Here for Good: Four Blockchain Applications That Pay It Forward
Could blockchain be the next big social development disruptor?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
If numbers truly don’t lie, then the blockchain — the immutable digital ledger that powers such cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin and Ethereum — has undoubtedly grabbed the attention of investors in the last year.
As early as May, Crunchbase already realised its fearless forecast that VC funding raised by blockchain startups in 2018 would exceed the $900 million raised in 2017. The IDC pins global spending on blockchain down to $2.1 billion as 2018 marks a “crucial stage for enterprises as they make a huge leap from proof-of-concept projects to full blockchain development.” Market research group Netscribes predicts the blockchain space expanding 42.8 percent every year to 2022, with market value reaching $13.98 billion by that time.
Currently, a good deal of these investments is funnelled into financial technology, but applications of the blockchain protocol actually go beyond fintech.
Any enterprise involved in record-keeping, documentation, registrations, and transactions can be disrupted. In fact, the blockchain’s ability to provide transparent and indisputable transaction records in real-time bespeaks its potential to make a significant impact in areas of dire need: social good and development.
Here are four horizontal applications that show how blockchain can pay it forward.
1. Transparency in international aid
There’s no shortage of humanitarian assistance in the world. In fact, according to Transparency International, international aid financing has been rising year-on-year from around $16.7 billion in 2010 to $27.3 billion in 2016 — a significant step towards ensuring essential help is given to the tens of millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance from governments, non-government agencies, and the United Nations.
Unfortunately corruption of the worst kind mires humanitarian work, with money and goods going missing, or used by powerful local groups and corrupt networks for their benefit.
It is precisely in this area where Aid:Tech, a Dublin-based startup backed by SGInnovate and Enterprise Ireland, is using the blockchain protocol in transformative ways. Aid:Tech’s platform harnesses blockchain technology to digitise and transparently deliver aid, welfare, remittances, donations and healthcare, effectively addressing such obstacles in global development as legal identity and social and financial inclusion.
The first company in the world to use blockchain to deliver international aid, Aid:Tech utilised its platform to track and transparently deliver aid from donors to Syrian refugees in Tripoli, Northern Lebanon.
Aid:Tech co-founder Joseph Thompson, in a recent interview with Silicon Republic, expressed the project marked a “landmark occasion [not only] for Aid:Tech but the wider blockchain industry as a whole. As investments from State-backed agencies both at home and abroad signal further support of this promising technology, it is extremely encouraging to see these highly regarded institutions identifying blockchain as an active area of innovation while also embracing the technology for future transformative projects.”
2. Bridging the education gap
Education has been touted the “great equaliser of the conditions of men.” Too often in the developing world, students who receive poor education or drop out of school before graduating due to financial constraints. According to UNESCO’s 2017-18 Global Education Monitoring report, only 83% of children who go to school will complete their elementary education; and only 45% of students aged 15-17 will finish secondary school.
This is precisely why Skolafund, a Singapore and Malaysia-based scholarship crowdfunding platform, makes it its mission to make higher education affordable and accessible to qualified students. With its vision to be “the biggest higher education financing platform in Asia”, Skolafund uses a blockchain-based crowdfunding platform that matches deserving underprivileged undergrads with sponsors from around the world. Funds gathered from the sponsors are used to offer scholarships, pay student loans, and more.
3. Making voting clean again
In an increasingly distrustful and polarised world, blockchain’s transparency and immutability is what makes it truly revolutionary. Once a deal is made, neither party has the power to manipulate the terms. This brings us to yet another impactful use case of blockchain: democratic elections.
The decentralised aspect of blockchain spells good news for democracy because the more transparency there is in the voting system, the better.
And this is no longer a pipe dream. Last March 7, blockchain company Agora helped process the first blockchain-backed presidential election in Sierra Leone in West Africa. With a mission to enable secure and transparent digital elections around the world, Agora leverages the unique attributes of blockchain technology to design the next generation of voting systems for governments and organisations. Designed to eliminate fraud and bring transparency to elections, the impact of digital voting systems for countries where fraud and corruption are rampant, can be significant.
4. Streamlining healthcare
Among the key challenges in the healthcare industry is siloed information systems that make it almost impossible for both patients and doctors to access basic medical records.
Coordination between patients and health and medical providers is a tedious process that takes “almost 25 steps, back and forth multiple times” (according to HealthFX founder and CEO Varun Panjwani) just to access basic information needed. In a frontier country like Myanmar whose corruption- and mismanagement-plagued health care system was ranked second worst in the world by the World Health Organisation, having a proper and transparent healthcare infrastructure can spell the difference between life and death.
Panjwani’s HealthFX, a platform and marketplace powered by AI and blockchain, seeks to change this by bringing patients, doctors, hospitals, and even insurance providers in one ecosystem to ensure patients find the best possible care. Beyond patient care, the blockchain-powered platform also keeps hospitals and insurers from incurring millions of dollars associated with third-party administrative costs. Patient privacy is also protected as medical records and other sensitive data are on a private blockchain that lets patients control who can read and write information.
This set of impactful blockchain use cases is just for starters. This Inc. article posits that, if implemented effectively, the long-term, 25-year view of the blockchain protocol is its ability to address mankind’s most fundamental problems.
The good news is, there’s a growing number of people jumping on the blockchain bandwagon. Singapore-based Blockchain Zoo, for example, is putting together blockchain talents ranging from the most technical skilled developers to tech copywriters and illustrators, making blockchain services accessible to governments and development organisations, should they wish to leverage the technology to further their advocacies.
With a growing number of individuals and enterprises taking on new, wide-ranging blockchain projects, the chains that bind may be no longer.