The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund is investing $100,000 in blockchain tech. Six startups have won the bid for the funding, and have one year to develop prototypes of open source software that addresses global issues such as mobile phone access, financing for social projects, or healthcare transparency.
Back in January 2018, UNICEF called for applicants, offering tens of thousands of dollars in seed financing to “for-profit technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity”. They received over 100 applications from 50 countries, and chose the following six to invest in:
‘On a mission to democratize social impact financing using blockchain technology’
Argentina’s Atix Labs is developing a platform for funding small to mid-sized startups in Southeast Asia. The network connects social enterprises in need of funding with financers from all over the world. In their system, funds will be traceable, so it’s clear where exactly they’re used and how much of a social impact they actually end up having.
The problem with social impact financing and traditional crowdfunding, they say, is not access to capital, but transparency between financier and financed. Blockchain is a natural solution.
‘Developing a blockchain and AI software to increase transparency and accountability of government allocations of resources’
Mexico’s OneSmart is building smarter cities through a prototype that holds governments accountable for their uses of funds and delivery of services. They site the rapid growth of urban areas as evidence of the need for an updated system of governance.
Their platform, they say, builds a “more trustable public administration but also a very efficient one”. And it benefits governments by allowing them “to have continuous access to new and better data”. Fortifying city administration with clearer, more secure information management will, OneSmart hopes, make for more transparent and accountable government resource allocation.
‘Shifting clinical data ownership to users by using a healthcare blockchain’
Prescrypto, also from Mexico, is building a system called RexChain to shift control over sensitive medical data to the hands of patients. It makes prescriptions and health records portable by digitizing them, secure by storing them on the blockchain, and easier for patients to access and share with the doctors they trust because it’s under their control.
They say that “since patients are often treated by many rotating doctors, it is difficult to make relevant and accurate clinical information readily available to many doctors and providers.” This can be especially true in developing countries. Prescrypto also cites the vulnerability of medical information to commercial exploitation as a reason to make it more secure and user-controlled. Decentralizing this information on a secure blockchain, they say, “offers a novel improvement”.
‘Using a blockchain platform to make the food and vaccine supply chain transparent and accountable’
India’s StaTwig is fixing the supply chain behind food and vaccine delivery to make sure resources are delivered efficiently to children in need. Their platform connects everyone in the supply chain—financers, producers, regulators, distributors and consumers—for a transparent process.
Getting food and vaccines to children can be difficult in some places, and efficiency gaps in the supply chain create unnecessary losses of critical resources. “Nearly 30% of all the food goes to waste during its storage and transportation and the number is nearly double for vaccines,” they say of refrigerated (or “cold-chain”) transportation chains. “50%-60% of vaccines lose their efficacy because of cold-chain failures, however, supply chains account for nearly 80% of the costs of the vaccines.” Their software simplifies and better organizes supply chain data to prevent such failures and losses.
‘A platform to collaborate on initiatives addressing social and environmental challenges’
Tunisia’s Utopixar is creating a social tool to foster collaboration in organizations, communities and other groups facing environmental and social challenges. Utopixar says after the Arab Spring rippled through Tunisia, it became clear that “innovative incentive systems have the potential to engage people to solve local challenges.” Their token system rewards users for partaking in community decision making, or contributing solutions to local educational, employment, or environmental problems. Tokens earned by community participation will be redeemable as cash, or as credit in community marketplaces.
‘Developing an open-source messaging solution providing connectivity in remote areas’
Bangladesh’s W3 Engineers is building a mobile messaging app for refugee camps that uses mesh technology, so it doesn’t require an internet connection. “Refugees deem connectivity to be critical in their daily lives,” they say, “and they are willing to make large sacrifices to get and stay connected, sometimes prioritizing it over essentials like food, healthcare, education, and clothing.”
With a mesh system, paying for internet or mobile carriers is no longer necessary. The more people install the app, the stronger the mesh network. W3 Engineers is hoping to connect the world’s 68.5 million people displaced by violence with access to online healthcare, education, entrepreneurial opportunities, and communication with their loved ones.
Funding the Future of Social Impact
Investments in these companies, UNICEF says, “are part of UNICEF’s larger blockchain explorations of using smart-contracts for organisational efficiencies, creating distributed decision-making processes, and working to build knowledge and understanding of distributed ledger technology both in the United Nations and in the countries where UNICEF works.”
These blockchain startups represent only a fraction of the UNICEF Investment Fund’s tech funding. Their list of 33 financed companies for 2019 so far includes developers of AI, IoT, VR, and extended reality (XR), in addition to blockchain. These efforts apply the latest technology to the problems of the world in most urgent need of solutions.