Blockchain for impact: going beyond Bitcoin

by 28 Nov, 2019

The application of blockchain for impact projects around the world is gaining increasing attention. Matthew Partington examines how this groundbreaking technology might be used to help people and the planet.

By 2020, futurists imagined we’d have flying cars, androids indistinguishable from people, digital mutations embedded in our skulls, and governments capable of predicting and calculating our every move. Something akin to an existential battle begat by the rise of technology, precariously leading humanity toward its demise.

Such a dystopia, depicted by science fiction writers throughout the past century, has not come to pass. Not fully, at least. Our current reality may actually be much more absurd and dispiriting.

Instead, we have social media platforms more powerful and influential than entire governments. Meanwhile institutional corruption, ethnic genocide, and global issues such as extreme poverty and hunger remain unresolved. At times, we appear to be dangerously regressing to problems of the past.

Bitcoin and blockchain

In 2008, though, a bright light for systemic change emerged. As global economic bedlam unfolded and the United States spent $700 billion bailing out its banks, a paper titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System surfaced.

“Blockchain, rather than Bitcoin, is increasingly gaining the attention of impact organisations”

As traditional banking institutions broke down, the world was presented with a digital currency – Bitcoin – that relied on no single point of trust. Rather, every single transaction was transparent and logged on an incorruptible ledger known as the ‘blockchain.

More than ten years on it is blockchain, rather than the controversial Bitcoin, that is increasingly gaining the attention of global organisations. Especially for the application of blockchain for impact projects around the world.

Blockchain for impact

A digital ledger that permanently records every transaction with no central authority, blockchain holds the potential to make a significant positive global impact. Each block links to the one before it and after it, making it highly transparent, secure and scalable.

“Blockchain can help track medicine, food and products in real time to prevent tampering, counterfeiting and fraud”

For example, blockchain can be used to bank the 1.7 billion global citizens currently without a bank account. Blockchain can be used to confirm the identities of refugees fleeing war-torn countries and it can be used to ensure fair, democratic elections in nations suffering from unshakable corruption.

It has the potential to transform supply chains, making them more transparent and efficient. Blockchain can also help track medicine, food, or consumer products in real time to prevent tampering, counterfeiting and fraud. These are just a few of the innumerable deployments of blockchain for impact, helping humanity address some of our most pressing and pernicious issues.

Data security

Many enthusiasts see Ethereum as Bitcoin’s most promising successor. Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum has a built-in programmable language that makes it more flexible. With more development and scaling, Ethereum could host the Web 3.0.

“With more development and scaling, Ethereum could host the Web 3.0”

This technology could see the creation of a transparent internet in which user data is fully encrypted and protected. Neither content nor services can be censored by governments and monopolistic internet service providers would be made redundant. The implications for democracy and social justice are vast.

Financial inclusion

Bitcoin’s ability to store value has huge potential. Currently, though, price volatility and slow transaction times make it a poor substitute for real-world currency. However, stablecoins (tokens that do not fluctuate in price) such as Reserve are seeking to build a universal, cross-border store of value that cannot be influenced by governments or banks.

“Reserve is seeking to build a universal, cross-border store of value that cannot be influenced by governments or banks”

This could help the millions of people that live in countries with crippling inflation and the billions of people that lack access to banks. The Reserve token can protect the underprivileged by securely banking them. Achieving this mission would be a significant step in creating a more prosperous and equitable world.

Securing supply chains

The application of blockchain reaches much further than finance, however. Utility projects like VeChain aim to fix complex and broken supply chains with the assistance of RFID chips and QR codes. Vaccines, for example, can be tracked with sensors that measure temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure.

As the vaccine passes through the supply chain, the RFID chip is repeatedly scanned and information is loaded onto the blockchain in real time. Whether the product is milk, medicine or luxury goods, VeChain benefits businesses by making their supply chains more efficient, transparent and dependable. More importantly, it aids consumers by guaranteeing that they are purchasing a genuine, untampered product. This is important for small businesses in developing regions.

Creating Environmental Wealth

As a relatively nascent technology, entrepreneurs and businesses continue to find creative ways to apply blockchain to their ventures. Ken Little, CEO of Environmental Wealth South Africa, plans to tokenize precious metals to help impoverished communities in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo clean up mining sites.

“Plans to tokenize precious metals could help impoverished communities in Africa clean up mining sites”

“The mission is to help them out of extreme poverty. Africa has been exploited and pillaged for hundreds of years by unethical mining companies using dangerous mining methodologies. Many mining companies dump their waste without taking the necessary precautions. The result is a significant amount of air, soil and water pollution,” Little says.

He adds: “However, we have found it nearly impossible to raise capital between $250,000 and $5,000,000 from conventional banking institutions or VCs. These financial organisations have no desire to loan against reclamation projects in Africa. Therefore, we have switched our attention to find funding from the world of crypto tokens.”

Impact, gram for gram

Each digital token issued will be linked with a specific amount of precious metal: one token will equal one gram of gold, for instance. To ensure investor confidence, the metals will be kept at a secure location and independently audited.

“Ethereum allows the company to raise the capital necessary to process the mining waste”

Ethereum allows Little to raise the capital necessary to process the mining waste (with permission of the locals) and employ people in the community via The Healing Africa Foundation. At the moment, most of the mining waste is purchased by Chinese companies who process it for batteries and other goods.

Little believes significant economic and social upliftment can occur in Africa if they process their own minerals. He says that blockchain is the most fair, transparent, and traceable way to reach this goal.

A better tomorrow

Cryptocurrencies are still a highly speculative asset, while blockchain is (arguably) still an unproven technology. Both, however, possesses the potential to improve the lives of millions, if not billions, of people around the world.

Although adoption and development has not moved as swiftly as many may have hoped or expected, numerous blockchain projects intrepidly push forward every day in hopes of making a better tomorrow.

About the author

About the author

Matthew Partington

Matthew Partington is a North American writer and cryptocurrency enthusiast based in Vietnam. Check out his work at www.matthewpartington.com