Can Blockchain Really Help the Poor?: If So, Who Is Trying To?

Can Blockchain Really Help the Poor?: If So, Who Is Trying To?

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 40
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9578-6.ch006
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It is the firm belief of the authors that Blockchain and other frontier technologies will be an important tool for social impact globally. It is now possible, with technology, to envision a world where everyone has an identity, where everyone can be connected to the economic system, where farmers get fair deals for their crops, and land registration is incorruptible. Advances in solar, battery, and digital commerce make it possible to imagine even the smallest village in Africa being able to produce and trade small amounts of energy. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were a visionary leap to a future state where the world can be a better place for humankind. However, they will not be achieved without harnessing the potential of technology. Nor will they be reached alone. In this chapter, the authors profile innovative case studies in Blockchain, which, if brought to scale, may realise the technology's potential. It is through this learning and experimentation that we will learn how to deploy this technology globally for social impact.
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One of the great criticisms – and frustrations - for social entrepreneurs, researchers and technologists alike, is the observation that Blockchain has so much potential but so few proven and scalable use cases.

Blockchain is an emergent technology, and many of the social impact projects only started in 2017 (Stanford Graduate School of Business, 2018), so there very few – if any - that are at scale. This means that a case study approach is the most suitable way of understanding how Blockchains can be used.

Through the authors’ networks and knowledge, and by expert consultation, we have identified a selection of potential high-impact projects. Specific companies were invited to participate, by email and personal contact. A template tool was designed and presented to each organisation for completion. Data was received, analysed, presented, compared and mapped to the B4SC model identified in Chapter One.

Deployed at scale, there are infinite possibilities for Blockchain to ameliorate challenges faced by the poor and marginalised; providing safe access to critical resources and employment, financial inclusion, health care and education amongst many others. Such opportunity allows us to envision a world where the poor, with an identity on the Blockchain, can secure finance, where the two billion unbanked poor, can access the global financial system through a mobile phone and digital currencies, and where people who live on customary land, have the title secured on a Blockchain and can leverage that title to access finance. Blockchain could resolve complexities in the distribution of foreign aid; ensuring it is delivered directly to targeted beneficiaries using a smart contract, without using a middleman. While the potential for social impact is yet to be fully realised – for there are few use cases at scale in developing countries - those that do exist provide an exciting glimmer of the developments yet to follow and instil hope in the authors that Blockchain could be a revolutionary technology.

Many of the Blockchain applications that have been built in the West are built for smart phones and high infrastructure settings. However, many hard to reach populations have, at best, 2G networks (GSMA, 2018), they live in areas of unreliable mobile service or have limited access to electricity.

In this chapter, we profile two innovative case studies, Hiveonline and IDBox, in which the founders are building for low infrastructure settings in Niger and Papua New Guinea. These projects demonstrate that even in low connectivity settings, it is possible to deploy life changing technology.

The endeavour in this chapter is to profile innovative case studies in Blockchain solutions which may realise the technology’s potential if brought to scale. It is thus, through the learning and experimentation of these pioneers that a solution for significant social impact could be developed.

Table 1 outlines the problems being addressed by the 10 case studies.

The vision of the New World is clearly demonstrated though the use cases detailed below, and provide rich evidence of seeking to fulfill the Empowerment, New Data Economy and Global Economics blocks of the B4SC Model and this working to achieve the New World Vision.

Figure 1.

The New World


It is freely acknowledged, however, that despite these use cases, there remain many practical questions to be answered in settings with little internet access and electricity and that there is yet more to come as capacity, interoperability and scalability limitations are addressed. The case studies below have been purposefully chosen for their application to emerging markets, as argued in Chapter 4, where the greatest number of early adopters will be.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quorum: The Quorum Blockchain is an enterprise Blockchain established by JP Morgan Chase bank in collaboration with the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance.

Oracle: An oracle is a party which relays information between smart contracts and external data sources. It acts as a data carrier between smart contracts on the Blockchain and external data sources off the Blockchain. One way of keeping information private is to use oracles to retrieve private information from an external data source.

REST: Representational state transfer is a software architectural style that defines a set of constraints to be used for creating web services. Web services that conform to the REST architectural style, termed RESTful web services, provide interoperability between computer systems on the internet.

Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO): An organization that is run on a decentralised network using rules encoded in smart contracts.

ERC-20: A token standard for Ethereum, used for smart contracts implementing tokens. It is a common list of rules defining interactions between tokens, including transfer between addresses and data access.

Bootstrap: To self-start a project using founders’ own resources.

GAS: A term used on the Ethereum platform that refers to a unit of measuring the computational effort of conducting transactions or smart contracts, or launch dApps in the Ethereum network. It is the “fuel” of the Ethereum network.

FOAM: A Proof of Location protocol that empowers a permissionless and autonomous network of radio beacons that can offer secure location services independent of external centralized sources such as GPS through time synchronization.

Decentralised Application (dApp): A type of application that runs on a decentralised network, avoiding a single point of failure.

Rootstock (RSK): Rootstock enables users to write and run smart contracts on top of the Bitcoin Blockchain. Rootstock is a combination of a Turing-complete resource-accounted deterministic virtual machine (for smart contracts), a two-way pegged Bitcoin sidechain (for BTC denominated trade), a dynamic hybrid merge-mining/federated consensus protocol (for consensus security), and a low-latency network (for fast payments).

API: API stands for application programming interface. It is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. APIs specify how software components should interact, such as what data to use and what actions should be taken.

Non-Fungible Token (NFT): A non-divisible token that cannot be exchanged like-for-like. Unique characteristics make these tokens digitally scarce.

ERC-721: ERC721 is a non-fungible subset of Ethereum tokens.

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