This story is part of BREAKER’s Social Good Week, a series looking at ways blockchain technology can engineer progress and help humanity.
As with any lofty idea that touts “blockchain” or accepts crypto, people likely will (and should) take promises of “blockchain for social good” with a grain of salt. “Blockchain” connotes hype-riding publicity plays. Crypto-acceptance screams “scammer.” Yet many seemingly genuine organizations claim blockchain technology as an integral part of their missions to save the world—from environmental perils, from poverty, and from its biggest threat of all, humanity.
At BREAKERMAG, we waded through numerous nonprofits, for profits, startups, and established institutions to look for organizations that are using blockchain technology with deeply positive intentions. Among the many futuristic promo videos and do-gooder buzzwords, we found startups with smart, practical plans of action that happen to include distributed ledgers and state-independent currencies—not because those terms make bitcoin billionaire investors wiggle their ears, but because the technologies bolster the organizations’ goals. (Besides, crypto winter weeded out many of the purely ear-perking projects, anyway.)
The organizations we looked at are in varying stages of development. According to an April 2018 Stanford Graduate School of Business report that looked at 193 organizations using blockchain for social impact, 74 percent are still in “pilot” mode. The fact that so many of these projects are at such early stages of development made it very difficult to come up with uniform criteria to judge which ones would make our list, so we kept it simple. Each organization had to have exhibited credibility in at least one of three categories—concrete action (have they done anything?), money (have they gotten or given any?), and/or big names (do we know and trust the people involved?).
It’s a low bar, sure, but remember that the organizations on our list are very young, as is blockchain technology in general. The bitcoin whitepaper was only released in 2008, and the technology described in it only really caught on with the 2017 crypto boom. That said, 55 percent of the organizations included in the Stanford study were expected to reach beneficiaries “early this year.” Several of them have.
We split the following organizations into eight categories: funding and donations, environment, food and agriculture, gender and sexuality, government, healthcare and medicine, identity and banking, and information and education. It’s possible that we missed some organizations doing great work in any of the above. Really, not all of blockchain is Lambos, $100,000 watches, and creepy cruises—there are a lot of people out there harnessing the power of distributed ledgers for good, and more are learning about the technology every day.
Funding and donations
The problem: Many people question whether donations are making it to their intended beneficiaries.
The blockchain solution: Transparency
The organizations: They range from homemade tip bots to one of the U.S.’s biggest banking establishments; some allow donors to send payments directly to the nonprofits of their choice, others focus on providing transparent funding mechanisms for larger organizations.
Mission: Helping small social good enterprises gain access to (transparent) funding
Cred: UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invested time and money in this Singapore/Argentina-based company. (Read our story about the Atix Labs and five startups participating in the UNICEF Innovation Fund’s blockchain workshop in New York last week.)
Binance Charity Foundation
Mission: Bringing accountability to charitable donations
Cred: Its platform features only a small handful of charity projects, but one funded 20 beneficiaries affected by a landslide in Uganda’s Bududa District.
Mission: Letting donors follow their bitcoin donations step-by-step
Cred: Its early partners included nonprofits like Save the Children and the Water Project, and the organization has worked with others across the globe since. (Read our interview with BitGive’s founder here.)
Mission: Acting as an accelerator for blockchain projects that aim to affect social change
Cred: The organization has given out two rounds of awards in which they’ve helped facilitate funding for 41 blockchain social good platforms, including BitGive.
Mission: Making it more efficient to send and receive funds between donors and aid organizations around the world
Cred: Disberse has enacted pilot programs in Albania, Rwanda, and Ukraine and counts partners such as Oxfam, The Netherlands Red Cross, and Start Network.
Dogecoin Tip Bot
Created: Very signature, much design
Mission: Such tips
Cred: This may sound like a joke, but using this tipbot, the Dogecoin community was able to hand out 156 pairs of socks to homeless people in Los Angeles this past November.
Started accepting cryptocurrency: 2015
Mission: Letting people make charitable donations using bitcoin
Cred: Fidelity is one of the world’s largest asset managers, managing more than $2,459 billion worth of assets as of March 2018.
ICO started: March 2018
Mission: Letting charitable donors track how and when their money is spent
Cred: GiftCoin is running two pilot programs, one with established charity payment processor Network For Good, another with an forthcoming platform called Charity Checkout. It’s been tested out by small charities like Ourmala, which offers yoga classes to refugees.
Mission: Removing intermediaries from charitable giving
Cred: The Giveth decentralized app is currently live in beta and is running six campaigns, which have cumulatively received more than 644 ETH (more than $67,100 at time of writing).
Founded: 2017 (though it’s now defunct)
Mission: Using bitcoin to fund multiple charitable organizations
Cred: When live, the Pineapple Fund raised $55,750,000 across 60 charities listed on the project’s website. Charities spanned all sectors, including environmental conservation, The Internet Archive, the ACLU, and drug information website Erowid.
Ripple for Good
Mission: Supporting organizations that increase global financial inclusion
Cred: It’s backed by Ripple, which has ample financial resources and a robust team, and is partnered with DonorsChoose.org, an initiative that helps public schools. (Read our story about how Ripple’s charitable giving is also a savvy marketing play here.)
Mission: Creating a decentralized community around crowdfunding
Cred: RootProject has raised modest funds for a few campaigns. One aims to aid Iraqi orphans, and another seeks to help homeless teens in the U.S.
Pilot launched: 2017
Mission: Fostering communication among stakeholders to keep track of project finances
Cred: Sela launched a pilot program in Nigeria in November 2017 in which a group monitored an oil cleanup. Members used Sela to fact check information from contractors working on the cleanup in exchange for financial compensation.
The Giving Block
Mission: Helping nonprofits receive cryptocurrency donations/working with blockchain-related nonprofits
Cred: The Giving Block has worked directly with a number of nonprofits to help them set up cryptocurrency donations, including the Lupus Foundation. (We asked The Giving Block how to make sure you’re donating your crypto to a trustworthy cause here.)
XRP Tip Bot
Mission: Rewarding content creators and commenters on social platforms Twitter, Reddit, and Discord
Cred: Using the XRP Tip Bot, people have donated more than $11,800 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—a happily unintended consequence of a bot created so people could, in essence, financially upvote comments they liked. (Read our story about the tip bot’s surprising success here.)
The problem: Maintaining sustainability in the face of the hulking pre-apocalyptic human-fueled very current danger we almost euphemistically call “climate change” feels genuinely impossible.
The blockchain solution: Incentivizing and tracking
The organizations: They’re actively rewarding people using solar power in Brooklyn and helping corporations reduce their carbon footprints…but tracking fish seems to be the first universal test case.
Mission: Distributing solar power in areas without access to power grids
Cred: It’s working on getting its pilots off the ground in Myanmar and Indonesia.
Blockchain Climate Institute
Mission: Raising awareness of and developing blockchain solutions problems stemming from climate change
Cred: Its network includes 80 blockchain experts from around the world. They’ve got a lot to talk about.
Brooklyn Microgrid (developed by LO3Energy)
Microgrid Launched: 2016
Mission: Developing a locally powered clean energy microgrid in Brooklyn
Cred: LO3Energy’s Brooklyn Microgrid pilot has been running for almost two years and, as of July, had about 60 participants. (Read our story about the Brooklyn Microgrid here.)
Mission: Helping companies track their environmental footprints
Cred: Ecochain reports a user base of over 1,100 people spanning 14 industries.
Mission: Using decentralized technologies to increase energy efficiency
Cred: It received a grant from the UK-based Energy Entrepreneurs Fund in September 2017 and has carried out a simulated pilot test for its product.
Mission: Tracking the supply chain of caught fish; collecting data on ocean acidification
Cred: Fishcoin has partnered with the Ocean Foundation, an organization aimed at protecting underwater environments, but those efforts are nascent. The company is much further along on the on the supply chain front, working with fisheries and even bringing “data-backed” seafood to the dinner table. (Read our Q&A with Fishcoin’s ocean acidification lead here.)
Mission: Democratizing energy through an open source tech platform, incentivization system, and blockchain energy summit
Cred: Grid Singularity has partnered with the Rocky Mountain Institute to create the Energy Web Foundation, which will work to move other blockchain energy startups forward.
Mission: Tangibly and transparently measuring the impact of charitable donations
Cred: Ixo is working with the New York-based Seneca Park Zoo to plant trees in Eastern Madagascar. It counts UNICEF as a founding partner.
Mission: Reversing climate change by incentivizing carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere
Cred: Nori’s exceeded its (modest) funding expectations on crowdfunding platform Republic while simultaneously receiving SAFT funding.
Mission: Providing low-cost, renewable energy worldwide
Cred: Power Ledger has partnerships with energy retailers in Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand.
Mission: Delivering solar power to low income rural communities, beginning in Bangladesh
Cred: SOLShare was among the World Economic Forum’s Global Technical Pioneers 2018 cohort. Past members have included Airbnb, Dropbox, Kickstarter, Twitter, and Google. The company also received a UN Energy grant at the United Nations New York headquarters in 2017.
Mission: Incentivizing people to produce/use solar energy
Cred: SolarCoin supports numerous major monitoring platforms that together monitor more than 4 million solar installations. Anyone monitored by those systems is eligible for SolarCoin rewards, though so far just between 3,500 and 4,500 use the product. (Read our full story on SolarCoin’s mission and origins here.)
Food and agriculture
The problem: Small farmers get left out of the market, food waste abounds, and sometimes we get poisoned by lettuce.
The blockchain solution: Supply chain tracking
The organizations: According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business report, they’re mostly headquartered in Europe, Australia, and U.S. but are aiming to aid people in places like sub-Saharan Africa; they’re small-scale but scrappy—maybe because most are working for profit.
Mission: Facilitating supply chain management for farmers and storage operators
Cred: AgriDigital’s executives have established networks in North America from previous businesses, and the company just released its platform to U.S. and Canadian markets this month.
Mission: Bringing accountability to supply chains for coffee, seafood, timber, and cotton
Cred: The company’s already partnered with several coffee makers, three of which—Moyee Coffee, Great Lakes Coffee, and Coda Coffee—have already used its services. Bext360 is also a finalist in this year’s SXSW Pitch blockchain category.
Mission: Helping smalltime farmers save, spend, and get paid responsibly and securely
Cred: The Nairobi-based Agri-Wallet employs 45 people and has multiple local users. It was started by Coin22, a Netherlands-based company that works in blockchain finance.
Mission: Connecting the growers of sustainable, local food to wider markets; monitoring food safety
Cred: It has multiple local clients in New York, including Gramercy Tavern and Maison Premiere.
Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative
Mission: Promoting small-scale, sustainable farmers and bringing transparency to the food supply chain
Cred: Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative is supported (organizationally and financially) by Heifer U.S.A., an established nonprofit that works with small-scale farmers. It’s been working actively with farmers in rural Arkansas since 2016.
Launched: January 2018
Mission: Getting surplus food from grocery stores and restaurants to people who need it
Cred: As of November 2018, Goodr had diverted one million pounds of surplus food to the homes of families who didn’t know where they’d be getting their next meals.
Mission: Bringing transparency to supply chains
Cred: Halotrade’s founder Shona Tatchell was head of innovation, trade, and working capital at Barclays Bank for more than six years. The company’s in middle of a pilot tracking tea from farmers in Malawi.
Mission: Verifying assets in the following sectors: oil and gas, healthcare, transportation, real estate, and education
Cred: Viant has successfully tracked a fish from Fiji to Brooklyn (where it wound up in a sushi roll). It’s a start.
Gender and sexuality
The problem: Reporting harassment and assault is extremely difficult to begin with, and once reports are made, they can be easily lost or contested. Plus, gender inclusivity in the blockchain space is lacking.
The blockchain solution: Immutability and connectivity
The organizations: About half of the following organizations focus on reporting and recording gender-based violence incidents immutably, one focuses on LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and a few are aimed at providing more support for women in the blockchain industry.
Mission: Providing a way for survivors to create time-stamped records of their assaults and connecting them with legal services
Cred: Callisto has been used on 13 different college campuses and by more than 149,000 students.
Mission: Helping women get into more leadership roles in blockchain and AI
Cred: The group has chapters in eight countries and organizes numerous hacakthons and workshops.
Mission: Creating an economic global community for people who identify as LGBTQ+
Cred: LGBT Token has partnered with Hornet, a gay social network with millions of users, and Revry, a “queer owned and operated” streaming service.
Founded: 1958, blockchain project launched pilot in 2018
Mission: Fostering more timely, reliable, and secure reporting of domestic violence crimes
Cred: RTI launched a pilot program with Collaborative Health Solutions last year. To prepare, CHS carried out a non-blockchain electronic version of its reporting system, during which domestic violence reports “quadrupled.”
Mission: Making the blockchain space more gender-inclusive
Cred: She(256) has organized conferences, offered mentorship, and appeared at a number of larger blockchain events to talk diversity.
Mission: Making it easier for employees to report workplace misconduct and companies to track it
Cred: In China, people have already taken to blockchain to permanently record instances of sexual assault, providing a proof of concept for Vault’s product, currently in beta. (Read our full story on Vault and other similar projects here.)
Women in Blockchain
Mission: Providing a supportive space for women working in/learning about blockchain
Cred: Women in Blockchain organizes regular events all over the world and makes appearances at numerous (male dominated) conferences.
The problem: Governments can be corrupt, and voting fair isn’t easy.
The blockchain solution: Tracking, transparency, and accountability
The organizations: Though blockchain has frequently been floated as a way to stop voter fraud, few of these companies offer a viable fix; instead, the focus of these organizations tends to be on government spending and community collaboration.
Mission: Decentralizing democracy
Cred: It had an engaged, if not huge, following and has a partnership with Blockstack, through which token holders are sending resources to developers. We wrote about the group’s founder Santiago Siri (skeptically) here.
OSCity (aka, OneSmart)
Mission: Addressing misappropriation of government funds
Cred: UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invested in this Mexico-based company. It’s already run small tests and is in conversation with some governments (according to representative from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund).
Mission: Creating platforms where community members can collaborate and make group decisions
Cred: UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invested time and money (through the aforementioned blockchain workshop) in this Tunisia-based company.
Mission: Making voting transparent, accessible, secure, and verifiable
Cred: The company posts some statistics on its site, including how many votes have been cast through the platform (8.2 million) and how many elections have been completed (11). It also acquired online Emmy voting platform Everyone Counts in October. (Read our story about Votem and blockchain voting here.)
Healthcare and medicine
The problem: There are a lot of regulations in healthcare and staying compliant can be tricky. So can getting vaccines and medications to developing countries.
The blockchain solution: Supply chain tracking, secure information sharing
The organizations: From Mongolia to Mexico, these organizations facilitate research, prescription pickups, and organ donation matches.
Mission: Providing a genetic data platform to aid in research and drug development
Cred: The Israel-based company is currently in a funding round with contributions from Horizon 2020, a massive EU research and innovation program.
Mission: More effectively linking organ donors to patient matches
Cred: CEO Sajida Zouarhi is currently a blockchain architect and the R&D lead at ConsenSys as well as the cofounder of a blockchain health think tank. Kidner has gotten media attention in France, where the company is based, but it isn’t operational yet.
Mission: Using blockchain tech to comply with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) and bring secure interoperability to medicine tracking
Cred: It completed a successful pilot program in 2017, and pharma giant Pfizer is one of its group members.
Mission: Providing a secure prescription platform for developing countries that consolidates users’ medical histories
Cred: Its website reports that more than 145,000 prescriptions have been issued via the platform. Prescrypto is also one of six blockchain startups funded by UNICEF’s Innovation Fund this year, where cohort manager Cecilia Chapiro called it the most “advanced” startup in the group.
Mission: Compliantly distributing vaccinations
Cred: Rymedi has helped administer Hepatitis C vaccines in Mongolia, and JP Morgan blockchain spinoff Kadena is going to manage Rymedi’s data in the U.S.
Simply Vital Health
Mission: Brings together disparate patient information in a single, secure platform
Cred: One of the company’s products, ConnectingCare, helps healthcare providers manage patient data. It’s been profitable since a few months after its launch in 2017, when client Hartford Healthcare Bone & Joint Institute started using it.
Mission: Using supply-chain tracking to monitor food and vaccines
Cred: Statwig has yet to roll out its vaccine-tracking product, but so far has tested its technology by “tracking fish [you guessed it] from coastal India to different countries,” says founder and CEO Sid Chakravarthy.
Identity and banking
The problem: There are many problems—refugees and people in developing nations don’t have access to official identities, bank accounts, and property deeds. Sending international payments is slow and expensive. Overall, financial inclusion simply isn’t there yet.
The blockchain solution: Cheap, bank-free digital payments and immutable records
The organizations: This is the largest category for blockchain social good applications because it’s where blockchain’s main functions (keeping records and moving around money) are most readily applicable.
Mission: Bringing transparency to payments—including donations, remittances, welfare, and aid funding
Cred: Aid:Tech has worked on two projects aimed at helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Refugees redeemed 500 food vouchers as a result of the projects, and $10,000 was distributed across 100 refugee families.
Mission: Providing the unbanked (often refugees and the extremely impoverished) with an economic identity (like a credit history)
Cred: BanQu has partnered with an eclectic mix of multi-million-dollar businesses all over the world—including Shell, the Dell Medical School, and Japan Tobacco International.
Mission: Offering a blockchain-based land registry to those who don’t have official deeds to their land
Cred: People in Ghana, where the company is based and reportedly 80 percent of landowners don’t have titles, have been using BitLand to register their property.
Mission: Making business transactions cheaper, faster, and simpler between countries in Africa and markets in the rest of the world
Cred: BitPesa charges between one and three percent on business transactions in developing markets, compared to much higher rates billed by other money-sending solutions. So far, the company is operational in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mission: Providing smart contracts for land registration
Cred: Advisors include Charlie Lee, founder of Litecoin, and Vinny Lingham, CEO and founder of Civic (see below). Based in Sweden, Chromaway received $15 million in funding in October.
Mission: Creating and distributing a global Universal Basic Income
Cred: Right now, Circles is in the research and experimental phase, including a test it’s carried out at a small café in Berlin. (We covered several crypto-funded basic income projects here).
Mission: Verifying identities and preventing ID theft
Cred: Run by Vinny Lingham, a “bitcoin oracle” and cast member of “Dragon’s Den South Africa” (it’s like “Shark Tank”), Civic got people to sign up for its app by making it the barrier to buying beer from a vending machine at the Consensus Summit last year. Civic raised $33 million in a 2017 ICO.
Mission: Verifying displaced people’s skills with blockchain-based certificates and records
Cred: It’s been doing user testing with its partner school, Clarke University, in Uganda.
Mission: Helping find homes for displaced people/refugees and providing them with legal identities
Cred: Emerge recently partnered with Distilled Identity, a predictive identity machine learning company that came out of MIT research, to improve its platform.
Mission: Facilitating cryptocurrency donation to nonprofits that work directly with impoverished communities; giving unbanked communities access to non-state-backed currencies
Cred: GiveCrypto’s donors so far are a who’s who of crypto elite. Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong (also GiveCrypto’s founder), Ripple executive chair Chris Larsen, and CEO of the Zcash Company Zooko Wilcox have all donated upwards of $1 million, while Brock Pierce, Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse, and Roger Ver have all donated at least $100,000. (Read our interview with GiveCrypto’s executive director, Joe Waltman, here.)
Mission: Promoting financial inclusion by letting poor and unbanked people send and receive payments
Cred: Mojaloop was created via a partnership between Ripple and The Gates Foundation. A bootcamp in Tanzania this spring will build on the open source software.
Mission: Providing a secure way to make payments in Tanzania
Cred: NALA won Ecobank Africa’s fintech challenge, which granted them $10,000 in prize money and a six-month fellowship with the EcoBank Group.
Mission: Increasing privacy and accessibility to online services by letting users take control of their personal data
Cred: The company is already working with IBM to build a “digital identity network” in Canada.
Mission: Providing a mechanism for trusted lending circles, especially among the unbanked
Cred: According to its website, WeTrust currently has more than 2,000 users (which, compared to many of the others on this list, is something). Its advisors include Vitalik Buterin and Emin Gun Sirer, an associate professor at Cornell and blockchain expert.
Information and education
The problem: There’s a lot of information floating around out there, and not a lot of it is readily verifiable—including kids’ attendance records.
The blockchain solution: Immutable records
The organizations: While a few are struggling to fight the spread of false information, a couple want to ensure access to education.
First pilot: 2016
Mission: Making better education more accessible to children by tracking information like school attendance records
Cred: South Africa-based Amply reports that it has recorded the attendance of 3,327 children and is operational at 87 different education centers.
Launched: April 2018
Mission: Incentivizing students to learn, giving them tokens in exchange for completing online courses
Cred: Lithuania-based BitDegree is actively hiring and has a self-reported user base of more than 275,000.
Mission: Ensuring veracity of historical information by encoding data, documents, etc. into a blockchain
Cred: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave Factom a $192,380 grant to fund beta testing for applying its technology to border patrol cameras (whether this will be for better or for worse is TBD).
Mission: Authenticating images for a range of purposes, from preventing insurance fraud to backing up journalism
Cred: While it can be used to fight fraud on Airbnb, the most compelling use case came from a trapped civilian in Syria’s Idlib Province. (For more on that, read our story on how TruePic and similar tech can combat “fake news.”)
Mission: Making internet communication and activity more secure
Cred: It has an extremely active user base that includes journalists, activist groups, and a branch of the U.S. Navy (and sure, it’s not a blockchain project in itself, but it’s adjacent and was an early acceptor of cryptocurrency donations).
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