Exploring blockchain applications to accelerate impact
Blockchain technologies are introducing new systems of trust and exchange on which users can send value directly from one party to another without the need for intermediaries.
Blockchain is software made up of records of digital transactions that are grouped together into “blocks” of information and shared securely across computers on a shared network. When a new block is added, it is connected or “chained” to the previous block, making it difficult to change past information. Digital currencies (e.g bitcoin) are famous applications of blockchain technologies, nevertheless, these technologies have promises that go beyond currencies or financial transactions.
UNICEF Ventures explores technologies, such as blockchain, with the potential to impact children and young people globally, providing them with information, opportunity and choice. The team sees blockchain technology as having benefits in three main ways: 1) leveraging innovative financing models to distribute resources; 2) increasing the efficiency and transparency of internal processes, and; 3) incentivising and encouraging the creation of open-source digital public goods. The approach to achieving this is by researching and prototyping with both internal and external stakeholders.
To understand the technical, social, ethical, and legal challenges of utilising blockchain technologies in our complex and interconnected world — the team is exploring this space with open eyes on practical experimentations of cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, and various types of tokens, as well as by supporting learning and training initiatives to build capacity.
We’re working on integrating blockchain technology and supporting programmatic applications in several areas
UNICEF Venture Fund
To stimulate the creation of open-source digital public goods, UNICEF makes early-stage investments in blockchain startups in both USD and cryptocurrency. Launched in 2014, the UNICEF Innovation Fund allows UNICEF to quickly assess, fund and grow open-source solutions that can improve children’s lives. UNICEF Ventures has been investing in blockchain startups since 2016. Learn more about our current cohort of companies here.
And in 2019, UNICEF apart from investing in USD currency, is now also be able to receive, hold and disburse donations of cryptocurrencies ether and bitcoin, through its newly-established UNICEF Cryptocurrency Fund. In a first for United Nations organizations, UNICEF will use cryptocurrencies to fund open source technology benefiting children and young people around the world. Learn more here.
UNICEF Ventures is working on a variety of blockchain prototypes and products, working with our programmatic areas and our UNICEF country offices around the world, with the primary aim of increasing the efficiency & transparency of UNICEF processes. Below are a few samples of current work underway:
In Kazakhstan, the team is exploring how the technology can be used to facilitate payments between UNICEF and its partners. Learn more about the Digicus project here.
With the UN Innovation Network, UNICEF is supporting the development of an interagency platform that allows any UN entity to learn and experiment with blockchain. Learn more about The Atrium here.
UNICEF Ventures is leveraging a public blockchain to make claims in a transparent and immutable way. In the first phase of the prototype, certificates were issued confirming the participation of organizations who tested in our drone corridors. Learn more here.
UNICEF is looking at how blockchain can bring connectivity to schools in a more fair and transparent way, both in terms of providing new financing mechanisms, as well as streamlining necessary operational processes. Project Connect is an initiative that aims to map every school in the world. The goal is to provide real-time data assessing the quality of each school’s internet connectivity, eventually creating an observable metric of society’s progress towards enabling access to information and opportunity for every community. See the live map here.
With blockchain, Project Connect can provide users visibility into how donations are being used to connect schools around the world, what speed of internet each of the connected schools has, and managing the contracts between a region of schools and an internet service provider. See how blockchain could play a role here.
Education and training are foundational to incentivising and enabling the creation digital public goods. UNICEF has launched SURGE, an immersive series of events, that invites young people to learn new skills, while at the same time exploring where blockchain could play a role in addressing global challenges. UNICEF Ventures has hosted SURGE blockchain events around the world, from South Africa to Thailand and beyond.
UNICEF Ventures also participates in collaborative cross UN agency initiatives & projects, such as the United Nations Innovation Network (UNIN), with the aim of collectively experimenting and sharing learnings around blockchain. Learn more here.