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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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Miami is Fast Becoming a US Crypto Trendsetter

Florida staked its claim as a significant name in crypto as two pizzas delivered by Papa John’s in Jacksonville once cost the crypto equivalent of $65 million in today’s money, and now with Miami staking its claim as Bitcoin capital of the US, the dream lives on.

Miami is on a charge and has seen a surge of blockchain and crypto conferences setting up their annual venues there over the years. It’s unsurprising, given that there’s also a history there too, as it was not only the home of the first North American Bitcoin Conference but also witnessed the birth of Vitalik Buterin’s Ethereum experiment.

This year’s North American Bitcoin Conference heralded in even more startups, some 30 in number, raising millions, and now gives way to the next conference in the queue, Blockchain Shift to be held in late October bringing IBM, Tesla, KPMG, Bloomberg into its orbit. It promises to be another extravaganza with late-night dancing and yacht parties scheduled, living up to the current festival mode employed by crypto conference organizers.

Miami started the crypto ATM revolution, with machine provider BitStop out of Palmetto Bay now providing services for client all over the state and in California with a network of 50 transaction points.

One of Florida’s movers and shakers, George Levy, award-winning Lecturer and Senior Instructor on the blockchain, had a hand in starting Miami’s Blockchain Institute of Technology (BIT), an online training academy which teaches people more about cryptocurrency and its technological foundations. Levy now has students in 166 countries around the globe and follows up his online training with personal appearances in many of those. Lately, he’s taken the leap to South America, where Bitcoin raised early interest. He now works alongside the engineering department at the University of Curaçao.

“We’re seeing innovation coming out of Latin America, as well strong developers based in Argentina,” he says, adding that, “The fact that I’m here in Miami gives me a very close spot to be able to engage that. It’s a great hub.”

South Americans have viewed cryptocurrency as an escape from financial oppression for years, as exemplified by Bitcoin’s huge following in Venezuela where the fiat economy is a total burnout. Because of its Latin American connection, Miami has a renewed spark of life as a potential crypto hub for South America as a result of political unrest there, geographic proximity and Spanish speaking population.

With such a vibrant cryptocurrency ecosystem comes regulatory concerns, one of the motivations by State government’s June decision to appoint a “Cryptocurrency Chief” to oversee the industry, according to Florida’s chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis, an “…active, comprehensive and balanced approach” providing an “appropriate level of scrutiny for emerging digital asset technologies.”

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Report: European Business Too Conservative with Blockchain, Lack Collaboration

A Cognizant report based on recent research into 1,500 European businesses has revealed that many companies lack collaboration with other firms within their respective fields to push adoption forward.

The research, ‘Blockchain in Europe: Closing the Strategy Gap’, which looked into companies across financial services, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance industries, showed that major changes would need to be introduced into existing systems in order to grow the technology, and this had proved challenging in some areas. Lata Varghese, Blockchain Consulting Practice Lead at Cognizant, explained:

“In a very short time, blockchain has grown from a technology with narrow applications related to payments and cryptocurrencies, to one meriting attention from many business leaders… a focus on collaboration with other players to benefit wider industry will be key to realizing the real potential of blockchain.”

The major concern for blockchain adoption in Europe, despite the report’s revelation that 83% of continental business decision makers expect blockchain to have an important impact on their industry, is that only 2% of businesses showed a willingness to work with other firms for wider industry advancements as part of their blockchain strategy, which illustrates Varghese’s concerns.

What is clear is that European businesses realize that blockchain will play a part in their future progress but the willingness to change to accommodate this is lacking, with nearly half of the 1,500 survey respondents seeing no need to change existing models to accommodate future blockchain innovation.

Other findings from Cognizant’s report revealed that 70% of respondents saw competitive advantage as a top benefit of blockchain and 94% saw process inefficiencies as being addressable, but just over a half of respondents struggled to understand practical use cases and/or assess their costs and benefits (51%).

An example of company collaboration to push the technology forward for mutual benefit is best exemplified by a collective blockchain project by major global car producers, BMW, General Motors, Ford, and Renault who joined with other companies to launch the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative. Other companies on the project include Bosch, Hyperledger, IOTA and IBM who are part of the project’s 30-strong membership formed to explore the potential of blockchain in the mobility space.

 

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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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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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China Claims Proposed Blockchain Standards Will Guide Industry

The China Electronics Standardization Institute (CESI) working for the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has announced a blockchain standards project to standardize the industry in the country.

The CESI project involves the release of three blockchain standards, which are not based on a national approach to standardizing the industry, but outline requirements for smart contracts, privacy and deposits which could be used as a foundation for changes within the overall industry in the future.

The Blockchain Technology and Industry Development Forum (CBD Forum) of CESI wants to draft up the three blockchain standards by the end of 2018, with a possible release in 2019. CBD Forum has been largely responsible for drawing up guidelines for blockchain development in China, having so far published “China Blockchain Technology and Application Development White Paper (2016)” and “Reference Architecture of Blockchain” standards under instruction from MIIT.

Li Ming, a director of blockchain research lab of the (CESI) confirmed, “The association-based standards will serve as a foundation on which national and international standards can make reference to or be based on.” However, it is not clear what situation would warrant other nations feeling the need to refer to Chinese standards as many are working on guidelines of their guidelines of their own. At a recent Shanghai blockchain conference, chairman of the International Standardization Technical Committee for Distributed Ledger Technology, Craig Dunn said:

“The blockchain is gradually being accepted, and more and more people are beginning to recognize, invest in or use blockchain. But at the same time, many people are skeptical and international standards are needed… At present, more than 50 countries are participating in the development of blockchain standards, including China.”

Li Ming emphasized that China’s blockchain requirements are simply recommended standards so consequently not mandatory; there as a reference point for the developing blockchain industry.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has recently published its own blockchain guidebook that observes the technology’s key features. The book, Blockchain – A Guide for Officials, covers many facets of the nascent technology which will offer counsel to government officials.

 

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Will There Be Lambos at the WBF, Crypto’s Big Event of 2018?

The 4th World Blockchain Forum is coming to New York City in November and will be televised on mainstream TV networks including NASDAQ, NETFLIX, and APPLE TV.

The WBF is the second mammoth crypto event to come to New York this year after the Consensus event in the summer. The latest of the new wave of crypto conferences may not offer the glamour of the Futurama Summit in Dubai, with its desert convoys, star-studded yacht party, a bar to drown the sorrows of the most discerning drinkers, fleets of helicopters, hot air balloons, and a massive firework extravaganza. It may lack the Lambos and the hip-hop artists of New York’s latest event, but its founder Zhao Sheng clearly sees such gatherings as enriching the industry and therefore, entirely relevant to its future, he said:

“We are witnessing an unprecedented digital migration of wealth onto blockchains of various forms so we need to start working towards a global blockchain industry consensus. And the best way to achieve consensus is to gather all stakeholders together within an ecosystem founded on consensus, which is why we organize the World Blockchain Forum.”

The WBF planned for the 8/9 November will include a TV event, a hackathon, a job fair, and presentations and panel discussions featuring leading innovators from across the cryptocurrency industry with the organizers inviting crypto skeptics to join the event and express their concerns to those industry experts in the know.

So far, Zhao Sheng, who promises that this will be the blockchain event of 2018, is expecting a range of well-known speakers at the event, including Celsius Network Founder & CEO Alex Mashinsky, Agentic Group Founder Rik Willard and Everipedia Founder Mahbod Moghadam. The organizers have said that they wish to bridge “the Eastern and Western worlds in an interactive setting,” adding that:

“The conference will discuss the current state and future prospects of the blockchain, including trends, opportunities, challenges, regulations and their long-term implications.”

More than 2,500 people are expected to be in attendance, to include representatives of 150+ companies and 200+ speakers who are experts from blockchain finance, cryptocurrency, token economics and consensus, Ethereum apps, the EOS ecosystem, the future of crypto, and AI trading.

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UN Women and WFP Unite with Blockchain Project for Syrian Refugees

As an extension of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Building Blocks project for Syrian refugees in Jordan, blockchain will now be utilized to support both the Zaatari and Azray refugee camps.

Since last year, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed cryptocurrency-based food vouchers to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, bypassing bureaucracy and getting aid to where it’s needed. The new project initiated by the WFP and UN Women was announced last month and will support the UN Women’s “cash for work” program currently running at both camps.

The “cash for work” program has been organized by host countries enabling Syrian refugees to support local communities and offering them the opportunity to put something back into their new homeland. Typically paid tasks include collecting waste, assisting with projects building homes, roads, and local schools, and in some cases working in education and the health industry as assistants. In areas which have seen destruction due to conflict and have since been liberated, refugees may be asked to assist with repairing infrastructure.

Cash transfers as part of the scheme have traditionally been made available to refugees via banking services, but with the new scheme, those women who assist in the UN Women cash program will be able to access their funds directly without a third party with accounts securely stored on a blockchain network.

Women will able to pay for goods at participating supermarkets in Jordan by using one of a network of eye-scanners at their local supermarket, linking their cash to the Building Blocks program which was introduced for refugees at the Azraq camp in 2017. UN Women is also trying to increase financial literacy rates among women by offering seminars at their “Oases”, encouraging recipients to examine their Building Blocks accounts online. Oases are safe spaces for women and children to congregate in the camps, where they can meet others and learn. They are usually funded through overseas aid and the host nation.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka explained the thinking behind its plans for women refugees in Jordan:

“We know that women in crisis situations and displacement settings tend to have lower digital literacy than men, and often lack access to the technology and connectivity that are so critical in today’s world.”

Ngcuka adds that such projects are designed to accelerate, as she put it, “progress towards women’s economic empowerment on a large scale”.

Humanitarian organizations have pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by such crises and consequently are often forced to become the primary breadwinners while taking care of their children and families as an extra burden.

Robert Opp, Director of Innovation at WFP, points out that it is a desire for “social good” which is driving the current use of blockchain technology by the organization:

“Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger. Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies… using blockchain can be a qualitative leap, not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community.”

 

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Edinburgh Hosts World’s First Blockchain ID Lab

Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh has launched the world’s first recognized blockchain identification laboratory as part of the country’s new blockchain research facility that boasts to be the only one of its kind in Europe.

Blockpass Identity Lab is a GBP 600,000 collaborative effort between Hong Kong-based blockchain-based identity application firm, Blockpass IDN, and the Edinburgh Napier University. It is located on the university’s Merchiston Campus and will focus its efforts on researching and testing the ways in which blockchain can be used to protect personal data online.

Predominantly, researchers will be focused on building new data infrastructures that consider privacy, rights and the consent of Scottish citizens in an attempt to stifle identity fraud cases that affect approximately one in ten UK residents at one time in their lives. The future value of the digital identity market is forecast to hit USD 9.7 billion by 2021.

Kate Forbes, the Scottish Minister for the Digital Economy, described the future practices of the lab as ”exciting work” necessary in order to combat the illegal actions of online scammers and hackers. She also praised it for the positive benefits it will have on keeping the Scottish cybersecurity both ”innovative and world-class”.

The lab is set to run for three years during the Hong Kong-Scotland partnership, in which funding will be provided for five PhD students, their research support staff and the required technology.

Dr Sally Smith, dean of the university’s School of Computing, said that she sees the collaboration as a ”positive foundation for the future” that support developing the advanced skills necessary for blockchain research.

Those who wish to get involved with the new facility can participate in a number of activities organized to promote the launch. They have organized an advanced cryptography, blockchain, and digital identity conference, as well as an open hackathon.

 

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Sierra Leone President Welcomes New UN-Supported Blockchain ID Project

The small West African nation of Sierra Leone is to get support from the United Nations to help a non-profit startup launch a blockchain-based identification system for use in the country.

The country of some 7 million has had a difficult past and is currently trying to rebuild its economy after a decade-long civil war erupted in 1991. The war ended in 2001 after UN intervention, leaving 50,000 dead. This was more recently followed by a severe Ebola outbreak in 2014, which according to World Health Organization figures caused 3,000 deaths and recorded 10,000 cases.

A non-profit tech startup, Kiva, is to launch the blockchain ID program in Sierra Leone ahead of 85 other countries after research showed that the country only had one credit bureau covering 2,000 people, less than 1% of the population. Also, only 20% of the population were banked.

Sierra Leone’s President Maada Bio has expressed that he wants his nation to become less dependent for support on international benefactors and overseas aid. For this to happen he has asked for homemade answers to some of the nation’s problems through “visionary and innovative” solutions.

According to the UN’s Capital Development Fund executive secretary Xavier Michon, this may boost the country ahead of others in creating a better banking system for Sierra Leoneans, suggesting:

“Through this implementation, Sierra Leone is setting out to build one of the most advanced, secure credit bureaus. It could serve as a model for both developing and developed nations in the future and has the potential to radically change the landscape of financial inclusion.”

The project is aimed at providing Sierra Leoneans with personal identification tools including a personal digital wallet which will outline their entire credit history, eliminating paper, and making personal banking far more accessible to all. This will also make it far quicker for lenders to assess customers before offering credit, by being able to instantly check their credit rating.

The system is expected to roll out in the country in 2019.

 

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