought to discuss these ideas and create cross-sectorial feedback loops. These activities stressed the importance of working together within the blockchain community to not only learn from each other, but also support each other in educating external parties and pushing legislation that will allow healthy experimentation within the blockchain for social impact economy.
Current Barriers to Blockchain Adoption
A main theme that continued to appear over the 2 days was the problems that we commonly faced as blockchain innovators and leaders.Firstly, we agreed that education awareness was a primary issue that threatened to prohibit our entrepreneurial progress.More specifically, it made it difficult for us, as organisation leaders, to get the necessary approval and funding to roll out our projects.
This directly ties in with another huge challenge — collaborating with policy-makers and regulators in developing clear guidelines on blockchain use.From my personal experience, our state government here in Melbourne is extremely supportive towards social entrepreneurship in the blockchain space. In addition, our regulatory offices such as the ATO are very helpful in answering organisational questions and in clearing up any cryptocurrency tax-related issues. However, upon discussing the various problems that other organisations faced, it soon became evident that many other governments around the world don’t share this same crypto-friendly approach. Consequently, many of the delegates mentioned that they would ideally like more assistance from regulators in clarifying legal compliance policies. It is important that we find ways to collaborate with policy-makers in creating economic safe zones (i.e. “sand boxes”) where we could safely experiment with social impact projects without penalty, before rolling these out into broader society.
On reflection, this has made me appreciate Melbourne’s crypto-friendly policy approach so much more. In fact, this might explain why Melbourne currently has such a strong fintech and blockchain social entrepreneurial community, with many successful pilots being based in Melbourne.
Blockchain Misconceptions Still Fuel Distrust in Blockchain Solutions
There were also a number of misconceptions that we, as organisational managers, faced as a collective. Particularly,there seemed to be a huge unease amongst charities in adopting blockchain regarding disintermediation.In other words, many feared that there would be a huge downsizing phenomenon, whereby many of their employees and volunteers would lose their jobs, or their entire operations would be made redundant due to technology. In some ways, this is not necessarily untrue, but this problem may need to be reframed. For example, when Oxfam International recently deployed a cryptocurrency donation solution in the Pacific region, they reported a huge reduction in intermediary steps that they would normally have to undertake to collect, distribute and send donations to the beneficiary.By increasing organisational leanness, this structural change ultimately led to greater social impact being delivered to victims.Additionally, this created new and exciting jobs for people in the education, consulting, research and technological spaces. As such, the main lesson to take away from this experience is toembrace this technology as a tool for developing new jobs and social impact outcomes for the future.
I was highly surprised (or extremely pleased, I should say!) by the high calibre of presentations. Coming from an academic research background, it was truly inspiring to recognise so many pioneers in the field — authors whom I had read extensively while researching material for my own PhD thesis back in Melbourne on “crypto governance solutions for charities”. One of these authors was Rhodri Davies from theCharities Aid Foundation, who had written some well-known articles on the history of charitable gift-giving and how blockchain is a relevant piece of the missing puzzle.
At this conference, I was given the fantastic opportunity to hear some of these revolutionary ideas in person, like the contemporary debate on blockchain vs. “human-based institutions” (what Davies defined as governing mechanisms that oversee, manage and control our societal interactions, including the humanitarian sector’s various donation distribution activities). Normally, we rely on third-party authorities, such as banks and regulatory or government bodies to create a transparent and trusting environment in which donors, beneficiaries, charity managers, contractors and regulators can work together on our charitable projects. Yet with this new introduction of automated technology, would this create new and daring challenges for us all? And would this solve some of our heavily entrenched societal problems, such as no longer mistrusting one another when we attempt to create social impact together? All in all, these questions made me think about the incredible change that’s yet to come. And hearing this straight from the academic who developed the underlying theory was certainly a rewarding experience.
I also learnt that creating a universal set of guidelines on a global, cross-sectoral level can be really challenging.While everyone present at the conference voiced a huge appetite for continuing these important thought-leadership discussions well into the future, it took a majority of the two days simply to identify our main unified goals moving forwards as a collective network. It was inspiring to hear about so many social impact projects around the world that have used blockchain technology with success. We were all willing to share our pilot failures, learnings and challenges in a safe and supportive environment, which I believe is an essential ingredient moving forwards in this highly dynamic, evolving and uncertain technological space. I was immensely proud to represent BPF at this world exclusive conference and am looking forward to keeping you updated on our follow-up conferences in the very near future.
Andrea Christie is currently the Chief Education Manager at the Blockchain Philanthropy Foundation, where she provides educational courses to NGOs, philanthropists and civil societal leaders on harnessing new technologial innovations for UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) delivery. In academia, she is pursuing a PhD in Nonprofit Economics, with a passion for investigating distributed ledger technologies (e.g blockchain) as economic infrastructures for promoting trust in charitable giving. Through her research, she hopes to provide governing bodies with more informed knowledge on how best to treat these architectures when developing new policy and compliance regulations.
2. Blockchain ethical design framework for social impact – This paper addresses why intentionality of design matters, identifies the key questions that should be asked and provides a framework to approach the use of blockchain, especially as it relates to social impact.
Today I read a journal article about the charity sector reaching a ‘digital tipping point’. My immediate thought was, “It’s 2018 and we have to ask ourselves is the civil society sector only now talking about a ‘digital tipping point’”.
The introduction of the internet and its plethora of services, knowledge sharing and mass communications has changed humanity for good and for bad.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say the charity sector missed the opportunity to truly use this new and exciting platform for good, yes there are some good exceptions. However, in general, we missed a big opportunity, instead, we let the commercial world dominate the direction and were left simply as consumers of those services and platforms.
Why did we miss it?
In all honesty, we didn’t stand a chance;
Our appetite for risk is low
We have limited funds
We let others lead (i.e. we need that case study before we leap)
Chapter 2: Blockchain
Blockchain is in a real hype cycle, just like the internet back in 1999. And just like then, it has grown into a bubble. It will burst, however, and out of the other side, large companies will rise to take the lead, as was the case with the internet. We should be very concerned about that prospect. Blockchain has great potential. For example, there is a chance that the majority of money flows will shift to run on blockchains as cryptocurrencies. This would make it the biggest change in financial power, ever.
Blockchain offers much more potential beyond simply currencies and assets, for example, there are big opportunities in voting operations, legal services (e.g. notary) and confirming your identity. There exist new opportunities and new hope, but the potential of this hope can only be fulfilled by good actors.
This time we need you to be involved, not looking on from the sidelines waiting for others to lead, we need you to lead, we need you to seize the opportunity, take the risk and help shape it. If you don’t, then just like with the internet, you’ll leave a void that others will fill.
Will we miss out on Blockchain?
Well, the reasons we missed out on the internet are still true today;
Our appetite for risk is low
Limited funds are available
We let others lead and take that leap of faith
The first two reasons are solvable. If CSOs and Charities work together with partners to utilise and explore the opportunity, the risk is shared and funds are multiplied allowing us to move from simply talking and watching to taking real action.
The big question for me is will you lead and help shape this space for good or follow and let others decide who wins and who loses?
As Head of 3 SIDED CUBE Duncan founded the global digital agency to ‘Build Tech For Good’. A leader inspired by impact and not by numbers he has pushed for the team to create award-winning life-saving apps for clients including RNLI, IFRC and Mind. His vision to change the way people donate blood saw The American Red Cross revolutionise the donation process into a digital system that has created over $70million of revenue. Recognised for his drive to improve global disaster preparedness he was invited to The White House to present the agency’s work on the world’s largest alerting app which saves millions of lives in areas affected by tornados, earthquakes and other natural disasters every day