Transparent, Provable, and Immutable Acknowledgements

Exploring what blockchain-based recognition means

Ariana Fowler, Mehran Hydary, and Christina Lomazzo, UNICEF Innovation Blockchain Team
a girl shows off the online platform on which children and parents in Timor-Leste can access a range of audio-visual material to help students continue learning during ongoing school closures.
16 December 2020

We likely all have some memory of getting a certificate of participation for an activity when we were younger, whether it was competing in the school spelling bee, running track and field or your project at the science fair. Humans, young or old, enjoy various forms of recognition for their efforts and accomplishments. The element of competition to earn first place, or a trophy, drives us to work harder. We, however, often lose track of our accomplishments over the years; certificates of participation, acknowledgement of volunteer hours, and more critically, credentials we’ve worked hard to earn. Blockchains, which are public ledgers of information, look to solve common issues with various types of recognition. Blockchain-based recognition can take the form of digital certificates, badges, points, etc. 

What exactly does "blockchain-based" mean?

The UNICEF blockchain team has been exploring blockchain-based recognition. The reason we are exploring the intersection of blockchain-based technology and recognition is because blockchain-based credentials are permanent, borderless, and digitally native. All that is required to access is an internet connection.  

Public blockchains are global ledgers which store information that is viewable by anyone. By placing a credential or certificate on a blockchain, the information entered onto the blockchain becomes immutable, or permanent. This means that the participation will forever be recorded, and will be accessible to the individual beyond the lifespan of the issuing institution (because it lives on the blockchain, which thousands of computers around the world maintain).

Why is this important?

Storage and verification of credentials can be quite complicated, especially across institutions, borders, etc. By placing an acknowledgement of a task or action on a public ledger that is immutable, your evidence cannot be tampered with or be removed. In addition, your acknowledgement and can be verified at any point in time.

Mounee Mahdeya, 10, uses her computer tablet to complete schoolwork for her Level IV class at Monipur High School and College in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh.

What are the different ways to get blockchain-based recognition? 

There are many ways that participation can be registered on a blockchain.  

  • Digital certificates are one way – it’s possible that your PDF certificate live forever more on a public blockchain (check out UNICEF investment company OS City who helps governments with just that!).  
  • Another is a blockchain-based digital badge. Within the blockchain space, there is something called a non-fungible token (or NFT for short). An NFT is a digital asset that cannot be divided into smaller pieces (like baseball cards or stamps; you wouldn’t sell a quarter of your top baseball card). There are typically a limited number of NFTs and are often referred to as digital collectibles. 
  • It’s also possible to earn digital points on blockchain, which can signify effort.  Like virtual points you might earn in a video game or through a loyalty programme, a blockchain-based point system introduces the opportunity to earn points transparently, and to always have access to your balance. For example, UNICEF Ventures launched a token called Boost (BST) to incentivise the creation of digital public goods and track contributions from the community. In the case of digital points or tokens, you might hear blockchain folks talk about an ERC-20; not to worry, they are simply referring to a technical standard, ensuring that everyone follows the same set of rules when creating their digital points. 

What can I do with blockchain-based recognition? 

Digital recognition via blockchain can be shared digitally in a few different ways. They can be shared on websites like LinkedIn or Twitter or be found in various blockchain wallets (e.g. on the Ethereum blockchain you can query your blockchain address and see all NFTs your blockchain wallet has). With this shareability, users can leverage the digital credential to prove/verify anything. The credential can represent course completion, task completion, etc. Over time, you’ll likely accrue various digital recognitions which help you build a digital reputation or even a CV. 

Tchétché Murielle Aholi, 16, follows the training given by Séphis on women's leadership, from her home in Yopougon, a suburban of Abidjan, a city in the south of Côte d'Ivoire.

How has UNICEF explored blockchain based recognition?   

Our team has been experimenting with issuing various types of certificates and credentials via blockchain to make records permanent and transparent to anyone with an internet connection. We have:  

Be sure to follow our most recent work by checking us out on social media! 



What is blockchain?  

Blockchain is a type of database that stores information in blocks that are chained together in chronological order. It acts as a place of truth and is verified by computers and people from around the world. If one person lies on a blockchain, other people will correct that person (based on data that they have). Information added to the blockchain cannot be deleted (Source). To learn more about how United Nations (UN) is exploring blockchain, the UN Innovation recently published a guide called “A Practical Guide to Using Blockchain within the United Nations” and it can be found here