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Closing Charities’ Accountability Gap Through Blockchain Technology

Humanitarian Blockchain

a BitcoinNews.com series

   Part 3: Closing Charities’ Accountability Gap Through Blockchain Technology

          Welcome to the third installment of the Bitcoin News Humanitarian Blockchain Series. Charity begins at home, but the growing question being asked over the past few years is, where does it actually go?  We try to highlight some of the current solutions being presented by blockchain technology to this essential industry

The track record of the charity industry has been, regrettably, far from exemplary, and in some instances, at worst, disgraceful. Well-publicized scandals over the past few years have seen a decline in the public donations to charitable organizations, with some of those intuitions being brought into disrepute by misappropriation of public funds or inappropriate behavior of field staff.

Even now, a US investigation is looking into fraudulent identity activity in Myanmar where refugees fingerprints from amongst the Chin minority are causing confusion as fraudsters purchase refugees’ identities for their own ends. Also, in Bangladesh many Rohingya refugees in safe-harbor there have been registered multiple times and records of family groups have been almost non-existent,

Using Blockchain to clean up the industry is possibly the only way that many charitable institutions can survive, and regain public trust by demonstrating a greater level of transparency and accountability.

The main barriers to success in the humanitarian field have been lowering the impact of administration, transportation and documentation cost on donated funds, and making every aspect of donations totally transparent from source to final delivery of the benefit to the recipient.

Charities have been slow to take up the obvious benefits that can be offered to the industry. In fact, it is no exaggeration to suggest that there could be no more obvious and beneficial use case for DLT than its solution to the accountability problems that charities are currently suffering.

Luckily some organizations are on board, but far too few. The World Food Programme (WFP) has been quick to realise the potential of blockchain solutions. As Bitcoin News reported in the first of its humanitarian series, the uses in Jordan’s refugee camps has been essential, in not only feeding and providing work for Syrian refugees but also creating a renewed feeling of self-worth, particularly against female escapees from the war in Syria.

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, as far back as 2011, was trying to deal with how to get donated funds from a source. At the time, a massive $40 billion was failing to reach its intended recipients, the money was diverted to corrupt officials and middlemen. Seven years on, the blockchain is now being used by the WFP to tackle this problem. Gustav Stromfelt, one of the project managers working on the WFP’s program commented:

“We have this rapid ability to understand where our money is throughout the process…It improves transparency, accountability, and communication across the board.”

This UN-supported programme in Jordan uses dollars at this stage, not cryptocurrency, but through DLT every cent is accounted for right up to the purchase and delivery of physical goods.

Charities accepting cryptocurrencies, and there have been many, were badly hit by the drop in the value of Bitcoin at the end of 2017 and much of the funds were seriously diminished before funds could be dispersed. Silicon Valley Community Foundation revealed in its 2017 audit 45% of its investment assets were unable to be turned into cash in 2018 due to government restrictions.

Many of these problems are now being overcome through online mining schemes which benefit charities and straight crypto donations fund by such organisations as Children in Need and others.

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by 24-hour trading volume, has recently tried to address some of these issues with the announcement of a Blockchain Charity Foundation which aims to plug the transparency gap for multiple organisations with its planned donation tracking system: Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao explains:

“Lack of transparency has been a problem for charities today. Some estimate up to 80% of donations does not reach the intended beneficiaries. With the ability to track every single transaction, blockchain technology seems tailor-made to solve this problem.”

Although the Blockchain Charity Foundation is still at concept stage, Binance suggest that the system will allow donors to give to one or as many chosen charities as they want whilst retaining anonymity if they wish: The company commented:

“Each BCF program will have its unique receiving address(es). BCF may choose to donate directly to the ultimate beneficiaries or work with other charity partners who then distributes the funds to the ultimate beneficiaries. Either way, the funds will be tracked in a transparent manner.”

Solutions to past problems are slowly being presented through new technology, but clearly, more urgency is required to reshape the face of the charity industry and restore public face so that charity can transit from home to its needy target and arrive at its destination intact, as was intended from the source.

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IBM’s Food Trust Blockchain Goes Live, Carrefour Jumps in First

Multinational tech giant IBM has been leaving a significant imprint on the retail industry lately with the use of blockchain technology, and it’s doing again with the latest project, Food Trust.

IBM, not content with providing foodchain solutions for mega-retailer Walmart, has now hooked up with French supermarket giant Carrefour in order to launch blockchain based Food Trust, enabling the chain to price its products more accurately.

The recent IBM/Walmart project came up with a farm-to-store tracking system based on blockchain technology which Walmart committed 100 of its suppliers to adhere to. Both Walmart and IBM have been at the forefront of DLT since its conception and both companies are eager to promote the use of new technology in sectors including business and commerce. Walmart has become a primary mover in the industry in pushing blockchain forward with numerous patents pending.

The latest IBM deal with Carrefour, now operating in over 12,000 locations around the globe, offers three individual retailing solutions using DLT. The first of which, called “Trace” offers a sophisticated system of tracking products from source, which also factors in shipping and production costs, allowing the retailer to arrive at a fair price to pass on to customers.

Other aspects of Food Trust in its present early form focus establishes how goods fit retailers “Fair Trade” or “Organic” tags in order to be accurately listed on the blockchain, adding to buyer confidence.

Carrefour itself is no stranger to using emerging technologies in recent months and made a recent impact on the French farming sector this year with its blockchain based system which began tracking its chicken supply. This provided customers with an egg to table history by using a smartphone to scan a code on the packaging to obtain details on each stage of production, including origins, earlier location, feed and where the meat was finally processed.

Carrefour may be the first to use the latest IBM system, but now Food Trust is live and it’s there to be used by all in the food industry moving forward.

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Blockchain Adoption ‘Harder Than Expected’, Claim Executives

A recent poll of executives shows that blockchain adoption within enterprises has been more challenging than initially thought.

Over 200 executives shared their views in the survey, each involved personally in blockchain initiatives of some form. Their background varied from banking, exchange companies, consultancy firms, and dedicated blockchain companies to name a few.

Of the participating executives in the consulting firm Greenwich Associates’ survey, 57% voted that instituting blockchain had been ”harder than expected.” The report points to hardware security and the autonomy of transactions as contributing causes for this significant percentage.

Another area deemed problematic was scalability; 42% said it was a ”major issue.” Unsurprisingly, only 7% of those from blockchain technology companies felt this way, with 33% of them saying it was ”not an issue.” Still, that leaves close to half of non-blockchain dedicated firms struggling to process high volumes of transactions on the blockchain network quickly.

Vice president in Greenwich Associates’ Market Structure and Technology group and the author of the report, Richard Johnson, believes that the disparity between the two groups could simply be put down to ”optimism” from blockchain companies over the technology. More so, they could be making the determination based on controlled tests and would face latency issues when the real-world application begins.

Most firms in the survey were yet to execute any distributed ledger technology (DLT) projects successfully, with slow transactions speeds presenting a major issue. Just 2% managed to reach over 15,000 transactions per second, although Johnson is optimistic about this small number, saying:

“We’re beginning to see firms figure out how to get the blockchain to run fast and do a lot of transactions per second, and I think that’s really encouraging.”

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Indian Prime Minister Gives “Life Changing” DLT Full Backing

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken out in favor of giving support to distributed ledger technology (DLT), outlining its potential to change lives.

Modi sees emerging technologies such as blockchain boosting the Indian economy and creating a more buoyant employment landscape which could change the lives of “the last person waiting in the queue”.

These are encouraging words for an industry which is seen to be struggling this year, not helped by a controversial crypto ban which is under enforcement, and a sluggish performance to date by the government in passing helpful blockchain legislation.

Research conducted by Incrypt earlier this year found that 80% of developers could be forced to move abroad due to the distinct lack of regulatory frameworks in India. According to hiring solutions provider Belong Technologies, only 5,000 (0.25%) of the 2 million blockchain developers in India have the right blockchain skills.

The survey indicated that “the delay in putting together a framework for blockchain is causing India to lose out on jobs, drag in capital infusion, lack of innovation for local problems, talent flight, and setback in global positioning”.

These new comments could mark a positive change for the development and legislation of blockchain technology and help in retaining the skill needed to push into mainstream adoption across the sectors. A recent move in Hyderabad to create a blockchain district show some state governments’ willingness to take the next step. The Hyderabad project would see multinational IT services provider Tech Mahindra join forces with Telangana state government for the construction of the hub in the state capital.

Although the prime minister has waxed lyrical regarding blockchain on more than one occasion, the government will need to lead from the front and implement such plans as those in Telangana to show that it is serious.

The potential for blockchain in the Indian farming sector is huge as the second biggest global producer of wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, silk, groundnuts and dozens more produce. It is also the second biggest harvester of vegetables and fruit, representing 8.6% and 10.9% of overall production, respectively. Agricultural supply chains, often victims of mismanagements and corruption in India, will benefit enormously from a DLT adaptation, a fact not lost on Modi in a speech made earlier this year:

“The responsibility of helping our farmers rests on the shoulders of the new generation. Agricultural students will add value addition to the farmers in our country. There is one important technology in agriculture-artificial intelligence. In the coming days, blockchain technology will also play a huge role.”

 

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G20 Crypto Report: Preserve Benefits of Innovation, Contain Risk

The G20 Financial Stability Board (FSB) is rarely upbeat when it comes to cryptocurrency and its latest report won’t disappoint, although there are indications that the regulatory board is beginning to accept that crypto is here to stay.

It states that its observations are primarily based on a “monitoring framework… predominantly based on public data” and it would be interesting to uncover exactly where this data is gathered.

The usual risks to financial stability in that crypto lacks sovereign currency “attributes” and concerns about digital currencies’ price volatility are all to be found in the report, with little reference to their benefits. It also refers to a lack of regulation due to the range of jurisdictions in which cryptocurrency exchanges operate.

The FSB is formed by an amalgamation of 68 finance departments and central banks of the G20 and chaired by Bank of England’s head Mark Varney who has expressed his concerns about cryptocurrency on more than one occasion.

The G20 financial watchdog noted in its July report that previous analysis of crypto-asset markets, which included initial coin offerings (ICOs), had brought forth awareness surrounding significant challenges such as rapid market development, lack of transparency (with regard to identity and location if token issuers), as well as governing laws for white papers and gaps in data.

This latest report has upgraded some of these concerns from early in the year calling for “vigilant monitoring” suggesting that institutionalized cryptocurrency may erode confidence in financial institutions; a clear concern being shown that banks fear an alternative option for their customers. This may not be imminent, but a likelihood that this becomes the status quo in future years is bound to concern major banking institutions around the globe, as represented by the G20 body.

However, it appears there is some consensus from within the group about the value of innovation, if not the benefits of crypto, although this may be limited to the respect currently being shown for the rising swathe of DLT in the fintech space and elsewhere. The report stated:

“FSB members have to date taken a wide variety of domestic supervisory, regulatory, and enforcement actions related to crypto-assets. These actions are balanced between preserving the benefits of innovation and containing various risks, especially those for consumer and investor protection and market integrity.”

The report also goes on to refer to the widespread use of crypto as a payment system but plays down the level of its impact in the financial and commercial sector by using the word “some”, perhaps unaware of crypto’s growing stature as a payment system:

“Importantly, crypto-assets are neither backed by any government or other authority nor are they legal tender in any jurisdiction. However, some private enterprises and some public sector entities have chosen to accept some crypto-assets as payment.”

 

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Singaporean Financial Regulator to Help Crypto Exchanges with Wary Banks

The Singaporean financial regulator has stated that it is willing to support cryptocurrency firms that are having problems with setting up bank accounts in the city.

Some crypto firms have complained against Singapore’s banking system which they argue has resulted in account closures or companies simply not being able to open business accounts. This has resulted in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) stepping in an attempt to alleviate the problem.

MAS Managing Director Ravi Menon that has said that from the point of view of the banks, he can understand their concerns, arguing they should not allow “an extremely lax regulatory environment in order to attract that kind of business”, referring to the cryptocurrency industry. He added:

“What we are trying to do is to bring the banks and cryptocurrency fintech startups together to see if there is some understanding they can reach… I hope we can bring minds together on this so that we can get over this hurdle.”

Singapore has expressed in the past that it has no desire to follow the Japanese pro-crypto stance on cryptocurrency but on the other hand, is keen to push fintech forward in order create tech jobs and boost the economy. This, however, doesn’t include embracing crypto exchanges in the same way that Japan has. This view is clearly reflected in the stance that many of Singapore’s banks have taken. Menon defends this concern arguing:

“The nature of this business is a bit different, so banks may need to employ other ways in which they can establish bona fide… some of these activities are indeed quite opaque. I would not blame the banks for not opening the bank accounts.”

The problem is not unique to Singapore, as banks in other countries have been reticent to offer services to crypto firms due to concerns about money laundering and financial crime, despite numerous claims that figures are exaggerated. Even European counties such as the Irish Republic have had similar problems where banks have closed crypto exchange accounts.

However, blockchain development is fast becoming a major part of Singapore’s fintech environment. With the recent news that Singapore-based Venture Capital firm Golden Gate Ventures is to launch a $10 million fund targeting crypto and blockchain startups, the country continues to push forward with its DLT investment, with one eye on crypto.

 

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Blockchain Technology in Protecting Children’s Rights

Humanitarian Blockchain

a BitcoinNews.com series

   Part 2: Blockchain Technology in Protecting Children’s Rights

Welcome to the second instalment of the Bitcoin News Humanitarian Blockchain Series. According to Human Rights Watch, over 70 million children around the world work in hazardous conditions in agriculture, mining, domestic labor and other sectors.  We look at how blockchain is impacting upon these statistics to make the world a safer place for children.

A project is set to be launched this year, using blockchain, in order to provide manufacturers of devices such as iPhones genuine information that guarantees that the cobalt in their lithium-ion batteries is not mined by children. The tracking of cobalt in the Congo is an enormous problem due to numerous informal mining sites, many of them being worked by children. The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), devastated by a protracted war which has caused the death of 5.4 million people, is listed as the world’s poorest nation.

The US Department of Labor identifies 148 different consumer goods produced by child or forced labor around the world including beef, sugar, bricks, coffee and other products originating from 76 countries. With gold at the top of this consumer list, the report cites 21 countries in which “children help mine gold, climbing into unstable shafts, carrying and crushing heavy loads of ore, and often using toxic mercury to process the gold”.

Blockchain will offer much-increased supply chain transparency until a solution to finding an alternative source to cobalt can be found by phone companies and car manufacturers. Amnesty International is currently exploring the possibility of implementing blockchain technology to address the problem of child labor by enabling consumers to register a specific mine to make their purchase. Unregistered illegal mines would, therefore, be easily identifiable through blockchain.

This year, UNICEF published a website enabling crypto mining through donors’ computer power called “The Hope Page”. It mined Monero through Coinhive, a crypto-mining service. This was the second time that UNICEF had used cryptocurrency to fund its overseas projects. In February, it launched a similar program to support children in Syria, affected by the lengthy civil war in that country, using donors’ computers to mine Ether.

The donated funds went to UNICEF Australia’s current mission in Bangladesh for the Rohingya crisis, providing humanitarian relief for both children and their mothers, ensuring that they receive life-saving supplies such as safe drinking water, food, and vaccines.

Director of UNICEF France, Sébastien Lyon, commented on its current focus on using blockchain technology and accepting cryptocurrency donations to implement some of its projects around the world to support children’s well- being:

“Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology used for charitable purposes offers a new opportunity to appeal to the generosity of the public and continue to develop our operations with children in the countries of intervention.”

This year, the Global Bank raised USD 73 million for the two-year bond called “bondi”, due to the involvement of one of Australia’s “Big 4” banks. The funds were raised via the Global Bank’s funding arm, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The target was originally between USD 50 million and USD 100 million, aimed at supporting a range of sustainability projects in developing countries around the globe.

One of the World Bank’s main priorities is that children have access to health care, education, water and sanitation, and energy. Recent projects funded by the World Bank include improving agricultural research in Afghanistan, fighting hunger in Afghan villages, and improving infrastructure in the Palestine territories.

In many parts of the world, conditions for children are appalling, often requiring that they work for long hours in dangerous locations with little pay. In the jewelry retail sector, children working at source have often been injured and killed when working in small-scale gold or diamond mining pits.

This industry is clearly one that would benefit from blockchain in terms of addressing children’s vulnerability as they are forced to work for disreputable employers with little regard for the health or safety of their often under-aged workers. For the customer at point-of-sale, it is currently very difficult to know exactly the origins of the gold or diamonds in an item of jewelry, or whether it has been tainted by human rights abuses involving children. With more consumers beginning to demand responsible sourcing, retailers now have a supply chain solution at their fingertips by utilizing DLT. Retailers are able to take the emerging technology path and change their ways of conducting business, putting pressure on those at source to extract minerals using a much-improved code of ethics.

The missing element is education, and the dissemination of information, which are both badly needed to encourage industry to adopt this vital tool to change children’s lives and protect children’s rights around the globe.

 

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Advocacy Groups Separate Fact from Fiction as California Passes Crypto Bills

Two pending blockchain and cryptocurrency bills have passed through the Californian Legislature into law, with support from a community advocacy group.

It appears that the two bills, created to clarify cryptocurrency and allow blockchain-based business to have a legal standing in the state, had considerable non-governmental support leading up to their adoption.

The Advocacy Blockchain Coalition is becoming one of a number of community groups now fulfilling an essential role in bringing facts about the industry to the attention of lawmakers. Sensationalist media reports have done little to help the advancement of emerging technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrency in the US and advocacy groups are beginning to plug the educational gap between fact and fiction.

Lobbyists and advocacy groups manage to cut through the media hype and provide lawmakers with essential information about what blockchain and cryptocurrencies can achieve and how they can be utilized in the financial sector and elsewhere.

The new Californian bills passed, SB 838 and AB 2658, have provided a legal framework for companies to record and transfer stocks using DLT and include legislative support for contracts signed electronically, negating the need for written authorization.

They also define blockchain as “a mathematically secured, chronological, and decentralized ledger or database”, representing a huge step in accepting blockchain in the state and elsewhere in the US. This bill should receive widespread support from the public domain, comprising those from within the industry as well as members of the legal profession, private companies, and consumer groups.

One requirement of bill AB 2658 is the creation of a working group within the State Government of California including members of the cryptocurrency community, as well as legislators, to examine blockchain technology more thoroughly. The group will report back to the Legislature before July 2020 with recommendations on how it could be used at state governmental level and among the Californian business community.

A statement made Senator Roberts Hertzberg, representing the 18th District of California and the author of the first bill, commended the part that advocacy groups were playing in educating lawmakers on the use cases of blockchain technology, particularly given the flow of negative media coverage surrounding emerging technologies.

 

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UK’s HMRC Blockchain PoC Needs Experts, Policy Direction

Head of Platform Architecture at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Richard Mander, has shared details of the department’s blockchain Proof of Concept (PoC). While he cited the potential benefits as being substantial, hiring and maintaining experienced staff has been an issue.

Speaking on the Govtech stage at Blockchain Live 2018 in London Wednesday, Mander discussed exactly what stage HMRC are at with its PoC, adding that finding people with the right knowledge and skill set to do this is becoming an issue. They hope to expand the project to host a second node in the near future but need to increase the expertise of their team first to make this an easier task.

Mander also outlined future policy issues that HMRC needs to consider in regards to the PoC, including to what extent they want to be accountable for maintaining the future structure of international trade.

The PoC

HMRC have been trialing the blockchain project as a way of increasing the efficiency of cross-government data sharing. Currently, the government model for potential traders in the UK requires them to register with multiple offices who carry out a series of arduous checks before they can receive authorization. Despite the checks being the same or very similar in content, the government does not have a secure way of sharing the information with one another, hence all departments are required to wasteful carry out exactly the same checks.

Mander detailed that if the trader also requires a specific license for selling or purchasing their goods, this can include more departments such as that of international trade or agriculture which are required to undergo these checks – a costly and time-consuming operation for all parties.

He told the audience, ”If we maintained a ledger of all those checks, the outcome would be recorded and could be shared securely and instantly, a huge efficiency benefit for HMRC.”

Phase one of the single node PoC has involved building a private, permissioned blockchain that holds full details of all of HMRC’s audit events and trade applications, with a ledger storing the audit events, outcomes and checks. It has also used blockchain permissions to limit user access to appropriate records by government employees.

”It has been a very successful first trial, it’s proof of the potential benefit of the technology within HMRC.”

Moving forward

It has, however, created some policy issues within government, including the problem that the department’s security premises is based on the idea of single entity data guardianship. A shared, multi-node environment means this would need to be fundamentally changed.

As well as this, with the blockchain trial being such a success, the question has been raised as to what extent HMRC want to be responsible for maintaining the structure for international trades should they continue to develop and launch the PoC.

”Should we be having aspirations of owning blockchain architecture? Do we want to be held accountable if the movement at Heathrow comes to a halt if our application fails?” Mander asked, throwing out potential issues that such a direction might envoke.

”We proved potential value, but at a technology level, there are questions we can’t answer without broader engagement with policymakers,” he concluded.

 

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Walmart Go Green with Blockchain-Based Produce Tracking

Walmart is flexing its DLT muscles after announcing it wants fresh produce suppliers to utilize a farm-to-store tracking system based on blockchain technology.

The company has given 100 of its suppliers fair warning that fresh produce will need to be tracked using the system developed by IBM during the next year.

Both Walmart and IBM have been at the forefront of DLT since its conception and both companies are eager to promote the use of the new technology in sectors including business and commerce. Walmart has become a primary mover in the industry in pushing blockchain forward with numerous patents pending.

Walmart filed for two more blockchain technology patents in April, one for secure payments and another for digital shopping systems. In March, it filed for a “Smart Package” blockchain patent allowing tracking of contents and environmental conditions from point of origin to delivery. That patent states that Walmart technology will record the “key addresses” along the chain and will be used with robotic delivery methods like autonomous vehicles and drones.

The multinational’s latest patent is for a smart device that, when paired with a computing system, would receive a transaction request which, once accepted, transmits a configuration instruction for the appliance to be operated by the user via one or more nodes in the network needed for validation. The patent application details how the technology could be utilized in creating an entire smart home system, including control over energy and healthcare environments.

Of the latest move to track green produce from farm to supermarket shelf, vice president of food safety Frank Yiannas cited a conventional trial using mangoes as the shipment model, commenting, “It took them nearly seven days, as the methods of tracking today are antiquated — sometimes done with pencil and paper.” Walmart maintains that with blockchain technology, that same process will take just 2.2 seconds.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consulted with Walmart over the question of product traceability due to an increase of foodborne illnesses, such as an E.coli outbreak that occurred this year affecting 200 people who needed to be hospitalized.

 

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