Future Session #3 on blockchain: Hype or problemsolver?

Does it have potential to solve great problems in the development sector?

agenda May 9, 2018

Blockchain technology is becoming very popular. The big question however is how to use it. Is it just a hype or does it have potential to solve great problems in the development sector? HumanityX and The Spindle organized a Future Session on Blockchain to find out.

Future Sessions are monthly series of inspirational working sessions that The Spindle organises in collaboration with HumanityX (Centre for Innovation of Leiden University). In these future sessions, participants explore new techniques and methods, to see what it can do for NGOs in international development. During this session on the 24th of April, at the Humanity Hub in The Hague, Yvo Hunink (independent project designer and researcher) provided examples of Blockchain in international development. Together with Kate Dodgson (Delft University / Humanity X) and with the help of a decision tree, the participants made their own ‘use case’.

Blockchain for change
Yvo Hunink is the author of Blockchain for Change, an online magazine about current examples of applications of blockchain technology within the field of international development. Yvo has been working about two years on Blockchain already and started this career in the energy sector. Yvo: “Blockchain can have a big impact, because it can change our institutions and possibly give us new ways of organizing our societies.” Blockchain is very complex, but you don’t have to know all the ins and outs to understand it. Look at it as the internet: most of us don’t know all the details, but we do know how to use it and what to use it for. Thus, if we want to know how blockchain can support development, we have to think about particular ‘use cases’. Yvo provided a short overview of real-life use cases in international development on three themes:

  • Finance: The overseas money transfer process with blockchain is cost-effective, because in this scenario the bank – as a third player – is completely gone. It is possible to transfer money from one side of the world to the other side of the world. An example for this is Disberse, a fund distribution platform. Through this platform, an NGO such as Dorcas can transfer funds from its international office in the Netherlands and trace them directly.
  • Fighting hunger: The conventional process of transferring money to provide food for people in need is very long. With the use of Blockchain, this process is shorter and the food program itself is in the lead. The process is more efficient and transparent, has a significant fee reduction and it is safe because no personal information is shared. The World Food Program of the United Nations brought this concept into practice.
  • Energy: Energy sharing is not very common in development countries. This is due to the fact that the electricity system in a lot of development countries are not managed the same way as in The Netherlands for example. There are a lot of single entities but they aren’t connected. Blockchain technology can be a solution to decentralize energy systems.

The trilemma of Blockchain
Blockchain is a hype, but unfortunately, at this point, the technology is not sustainable yet. A lot needs to be done. During his presentation, Yvo highlighted the so-called ‘Blockchain Trilemma’. The way Blockchain is organized now, is very secure and decentralized, but not scalable at all. Another mentioned dilemma is governance. The question central to this dilemma is who the owner of the chain is. Also, the adoption of the technique is at stake. In the end, it’s the people who have to use it. Want to know more about Yvo’s presentation? Find the powerpoint here or check the online magazine!

Enough of “let’s test and see”? Time for deployment and go-live? Save the date for the Blockchain Week!

Making a use case: When and how to use blockchain?
After the presentation, Kate Dodgson put the participants to work. In the first round, groups were formed based on knowledge of blockchain and knowledge of the development sector. The first step was to write down as many applications for Blockchain you could think of. Afterwards, a discussion started and groups had to choose one challenge to tackle: their use case. Kate Dodgson then introduced her decision tree to help NGOs to see if a challenge can be solved by Blockchain. It turned out to be very important to consider the context of a case. For example: is there an internet connection available? Does the targeted group live in a country with a hostile government? Next was some role playing to reflect on each others’ ideas and potential pitfalls. You can find the use cases participants came with here.

Next session: the Future with Chatbots!
In the next Future Session you will get the chance to learn more about chatbots and the humanitarian applications of chatbots. How to start using these opportunities for your organization? Sign up here for the fourth session about the Future with Chatbots.

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