At UNICEF we tend to ask simple questions. We use this approach to create innovations that provide value for children in need. In the case of Blockchain, in the beginning we developed an understanding of the technology. We asked ourselves what is a smart token? What do “permissions” mean? What is a multisignature wallet? And after some discussions, we simply started building our products. We did this to record what did and did not work. This is our build-learn-measure approach implemented in humanitarian organization.

In 2015 we conducted first experiments with Bitcoin Blockchain. Our goal was to ensure safety of personal data, especially in countries where Personal data can be destroyed due to crises. We were trying to take a photo of a person, link it to their personal information (date of birth, name, etc.), encode those elements, and publish a cryptographically secure link to the encoded information on the blockchain. As everyone has access to the link, because it would be on a public, the identity of the person would last “forever”. The initial tests had positive results. We were able to register, encrypt photos of our team members and recover the photographs using the link posted on the blockchain. The created mechanisms functioned without any problems. We did not take into account only one factor – target user of the product. For our prototype to work, government officials would have to be trained and would need devices on which the UNICEF application was installed, and we would need to finance the cost of many repeated transactions on a public ledger. Every user would have to be trained to memorize their personal passcode (in a world where even sophisticated users have “password” as their password). Our first pilot failed quickly and taught us a great deal. Build-learn-measure as stated before.

In 2018 Pineapple Fund donated $55 million in Bitcoin to charities and included the tagline, “Because once you have enough money, money doesn’t matter.” However as long as NGOs prefer to transform crypto into fiat currency we cannot track the donation. We face a new global challenge to persuade organizations to keep it in its original form. That enables a recipient to identify the history of any obtained cryptocurrency. Being able to prove what is the source of money and what is funded with donated money is crucial in terms of transparency. Because of that we see benefits in a multisignature wallet, which allows an organization the same functionality that exists in normal tables of authority, but it can write that functionality into code that is publicly viewable, auditable, and difficult to compromise.  A publicly visible, immutable contractual vehicle that can automatically check for certain conditions and carry out actions based on those conditions creates opportunities for an organization to be more efficient. Furthermore, an organization like UNICEF would describe its logic publicly, it could immediately begin to get advice and share best practices with other public institutions and perhaps new ways of doing their work because of sharing.

UNICEF is trying to be careful and humble about our work in the exciting world of cryptographic technology because we believe that it can give us tools to serve the world’s most vulnerable children more effectively.

As we started with asking the questions, it would be concise to finish with one: How we can harness technology for social good?


Source: Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, Volume 12, Issue 1-2, Summer-Fall 2018, p.30-45, Un-chained: experiments and learnings in crypto at UNICEF, Christopher Fabian.

Author: UNICEF Poland

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