Blockchain: ideals and technology hand in hand

How do we make proper use of the possibilities of the blockchain?

Three cases, a bunch of idealistic people, sufficient coffee and a handful of blockchain-geeks, that’s what you need for two inspiring and motivating hours. The Spindle and PWC organized a second session on blockchain to further explore the opportunities and difficulties of the blockchain within international development.

This upcoming important technology will have the power to change trade, aid and politics. The big question is; how do we make proper use of the possibilities of the blockchain? How to incorporate advantages of the decentralized information flow?

To gain a better insight into these possibilities, Hervé Francois from ING (a large Dutch bank) gave a short introduction on blockchain technology (Check this video if you would like more technological explanation about the blockchain). Secondly the possible usage of the blockchain was analysed in the following inspiring cases:

1: The coconut journey
Fairfood represented by Marten van Gils, is working on a pilot to trace the coconut production chain. They are researching how they could use the blockchain to provide customers with the opportunity to check the production and route of the coconut. Within this process, the blockchain could function as an overarching certification system. Tags and time-stamps on the coconut should make it possible to trace the coconut back from supermarket to tree. By this, a consumer can check if everybody who took part in the production process did receive a proper wage. Fairfood wants to start by checking whether during every transaction a living wage is paid. On the flip side, the chain is long and complex. During the session, many questions popped up: Who has theauthority to tag the coconuts? Is the blockchain secured in a way that we can trust the provided information? Could we rely on automatized, decentralized systems or are even those sensitive to corrupt middle-man? In addition, how could we scale up the coconut-registration on the blockchain to a point where it is profitable? Very interesting questions and Fairfood, in cooperation with Provenance.org, is working hard on solutions.

2: Impossible flows of money
Shamla Tsargand of The Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) questioned to which extent the blockchain can be a solution to overcome the difficulties of international value transactions. NGOs in, for example, Russia, are facing serious legal sanctions when accepting foreign donations. Many of these organizations are financially dependent from foreign donations and therefore these sanctions minimize their possible impact. Receiving money off the governmental radar could be of great help. However, even though it might be possible to anonymously transfer bitcoins, one can hardly use those within the Russian economy. While it might currently be too difficult to facilitate economic support via the blockchain, during the session participants came up with other usages of the blockchain to improve civic power. Articles, researches, photos and other media could be put on the blockchain. By this, they are immutable and therefore insensitive for governmental adjustments.

 3: A proper wage for mine workers
Can the blockchain be a solution in exterminating child labour? Judith Flick and Tirza Voss of Terre des Hommes introduced a case around mica-mining. The work conditions in the mines are often bad, wages low and child-labour is a common phenomenon. For companies working with mica, it is difficult to trace the source of their mica. In addition, Judith stated, we could question if they want to know where and how their mica is produced. By their ignorance, they lack responsibility. However, participants stressed, this discourse is changing. Consumers want to know the sources of their purchases and therefore, companies have an economic incentive to profile themselves as transparent and fair. The blockchain could be of use when a company wants to guarantee this image. Smart contracts could ensure better working conditions, wages and could even set the criteria that the children of the workers are enrolled in education. Again, we should question to which extent these smart contracts are not frauded upon.

As showed above, there are multiple possible implications of the blockchain within international development. The first organizations, like Fairfood, start to experiment and prototype with this technology. Still, there is a long way to go before this could be practically implemented within our day-to-day activities. The Spindle will stimulate working on this topic. Creating more understanding of the blockchain ‘magic’, co-creation and inspiration and working towards a prototype will be our focus.

For more information on The Spindle’s activity on blockchain, contact Annewies Kuipers via annewies@partos.nl.

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