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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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Research: Bitcoin as Stable as “Dollar and Oil”, Cites Cubic Law

New research published in a respected Journal of Nonlinear Science, suggests that cryptocurrencies could soon be as reliable as fiat currency.

Chaos has released a research report titled “Bitcoin market route to maturity?” which maintains that due to the maturing of digital assets over time, many commentators view that Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies are volatile, and therefore too unstable to be used as a currency, are largely unfounded.

The basis of many of these commentaries about Bitcoin’s instability stems from the massive price fluctuations of the past year, seeing the flagship cryptocurrency reach a high of almost $20K in December of 2017 only to drop to $6000 in June of 2018.

The report cites influences, not unlike those which effect regular fiat markets, as instrumental in some of the fluctuating fortunes of digital currencies, such as temporal correlations as multi-scaling effects. The authors of the study commented on the Bitcoin movement over time after studying a number of graphic representations:

“Initially, the graphs we got were a bit crooked, which did not augur anything promising … but when we took a closer look at the data, suddenly it turned out that this crookedness originated from the first two years of the analysed period, that is, from the time when the market was just starting to shape itself.” Adding, “Later on, the rates of return fluctuated according to the inverse cubic law.”

Cubic law is a system of judging a market’s maturity where financial analysts plot price changes in one-minute sequences and compare how they match up.

They added that Bitcoin’s maturity was “particularly evident in the last six months of the examined period,” suggesting that the digital currency’s fluctuations corresponded in the same way as rates of return as regular, mature markets, such as the stock, dollar, oil or bond markets; all good news for Bitcoin enthusiasts and cryptocurrency investors in general.

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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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President of World Bank: DLT Has “Huge Potential” in Fighting Poverty

Jim Yong Kim, Korean president of the World Bank, has publicly come out in favor of blockchain technology as a tool for fighting poverty in a speech on the Indonesian Island of Bali.

Kim made the comments at the IMF and the World Bank Annual Meeting on October 11, suggesting that DLT had “huge potential” and as a result, the World Bank must keep abreast of emerging technologies.

The World Bank, part of the World Bank Group, is an international financial institution that provides loans to countries of the world for capital projects. It is comprised of two institutions: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the International Development Association.

At the forefront of all World Bank projects is the need to fight poverty, particularly in underdeveloped or developing nations. Kim referred to the need to combat corruption, often a barrier to successfully supporting developing nations, suggesting that this is a particular area where blockchain could make a significant impact. He commented:

“…we think distributed ledger has huge potential and we issued the first blockchain bond in August, where we created, allocated, transferred and managed the entire bond through blockchain technology.”

He went on to point out that the goal of the bank is to develop universal access to financial services by 2020 which he felt would be unlikely to occur without embracing available technologies and taking advantage of some of the “great things that are coming out,” referring to blockchain and AI.

As Bitcoin News reported recently, the World Bank and The Commonwealth Bank of Australia combined to create an Ethereum-based Australian dollar blockchain bond earlier this year. As for selecting both the CBA and Ethereum for the project, World Bank treasurer Arunma Oteh said that it had worked with the Australian bank for a year before it could launch the project. Ethereum was top of its list as it had “the largest and most active development community globally”.

Oteh continued on a positive note stating that the bank “will continue to seek ways to leverage emerging technologies to make capital markets more secure and efficient.”

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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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Facebook Needs to Expand New Blockchain Team

Facebook is continuing to expand its recently formed blockchain team under its head, ex-Coinbase director David Marcus.

A team of high profile players from the IT and blockchain/crypto environment is taking shape and with the latest position coming available, Facebook will be searching for some big shoes to fit the role. The latest position on the team is for a Global Brand Development Lead, as described in its rather vague job description:

“Our ultimate goal is to help billions of people with access to things they don’t have now – that could be things like equitable financial services, it could be new ways to save, it could be new ways to share information.”

Facebook mentions that its internal startup is “exploring lots of areas of interest across all facets of blockchain technology”, which appears to be leaving the door ajar for those that feel they might have the attributes to add to the social media’ giants blockchain aspirations at some stage in the future.

With David Marcus the former head of the Facebook messenger app, under whose guidance, its user base exploded to over 1 billion people, and Evan Chang as Blockchain Engineering Director, the company is clearly planning to stake a claim in the industry.

Other roles that need filling as part of Facebook’s blockchain push include a Head of Global Community & Media Director, Head of Brand, Product Marketing Lead, Head of Business Development & Partnerships, Strategic Planning & Operations Lead, Software Engineer, and finally a Software Engineering Manager to be based in Tel Aviv.

Marcus originally intended to create “a small group to explore how to best leverage blockchain for Facebook”, when he made his plans known in May of this year, but Facebook is a big company and the positions advertised demonstrate just how technically unequipped it is for the intended job in hand.

 

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WTO Sees Strong Potential in Blockchain’s Future

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has revealed in a recent report that it is positive that blockchain technology will facilitate the easy trading of goods and cut costs as it begins to be taken up more widely.

The WTO outlines the potential of blockchain in its report, a fact which is already known by most developers, but the views have encouraged the industry nonetheless, simply to see the technology recognized by such a major symbol of world trade. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo was particularly encouraged by the potential of smaller enterprises to profit from the utilization of DLTs, commenting:

“Beyond easing trade in goods, digital technologies can facilitate services trade and enable new services to emerge. The Report predicts that the share of services trade could grow from 21 per cent to 25 per cent by 2030. Other effects could include, for example, blockchain helping smaller businesses to start trading by supporting them in building trust with partners around the world.”

The report, entitled The future of world trade: How digital technologies are transforming global commerce’, includes positive comments regarding Ripple and IOTA which are both mentioned specifically. It all goes on to point out blockchain specific uses focusing on supply chains. The WTO states that it hopes that Ripple will be able to continue reducing the cost of cross-border payments and notes the company’s recent expansion, commenting:

“Ripple has ambitions to circumvent the correspondent banking model through its distributed ledger platform. It gives banks the ability to convert funds directly into different currencies in a matter of seconds and at little to no cost, without relying on correspondent banks.”

The report notes although Ripple has licenses with over 100 banks and financial institutions, many banks have not yet taken up the option of using its token, suggesting that banks are still testing the system.

IOTA also get a mention, the report referring to its Directed Acyclic Graph, enabling machine-to-machine communication. Tangle is seen as enabling speedier service for users as more join the network.

 

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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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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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