What blockchain will mean for international development

by Oskar Eriksson

New technologies, and new applications for existing ones, are redefining the international development space, and could have incredible implications for housing and urban development. In particular, Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and other DLTs, (Distributed Ledger Technologies) are posed to present groundbreaking opportunities for global humanitarian and development initiatives. If you don't know much about these platforms, you're not alone, but their potential global impact has drawn interest from the private sector, government and civil society alike. IHC Global was able to see this first hand last week, when we attended the second bi-annual Blockchain for Social Impact Conference in Washington D.C. During the conference, IHC Global investigated these new ways of using information and technology and cut through the hype to get a sense of the what international development and humanitarian aid will look like in the burgeoning Blockchain age. Here are our key observations:

Decentralization is the name of the game.
DLTs are steadily gaining more attention for their uses beyond cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and many, many others). In essence, a DLT allows for information to be stored and shared across a network of willing participants, rather than a central location with an administrative role. This allows for unprecedented speed, transparency, and security in peer-to-peer interactions and transactions. As this technological advancement makes a massive impact in finance, its potential for advancing humanitarian agendas is rapidly gaining attention. In the space of international development and humanitarian aid, there are a few applications of Blockchain, and DLTs more generally, that align with IHC Global's policy priorities, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda. Specifically, Blockchain and DLTs  could fundamentally change not only development finance and philanthropy, but identity technologies, supply chains and logistics, and property titling and land registry. As much as decentralization is a reality, and a desired outcome for many boosters of and investors in Blockchain technology, many large international development entities have been the first to recognize the significance and adopt this new wave of technology. For example:

  • The World Bank Blockchain Lab has already started funding use cases for DLT applications in development theaters, and has recognized the necessity to allow for "decentralized communities within the Bank" in order to fully facilitate the implementation of this new tech. 

  • USAID has published a Primer on Blockchain for International Development, which highlights current use cases, and provides a comprehensive rubric for the appropriate application of DLT in development projects. 

  • A multiplicity of different agencies and projects within the UN system are among the forefront of Blockchain for development and international aid.

What to watch from BSIC 2018
Given the recognition of these new technical capabilities by the big institutions in the development space, there were a few projects at BSIC 18 in Washington D.C. which touch on IHC Global's policy priorities:

  • ALICE seeks to change philanthropy by providing a way to "tie your money to the results," using DLT to increase speed and accountability for charities and other donation platforms. 

  • HARA provides a way to empower agriculturalists across the world, particularly in developing regions, by providing a platform for unprecedented ease of business, and accountability through a cryptocurrency platform. 

  • Techfugees made a splash at BSIC 2018 in Washington D.C. not only for their human minded and well-rounded sense of Blockchain as a means for social impact, but also for stressing the importance of education for the success of any humanitarian endeavor that bases its claim on the use of a new technology to leap-frog more traditional methodologies.

The international community holds great expectations for what these technologies can do, but as IHC Global emphasizes in our "Smart City. Just City." campaign, with great technological power comes great social responsibility. It may sound like we're quoting Spider-man, but it is critical that when adopting these DLTs, cities, countries and organizations check in with the people that these programs are built to serve every step of the way. As IHC Global continues to advocate for practical and equitable urban development, we will stay tuned for what these unprecedented technologies do, and determine what they can do to change cities for good.

For more on IHC Global's policy priorities, click here.