With all the advances and hype surrounding blockchain applications and cryptocurrency, it is hardly surprising that many of the world’s most tech-savvy minds are putting the technology toward projects aimed at making a social impact.
Blockchain technology is famous for its immutability, transparency, and omnipresence. Using the cryptography of blockchain hashes and decentralized ledgers, blockchain allows more users from dispersed global and economic spheres to participate in the benefits of digitization. Because blockchain is essentially a public digital ledger, it is also an ideal system to maintain transparency.
One of the simplest and most legitimate benefits of blockchain is that it makes maintaining and transferring important data easier. These are simple things such as keeping track of the chain of supply, and KYC. Doing so ensures that everyone receives payment for their products and services. With smart-contracts, coded in automation means there is less room for human error.
It is no wonder that such tools can be put to use to improve many of our current structures and economies.
Reviewing the best blockchain projects for social impact
An article published by the Stanford School of Business Center for Social Innovation in 2018 reviews over a dozen of the best most impressive blockchain projects that are making social progress. Several are improving already existing systems, such as agriculture, financial institutions, or data collection. However, others are specifically organized as charities, or they aid in improving the process of charitable fund allocation.
Here is the list from the article of some of the best blockchain projects making social progress. And the list is growing!
Government and Democracy
Philanthropy and Aid
Energy, Climate, and Environment
Improving the World of Agriculture
One of the most simple and effective ways that blockchain is used is to improve the chain of supply. This is particularly important for the agriculture industry and food distribution.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 10 people are affected by food contamination every year. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that the overall cost of food contamination is between $10–15 billion annually. Of that number, a single incident of fraud related to an individual company’s food product can cost them 2-15% of their annual revenue.
The world of agriculture is caught in a sticky-wicket these days; we can’t live without them, but some estimations state that more than 40% of food produced is discarded and unconsumed. While a lot of this happens on the consumer end, much of this occurs at the production level. This is in part because of food spoilage and contamination.
One of the reasons for such serious wastage is getting food from farm to tables has many intermediary steps. And most of these steps are still performed manually, yup, with a clipboard and a pencil. This leaves a lot of room for error and is incredibly time-consuming and costly. Currently, this means relying on third-parties to coordinate data, which increases the chance of error and costs for farmers
Blockchain Solutions in Agriculture
Blockchain supply chains for the agricultural industry offer a powerful tool to help improve farms of all sizes. Such technology enhances the system of compliance data for safety regulations, and improves efficiencies with sustainability, food tracking, and certifications to name a few.
By applying blockchain’s digital and immutable record-keeping system, the application of this technology offers the world the social good of improving food access by decreasing food fraud and contamination, improving the transparency of product production, and increasing efficiency.
Because blockchain has so much to offer the agriculture industry, for-profit companies are driving 60% of agricultural applications for blockchain. Such applications are used to maintain the data for all of the movement and processing of products, as well as to ensure that those framers are paid in full and in a timely fashion.
It’s not just producers who need solutions for data tracking and chain of supply, it’s also consumer. Because it is difficult for consumers to trust products on the market today. If producers are going to charge more, it is critical to maintaining their market position and justifying higher prices for the products by demonstrating where the value is.
Organizing agricultural data is a social good because it benefits all of those involved in food production, distribution, and consumption -that means everyone!
Agra-Blockchain Projects Making Social Impact
AgriDigital is an Australian company with a cloud-based commodity management platform. They have built an application to connect farmers with value chain actors. To complete transactions and move product, AgriDigital has built its own altcoin to represent commodities. The AgriDigital token is used to represent any commodity being moved, be it cattle or grains.
This method is how cryptocurrency works; each transaction of food products between partners is recorded on the blockchain immutably. Blockchain, altcoins, and smart-contracts record each transaction in real-time. Then they are available for all necessary parties to see and track in a digital ledger.
The process is referred to as an “atomic swap.” That means that the token is used to represent real goods that are transferred from the farmer to the buyer. At the same time, the fiat currency of choice is also transferred. This method keeps a record of each transaction for everyone involved and ensures everyone is paid.
AgriDigtial first put its application into action in December of 2016. The transfers were all made in the typical fashion, with the notable exception of expedient payment for the farmer. Presently, AgriDigital is used by 1000 farmers and buyers of grain in Australia.
Grassroots, another example of an agricultural cooperative based out of Arkansas. They currently work with around 30 family farms, most of which are located nearby in Arkansas, Kentucky, Kansas, and Texas. But have they have spread as far as Montana.
Their project was launched in 2017 and is committed to transparency and traceability for producers and consumers. As well as the improvement of the profitability and success of smaller farms.
Grassroots uses Ethereum’s blockchain to trace livestock from farm to table, all by scanning a bar-code.
Bext360 has developed a platform focused on the coffee bean industry. Their app has already been applied to hundreds of small project farmers in Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Colombia, Uganda, and California.
They have developed a device that combines machine learning and artificial intelligence with blockchain to create a more efficient and transparent coffee supply chain.
Blockchain apps like this allow consumers to be educated on the process of coffee consumption. This, in turn, encourages fair and ethical consumption. Much like the other projects, Bext360 is dedicated to ensuring that farmers are paid fairly and immediately; a constant problem in the world of agriculture. Blockchain apps offer the greatest potential for complete transparency for all involved in production and consumption.
Bext360 does not just trace your coffee, its machines weigh, analyze, and price coffee directly at the source. They’re platform also includes tracking features, which include washing, exporting, roasting, and retail processes. They plan to add additional tracking technologies which will include RFID, GPS, and genetic marking, among others.
The True Cost of Coffee
Currently, Bext360’s goal is to ensure that farmers are paid immediately, based on the quality of their coffee. The digital/mobile payments are made directly to the farmer with a blockchain-enabled smart contract.
Although they have begun with coffee, they plan to expand to other countries and value chains, such as cocoa, nuts, and seafood. Their vision is to allow consumers to see the origins of the food and even to directly tip the farmer who grew the beans in their favorite cup of coffee!
Coffee is often referred to as a cash-crop, but not just because it is valuable, but because the crop tends to be very exploitative. This is because valuable arable land is used for exported goods, and many are paid slave wages.
As of 2016, 25 million smallholder farmers produced 80% of the world’s coffee. However, on average they are paid less than $2 per day. Their income is highly dependent on the quantity of production, and to add insult to injury, many are not promptly paid. Bext360 aims to eliminate this gross exploitation, as more and more consumers are invested in ensuring the ethical production of their food.
Although there’s great potential in many of the projects we have discussed, there are also several challenges that must be sufficiently dealt with. Mass adoption of the technology is the prime concern for most farmers and distributors.
This means not only an initial cost to start up blockchain applications and to ensure that they can rely on their internet connectivity, but it also means that all parties will need to improve their digital literacy as well.
Digital literacy can be a unique challenge given that agriculture has remained a traditional industry for a long time, and for good reason; not much has needed to change in the world of food production, we have been effectively applying agricultural techniques for millennia. However, building necessary infrastructure and enabling adoption proves to be a particular challenge in developing nations.
Significant progress is being made to address connectivity in emerging economies. The Alliance for Affordable Internet is a global coalition of the private sector, the public sector, and civil society actors with the goal of digital accessibility.
Governance and Democracy
Keeping Votes Democratic
Transparency and immutability are being tested and in many cases are being applied to improve voting accessibility and citizen information maintenance. A few early adopters include Estonia and Canada in 2008, followed later by domestic surplus spenders Singapore in 2014 and Dubai in 2016. However, the degree of bureaucratic adoption varies greatly from one nation to the next.
e-Estonia is easily one of the most impressive and effective examples of successful digital citizenship. In 2001 Estonia issued its first e-ID, which made digital signatures possible for citizens. E-citizenship is used to verify land titles, business registries and healthcare information, even marriages, and divorces.
Presently over 1000 services are available through the e-Estonia network. In 2008 Estonia contracted Guardtime to improve security. X-road is the exchange platform that they continue to rely on. X-Road is a partially decentralized blockchain ledger. This is seen as an incredible success as it has created a new value in Estonia’s economy by being leaders in digitization.
In response to fraud in the 2016 national election in the United States inspired Cleveland-based Votem to employ a blockchain-based solution. Montana’s state government used the app to issue and track mobile and online votes cast by absentee voters.
Using Votem enabled voters who were stationed overseas or in other states, or disabled. Montanans were then able to receive, mark, and return ballots electronically, with votes traced in real-time. The immutable ledger tracks and stores information, which makes a clear audit trail to maintain voter integrity.
Currently, over 2.6 million U.S. citizens are eligible to vote from overseas. However, only 93,000 absentee ballots are cast from overseas. Votem’s goal is to facilitate 1 billion votes in public elections by 2025 with secure, verifiable and accessible remote voting, the impact on society could be transformative.
A serious issue facing over 2 billion people is an inability to interact with a complete or full economy. This is because they are unbanked, a problem that BanQu aims to remedy. World and even local economies cannot effectively operate without adequate banking support. This is an issue that many people, even with some means and entrepreneurial ambition, cannot surmount.
BanQu’s app is active in six countries and used by farmers, workers, and micro-businesses. The app works for many who are in the world’s poorest regions but also works for global corporations, financial institutions, and other organizations. They enable access for all necessary parties to connect and gain transparency and traceability in their supply chains.
The platform records economic and financial transactions, purchases and goods, and proves their existence in global supply chains. BanQu creates an “economic passport” to allow small businesses to engage with family members, global corporations, development agencies, government organizations, and global financial institutions.
AID:Tech is an Irish-based technology company working to make foreign aid distribution for NGOs transparent. The reality is that each year, billions of foreign aid is lost to corruption each year. Moreover, large money exchanges between institutions and nations are costly.
AID:Tech has designed a platform to track the movement of foreign aid to ensure that it is distributed to the correct agencies.
In 2015, their pilot project successfully delivered and tracked aid for Syrian refugees. This is all possible by tracking the movement of the funds using blockchain.
Mojaloop, A Gates Foundation Level One Project
Mojaloop is an open-source code that makes it easier for financial providers to achieve interoperability, a problem for many digital currencies and wallets.
Interoperability is achieved by creating one single-payment platform for the end-users. Mojaloop uses Interledger, which is a protocol that connects different ledgers, including digital wallets, national payment systems, and blockchains.
The Level One team has been in discussions with multiple countries including Tanzania, Uganda, West African Economic Union, Myanmar, and South Africa. The project is set to be carried out this year. Like many projects, they face the challenges of political regime change and legal frameworks, as well as implementation and education of the platform.
WeTrust was founded in 2016 to improve upon the existing financial system with blockchain. The social impact company is based in California and works out of Texas, Vietnam, and Hungary.
Like many blockchain and crypto-projects, it is inspired by informal lending groups, rather than large institutionalized systems that exclude many. The goal is to make microtransactions more accessible and affordable.
The Trusted Lending Circle, WeTrust’s first project, uses the Ethereum blockchain. This application reduces overhead fees by eliminating the third party, a role traditionally filled by banks. Those who are excluded cannot build credit or receive loans.
Modum.io, founded in Zurich in 2016, uses blockchain supply chain methods to track and record the temperature of certain prescription drugs while they are being transported. This is an expensive process, but very necessary to maintain the effectiveness of many drugs.
This is particularly important in much of Europe, where pharmaceuticals are readily exchanged between medical facilities across the continent. Smart contracts on the blockchain automate notifications to the sender and receiver that the products are being shipped and that they meet the necessary requirements.
Philanthropy and Aid
Ixo Foundation is a Swiss-based nonprofit that has built an opensource blockchain protocol used for monitoring and evaluating donor and government-funded projects. Its first pilot, Project Amply, which has been implemented with the UNICEF Innovation Fund and Innovation Edge.
Amply is an easy data collection app. This data is necessary in order for many foundations to receive funding for their programs. The app is having a social impact by allowing preschool educators to record children’s school attendance with a mobile app. The data can then be easily and effectively delivered to the necessary bureaucracy.
Disberse was developed to improve the distribution of charitable funds for donors, governments, and NGOs. Their first project was in 2017 with Positive Women. The savings from the digital transfer were able to fund three other students sponsored by Positive Women.
Each year billions of dollars of aid are donated to developing countries. However, they funds risk being misused or reduced by transaction fees. Up to 10% of funds may be lost in transaction fees and fluctuating exchange rates.
Not only does this waste valuable funds, but the lack of transparency increases the risk of misuse and decreases the trust of valuable organizations. Using blockchain, Disberse tracks the funds with blockchain from donor to beneficiary.
Energy, Climate, and Environment
Grid Singularity aims to redesign and define the way that energy is consumed and how both producers and consumers are charged. With blockchain data from producers and consumers will be easily collected. With this information usage and costs will become a more precise process.
Currently, companies’ charges are based on peak usage. However, they rely on poorly organized data which is wasteful and costly for both producers and consumers. In the end, consumers end up footing the bill for top-heavy organizations.
This social impact platform will allow companies to develop applications on top of this infrastructure to support. Basically, the ideal goal is for Gird Singularity to develop micropayment channels, data analysis and benchmarking, green certificates, smart grid management, and energy trade validation. Having this information will potentially lead to savings in money and energy usage.
SOLshare’s mission is to bring electricity to remote regions of Bangladesh with clean and reliable solar panels. So they have set up 10 microgrids in Bangladesh and have initiatives to up 10,000 grids by 2030, reaching over 1 million users.
SOLshare has created a small local energy grid that allows households to produce and trade electricity with each other. In other words, they no longer need to rely on local utility companies.
The SOLBox is a device that enables homeowners to buy electricity as needed. Users can make payments using mobile phone SMS and digital tokens. Using this app, customers are able to finance this investment through micro-credits, with repayments of 24- to 36-months.
Blockchain technology allows the decentralized trade of energy and payments. SOLBox shifts power to local households as well as provides affordable access to clean energy. The users can also benefit from becoming micro-producers which means they can create a source of income with their own energy grid.
Social Impact Solutions
Companies world wide are now using blockchain to improve financial accessibility, agricultural and medical chain or supply, data collection and security, and a new way to exist as a global, digital citizen.
The most common uses of blockchain are simple, and these applications basically just improve money transfers and maintain records and verification. While this may seem a little vanilla, these come at a huge cost to infrastructure, the result is much of the funds are lost to third-parties and errors.
Blockchain improves the efficient and effective movement of information, which is invaluable. The estimations of costs of waste from any given industry are mind-blowing. Errors and miscommunication are at fault for much of this waste.
By implementing immutable digital ledgers to traditional projects such as farming, data collection, and information sharing, what we stand to gain is immeasurable. We need social impact solutions to manage our burgeoning global economy, and to bring those nations and peoples with less accessibility along with the developing world.
With more access to better information, we all stand to gain a great deal, whether it pertains to food production or donation spending. What is fascinating is that the core function of blockchain is streamlining data collection, maintaining security, and increasing accessibility.
Essentially, blockchain offers a perfect solution to many problems. However, there are still many challenges that must be overcome in order to see that blockchain is put to its best possible use. Thankfully, there are these blockchain projects making a social impact, as well as many many more.