Blockchain for Social Good: Chicago Edition
The expression “money doesn’t grow on trees” is a common figure of speech, but Stephen Cutter means to change that. As the Chicago-based Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) of Wuji, Cutter and his partners are in the process of launching an initiative that leverages blockchain to track the planting of trees worldwide and create rewards for planting trees.
Wuji uses blockchain to generate transparency around the tree planting process. Through blockchain, Wuji can track the locations where trees are planted, the number of trees planted in each location and even the species of trees planted in each location.
Cutter recently presented Wuji at the World Economic Forum. During his presentation, Cutter also demonstrated how blockchain can be used to generate quantifiable results for various elements associated around the planting of trees: carbon sequestration, oxygen production, biodiversity creation and water purification.
“Wuji…built a platform using blockchain where money grows on trees. Quite simply, we are now able to track the trees’ natural capital assets, plus give rewards for groups who are already planting trees,” Cutter explained.
Wuji has formed a number of partnerships and strategic alliances in both the tree planting space and with actors in blockchain, including Cecile Baird, the co-founder of Blockchain for Good. Baird worked for more than 5 years with cryptocurrency-related startups, but eventually became disillusioned with the exclusive focus of enterprise blockchain on maximizing profit. In 2015, Baird co-founded Blockchain for Good, a UK based think tank devoted to exploring development of socially beneficial applications for blockchain technology. For Baird, blockchain represents a potent tool for promoting social good, not just for making money.
“Technology is neutral. It really depends who is behind that technology to determine whether it be used for society for good, for bad, or for greed,” Baird said.
Marquis Davis would agree with this sentiment. Davis is the co-founder of Urban Array, a social entrepreneurial enterprise in Chicago that utilizes blockchain in community development. Urban Array provides technical services to create and support small business enterprises and stimulate community development. A product of a military family and a veteran of both the Army and the National Guard, Davis holds undergraduate degrees in political science and economics from the University of Missouri and a master’s degree from Kellogg business school at Northwestern University.
“One of the big issues in community development is capital but it’s also the movement of capital. “How can a community own as much stuff as possible so that the people who built it can reap the benefits of that? A good economy needs a sufficient amount of capital and a liquidity of the movement of that capital. A lot of underdeveloped neighborhoods have people who work outside, and spend outside — that’s why some neighborhoods are in eternal recession,” Davis said.
Davis spent many of his formative years on Chicago’s south side and considers Chicago his home base. That’s one reason he chose Chicago’s Englewood community as a focus for the work of Urban Array. Presently, the businesses he works with are largely “legacy” establishments such as clothing stores and beauty parlors. However, Davis hopes to eventually shift the goal of Urban Array to emphasize clean tech businesses within the community. In that respect, blockchain technology represents a missing piece in achieving this ultimate goal.
“We (Davis and his Urban Array colleagues) went back and forth on how to build an organization that was scalable and had a significant community impact. We already had the concept so when blockchain came along we were like wow, we just needed an A to B car and we wound up getting a Maserati out of the deal.” Davis said.
Brittanie Campbell-Turner is the managing director of Constructrr and host of The Constructrr Podcast. A native of Chicago’s south suburbs, Campbell-Turner earned an undergraduate degree in architectural engineering and a master’s degree in construction engineering and management, both from the Illinois Institute of Technology. As a construction management professional, Campbell-Turner coordinates corporate real estate development projects.
“I represent the owner operator of an organization that wants to invest their capital dollars in a building or rehab,” Campbell-Turner said.
In her podcasts, Campbell-Turner addresses how blockchain can be used in construction and real estate development. She views blockchain as a potentially potent tool to use within lean manufacturing methodology — but a tool that remains poorly understood.
“In the real estate and construction industry there are a lot of people looking at it (blockchain technology) that have no idea about it. I come from a world where there is a lot of waste. I see this as something that can help (reduce waste), “she said.
So just what IS blockchain? In a blockchain, individual entries are called blocks, which are maintained by servers, which are also called nodes. Blocks within the blockchain are shared publicly among the nodes. Each block contains four pieces of information, listed below.
· The ID, a hash number that provides “proof of work” for that specific block
· The hash number from the preceding block, which helps to establish and maintain chronological order for the blockchain
· The number of transactions included within a single block
· The public key that allows both sender and receiver to identify the transfer of information
There is no central authority to manage a blockchain. Instead, the system maintains integrity and accuracy because entries are immutable and irreversible. The transparency and decentralization inherent within blockchain technology also make it possible for users who are unknown to one another to establish trust in conducing cryptocurrency transactions.
“(Blockchain is) redefining trust and transparency. You can create data vaults that you own and you control who has access to what. Blockchain is how we would have built the internet if it hadn’t grown organically. I compare it to New York and Chicago — that’s why they have trash in the front and no alleys (in New York),” Davis said.
Largely because of its complex technology, blockchain remains a foreign concept for a large segment of the general public. Any knowledge people may have is usually associated with Bitcoin or other forms of cryptocurrency. This represents a major hurdle to wider adaptation and acceptance of blockchain, according to Baird.
“Onboarding into the network is still very technical — that is a pain point that has not been adequately addressed,” Baird said.
For Campbell-Turner, the key to gaining buy-in to blockchain among stakeholders on the ground is to focus initially on its inherent principles of transparency, decentralization and trust.
“Do you want your information to be more secure? Do you want to be able to Google information about a project while you are working on it? Collaborate effectively with consultants? Do you want to get accurate information rather than waiting for information that may or may not be accurate? I don’t think blockchain can stand alone but if you can harness that to use the technology to support that that is the best use for blockchain,” Campbell-Turner said.
For Davis, inspiring buy-in to blockchain technology involves first generating connections and bonds between stakeholders as a prelude to introducing cryptocurrency.
“We have a lot of constituencies — we’ve got the blockchain fundamentalists who are super excited and we’ve got the communities we’re serving who could care less about blockchain. The idea behind Urban Array is how do you empower a community to get investments but still own itself? It allows us to build a foundation of community assets so that if an outside investment does come in it’s not scooping up the entire neighborhood. We’re kicking the protocol down the road — taking an opposite approach to a lot of blockchain enabled companies that are creating a coin and then trying to convince people that it has value. What we’re going to do is that we’re going to build our community first and take the value of that community and translate it into a coin,” Davis said.