UNICEF Ventures: Exploring Smart Contracts

The possibility of improving efficiency, transparency, and accountability - for good

UNICEF Innovation
On 22 January, families of 12,000 children in the coastal cities of Tartous and Lattakia will receive vouchers similar to ATM cards, redeemable at selected shops to buy a full set of winter clothes for their children.
04 August 2017

One way to re-shape online transactions is in lowering the “cost of trust”; in effect, improving how parties transfer assets across the Internet. For UNICEF Ventures – where we assess and prototype emerging technology that can provide a portfolio of solutions to our organization as early-stage tech matures – this means testing Ethereum-based smart contracts as a tool for improved efficiency, transparency and accountability.  We will define terms like “Ethereum” and “smart contracts” in the following paragraphs.

Ethereum is a public blockchain network for coding and processing smart contracts. Its token for processing work or transactions along its network is called Ether – a type of digital identifier that can be stored in Ethereum addresses and used to process transactions on the network. EtherScript is a programing language that lets people tell Ethereum what to do. The combination of unique tokens and a programing language is what allows Ethereum to host and process smart contracts.

Blockchain Networks open the door not only to decentralized transactions, but to smart (computable and self-executing) contracts that provide a level of trust and transparency.  A smart contract can facilitate, execute and enforce the negotiation or performance of an agreement of work (a contract) using blockchain technology. The terms of the agreement can be pre-programed with the ability to self-execute and self-enforce. Here is an example: “A truck driver has three weigh-points on their drive. Each time they pass a weigh-point, they should be paid or at least acknowledged for having a certain weight at a certain point.  Traditionally this would be done on paper, and any accounting and monitoring would be done long after the delivery had happened. A smart contract could allow each weigh-point to “speak” to the others, and to the network, and acknowledge the weight of the truck as it moves, allowing a company to have real-time visibility into its work, but also the driver to have real-time payment or other acknowledgement of goal completion – and to do all this with transparency.”

The goal is to enable various parties to work with each other, usually over the Internet, without the need for a middleman. In practice, smart contracts lay out: a) the conditions that all parties using the contract agree to; and b) actions described in the contract that can be executed if the required conditions are met.

At UNICEF Ventures we are beginning our first explorations into this technology. We’re launching a smart contract (see the diagram below) to receive Ether tokens which will be used as Gas (the Ether price required to execute a smart contract – essentially the fuel you need to interact with the Ethereum Blockchain). Initial actions (e.g ether transfer proposals) on this contract will be validated and signed by two – out of three – validated accounts, meaning that in the future, anyone could look at the transactions and see what’s happened, and any movement of tokens could be accounted for.

UNICEF Ethereum Contract: How it works
UNICEF Innovation
UNICEF Ethereum Contract: How it works.

Smart contracts have a great deal of “transparency” – in that all activity can be seen.  In the diagramme below, one can see the initial transactions used to create the first UNICEF Ventures contract, as well as all related activity.  This will continue to be a window into the work that we’re doing.

Creation of the contract and its initial activity.
UNICEF Innovation
Creation of the contract and its initial activity.

Additionally, the individuals involved in authorizing and testing the contracts are also fully, publicly auditable.  Their activities can be traced through the URLs that follow the addresses below:



Written by: Qusai Jouda, Ventures Team, UNICEF Office of Innovation, NYHQ

Technical Contact: @qusaijouda
Communications Contact: acollins [at] unicef [dot] org