The blockchain technology underlies crypto-currencies such as a bitcoin. But its power goes far beyond currency trading, money transfer and purely financial applications. Many idealist pragmatists want to change the world using the blockchain technology. Here is my attempt at listing projects and applications which aim at making some social impact using blockchains.
Please don’t hesitate to drop me an email (sig at akasig dot org) or post a comment below if you know of other applications of the blockchain technology for social good !
Economic development, poverty alleviation, financial freedom, wealth sharing
The blockchain might make « the world’s unbanked a viable new market » , « bring banking to the underserved »… There are drafts of smart contracts being hacked for blockchain-based universal bankind accounts at CommonAccord. Their interview on the French radio BFM explains their project (minute 24.21).
Caricoin launched a mobile bitcoin wallet in order to provide banking services to the unbanked in the Caribbean, about 50% of the population in some areas there.
It is the first pan-African blockchain-powered payment network. After careers in finance, technology and development, the founding team saw opportunity in emerging blockchain infrastructure to reduce business-to-business and peer-to-peer payments from 12-20% to 3%, putting money back into the pockets of businesses and individuals who are now able to save and invest more back into the economy as a result.
Abra is also backed by Future Perfect Ventures :
Bill Barhydt, founder of Abra, is a veteran of the cross-border money remittance sector. He saw firsthand the inefficiencies created by multiple intermediaries including Western Union and banking institutions, which extract significant fees for small transactions. With emerging markets rapidly adopting smartphones, Bill saw opportunity in enabling local agent networks in these markets with a blockchain powered app that would reduce fees for the sender and recipient, and provide agents with access to a broader customer base. Launched in 2015 at the Launch Festival (where it won Best Startup), Abra is now live in the Philippines with additional markets to be announced in 2016.
Ripple « transfers money to anywhere in the world, in any currency, instantly ». « It allows for banks around the world to directly transact with each other without the need for a central counterparty or correspondent. »
4G capital lets donors fund small business in Kenya using digital currency which is then converted and distributed to the businesses
WeiLend implements a peer-to-peer lending contract.
There are several attempts at establishing a basic income, voluntary taxation or wealth-sharing scheme with blockchains :
- Group Currency is a conceptual framework for blockchain-based basic income
- Circles is an implementation of a Group Currency, proposing a universal basic income within a group of subscribers
- Duniter is another implementation of a Group Currency and blockchain-based universal income.
- Johan Nygren’s resilience.me and basicincome.co were an early attempt which has gone nowhere beyond generating some welcome buzz and public awareness (at least it seems to me).
Education and learning
The introductory video of the « Learning is Earning 2016 » concept by the Institute for the Future develops an ambitious and controversial vision of the use of blockchains for education and lifelong learning.
OTLW was founded in Kenya (Kenya and blockchains with social impact, once again…) and proposes otlw-assess, a blockchain-based system for secure universal assessment of skills and knowledge and otlw-publish, a system for facilitating the distribution of micropayments to authors of (educational?) documents, I guess from persons citing their documents.
Several universities use blockchains to authenticate the deliverance of degrees or other academic certificates : University of Nicosia, MIT Media Lab, Holberton School as well as the Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs Léonard de Vinci.
Preserving energy and the environment and limiting climate change
Grid Sindularity is a decentralized energy marketplace and energy data exchange platform. TransActive Grid is also a blockchain-based energy marketplace but it focuses on local peer-to-peer home-produced energy trading, not unsimilarly to DAJIE and its blockchain-connected energy boxes (except maybe DAJIE’s community is not necessarily local ? I don’t know).
The French Lumo and its Solarcoins allow consumers to invest in the shared production of renewable energy. Lumo recently plugged into the ElectricChain which shares solar energy data on the blockchain from 7 million solar facilities, for scientific and commercial purposes.
Solether is like a Cash machine but it distributes electricity from its solar panel (for instance when you want to charge to mobile phone) in exchange for blockchain payments, instead of distributing cash.
ClimateCoin incentizes the offsetting of carbon emission by letting donors and carbon emitters to give ethers to persons who plan trees or reduce CO2 emissions in other ways, in exchange of public and secure carbon offset receipts.
decibel.LIVE incentizes local businesses to reduce the level of ambient noise they are making in the neighborhood by letting them earn public and secure receipts of noise reduction from local mobile phone users who monitor ambient noise from a blockchain app on their phone and receive micropayments in compensation for their monitoring.
Health, independent living and accessibility
MyHealthIRL provides « health wallets » which gives your control over your health records (including their sharing and privacy) and facilitates second medical opinions for instance. TrustlessPrivacy seems to aim at the same target.
PointNurse is a web and mobile nursing platform empowering healthcare providers (nurse practitioners, medical doctors, …) to provide online consultations and support for patients. Payments and health data sharing seem to be secured on a blockchain as well as sharing of the profits generated by the platform, hence its promise of being « member-owned ».
EyePi is a blockchain-based platform that allows pharmaceutical laboratories or other actors of the health industry to outsource and « crowdsource » health-related innovation and research challenges to third parties and guarantee that these innovators and researchers are fairly rewarded.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a (non-blockchain-based) contest for innovators to propose use cases of blockchain technologies within the healthcare industry before August 2016.
Impact investing, investing on social impact and smart social impact bonds
ImpactGrid is a blockchain-based smart investing platform and marketplace. It is to provide a transparent and secure solution for measuring and reporting social impact and to allow users to invest in the most impactful social innovations. This project is led by the Indian Investrata Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.
The UBS bank runs experiments on a blockchain-based experimental trading platform. UBS gave some of its experimental code to Finclusion Lab, a London-based fintech social enterprise, to develop a blockchain platform for the HEAL Alliance, a non-profit project looking into a cure for HIV. Using this platform, the HEAL Alliance wants to issue smart social impact bonds for raising funds for HIV research and letting people trade bonds in order to allocate most funds to the most promising cures.
Jaan Tallinn is the cofounder of Skype and the file-sharing app Kazaa. He says :
Incentive schemes, whereby people who have done the most good for humanity are rewarded 20 years into the future would create the expectation that doing long-term good is valuable.
Blockchains are supposedly good at identifying people doing some good, tracking their progress, recording and securing measures of their impact and rewarding them according to pre-established and immutable incentive schemes. Jaan Tallinn is
« compiling a research paper on ways of using blockchain to create more co-ordination mechanisms, » that can be used to save humanity from possible resource-based problems, « from crime and corruption to deforestation and over-fishing. »
Democracy, governance and transparency
Several blockchain-based software projects want to create secure and fully auditable online voting platforms : FollowMyVote, PublicVotes, V-Initiative, DemocracyOS to some extent, … The main drawback of current (non-blockchain-based) online voting software is that they are most often not open to public scrutiny to ensure the accuracy of the voting system. Ballots have to be verifiable. Blockchains bring an advantage of verifiability to online voting systems.
DCent is research project funded by the European Union (7th framework programme). It develops an open-source, distributed and privacy-aware tools for direct democracy.
But voting systems rely on unique identities so that one person casts no more than one vote. And blockchain don’t come with unique identities for persons : you can possess any number of accounts on a given blockchain. In order to work around this problem, as far as I understand, BitVote backs your vote with publicly registered evidences of the unicity (uniqueness) of your identity such as a track of time you spent browsing various web pages. Since you are unique, you can’t simultaneously spend a given short timeframe browsing a lot of distinct web pages. In order to ensure « one vote per person », BitVotes relies on « one browsing history per person ». Some sort of « proof of browsing » for proving your identity…
Deloitte sees in blockchains an opportunity for periperal countries to reduce losses due to corruption, bribery, thief and tax evasion while Provenance sees an opportunity for consumers to make companies more accountable for the impact their products have on the environment and local communities. Provenance allows consumers to learn about a product’s journey along its supply chain.
In order to limit corruption and enhance public transparency, several projects aim at building public ownership registries on top of blockchains without the help of third parties such as notaries and cadastre surveys. ProofOfExistence proves a given document existed at a given date and NotarEth provides a basic blockchain-based notary service : it proves you had access to a given set of documents at a given point in history. BitLand registers land ownership in Ghana. Regis is public blockchain application for registering ownership of digital assets. It is used by, among others, the BVRio Institute to protect the Brazilian rain forest by registering timber trading records. And Brian Singer, from the William Blair investment firm, explains how blockchain-based public registration of ownership will solve poverty.
It looks as if blockchain innovators were reinventing registry services, notary services and other legal services in a trustless and automated world which seems somehow ignorant of existing « local » laws and « dumb » contracts. How to bridge this gap between blockchain-based services and local laws ? CommonAccord « creates global codes of legal transacting by codifying and automating legal documents, including contracts, permits, organizational documents, and consents ». It offers a collaborative platform for turning existing legal documents into source code for automateable smart contracts on blockchains. See for instance this French employment agreement or the Paris agreement on climate change.
Safety, security, insurance and risk sharing
Regarding more traditional risks, many insurance startups invest on blockchains. Dynamis provides supplemental unemployment insurance. InsurEth provides flight insurance. Wekeep provides (undefined yet?) mutual insurance services. Others provide infrastructure software for blockchain-based insurance : Allied Peers is an insurance software engine and Dactuary decentralizes actuary services.
FarmShare implements a distributed « community-supported agriculture » platform which lets farmers share benefits of food production and risks such a low crop yield, environmental abuse or even some form of social abuse.
Even the UK government gets into the party by trialling the Blockchain for Welfare & Pensions.
The blockchain revolution has just begun and decentralized applications for social impact and social innovations are just emerging. Most social entrepreneurs come for traditional non-profit management or business schools and it make take some time for them to grasp the potential benefits of blockchain technologies over traditional web and mobile technologies.
For more socially impactful applications of blockchain technologies, I am looking forward to reading about the ideas being collected by the Blockchain Social Impact Challenge. Other useful sources of news to keep an eye on are the State of the Dapps site and the Social Tech Guide.
Please comment below if you know of other dapps having a great potential in terms of social impact or drop me an email (sig at akasig dot org) in case the comment section below is closed and I will update this article.