Blockchain: How We Move from Hype to Reality

Blockchain, cryptocurrency, bitcoin what do they have to do with helping the poor? Believe it or not international development work is involved with multiple actors, contracts, and ledgers. Information is shared and sent and informed consent is not always possible. Information sharing consent is often assumed for people that have voluntarily enrolled and accepted charitable programming. Blockchain is not just cryptocurrencies like bitcoin . . . it is also a way to have a real-time interactive ledger across multiple parties, including information sharing consent from project participants.

A recent webinar hosted by CRS and NetHope featured speakers from the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), Strategic Impact Advisors, and the Start Network. The webinar talked about key ways blockchain can and is being used to improve development programming. Below are different applications for blockchain in international development the speakers have shared.

Jordan Weinstock from Strategic Impact Advisors looks to blockchain integration in:

  • Financial transactions
  • Contracts
  • Land titles
  • Receipts

Ahmed Dermish from the United Nationals Capital Development Fund highlights popular applications for blockchain to improve

  • Birth registration
  • Utility and payment systems
  • Voting processes

Helen James from the Start Network is applying blockchain to improve

  • Direct grant financial transactions, changing the role of intermediaries, and saving time and costs while bringing greater transparency and accountability

The webinar recording talks about the top use cases surveyed for public blockchain experiments. The question that remains is …

When will blockchain move from pilotitus to broadscale?

According to moderator Nandini Harihareswara, Regional Technical Specialist for the Mobile Money for the Poor program at the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the opportunities for the distributed leger technology are still nascent and in discovery stage. While there are opportunities to transform many fields, digital identity may well get us there first. Blockchain technology has the ability to remove intermediaries and reduce cost. However, administration and training (like any technology tool) will still remain as a necessary measure. All speakers highlight the need for a cost benefit analysis that can show concrete payoffs. If positive numbers show true potential, we expect many to follow.

If you like to hear more about blockchain, the 10th ICT4D Conference, on May 8-10, 2018, in Lusaka, Zambia, will feature a Conference Track on digital financial inclusion, led by UNCDF and NetHope. Further information about the event and how to participate can be found on the website

Author: Kathryn Clifton, ICT4D Knowledge Management and Communication Specialist, Catholic Relief Services