How Blockchain-Based Bounties Can Reinvent Our Social Impact Systems and Incentivize Action

As the social impact space starts to decentralize, Bounties will help charities and individuals collaborate at a new pace and scale.

Bounties have been around for a long time, and have proven their merit as a tool to motivate and incentivize people. A bounty is essentially a simple social contract that, on top of a blockchain, could help us dramatically improve our current social impact systems, which often suffer from friction, slowdown, and lack of transparency while coordinating multiple parties. Reengineering social and environmental impact projects on a bounties foundation can become the simple, yet very effective, key to galvanizing global awareness and involvement.

Decentralized Impact

Some of the key issues with social impact projects so far have been a lack of widespread adoption, unfair/diverted distribution of funds, high costs, and lack of long-term commitment. What if we decentralized all the mechanics of running a social impact project?

People across the world could be rewarded for various levels of involvement. A charity could create a bounty, crowdsource contributions, and each contributor would know exactly where their funds are going, instead of blindly trusting that the charity won’t use most of it for marketing purposes, administrative costs, or paying its execs.

A person or organization issuing a bounty can also decide the value of the reward to be paid out for a certain verifiable deliverable — regardless of geographical location or local currency. Think crowdfunding global beach cleanups, direct community involvement, incentivized volunteering in crisis situations, and more.

Long-term projects could easily be tracked: bounties can be set up for one day, three weeks, five months, and anything in between. The more time you have and the more committed you are, the higher the reward. People all over the world can put their time and skills in the service of worthy causes without affecting their livelihood. They can also directly fund the improvement of their community and local environment. First-hand involvement means each person taking part has full control of the resources they put in. Blind trust is no longer a concept. Proof of action is.


Social Impact Bounties Replace Trust with Verification

It’s important to understand the nature of trust and its dynamics in the current social impact framework. As contributors to a cause, we make a contribution (money, time, skills etc.) and trust that the specific charity, as the central entity controlling the effort, will use our resources as advertised: blankets for the homeless, clean water, cleanups, protecting the rainforest, etc.

After a string of high profile letdowns and abuses, from individual governance failures to more large-scale fundraising scandals — the recent Oxfam misconduct scandal or the Red Cross raising $488 million for relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and building just six permanent homes in five years — it’s clear that charitable organizations need a new operating model.

A decentralized social impact contribution network lowers the amount of blind trust people need to place in a particular organization. By creating a transparent process and distribution environment, charities become administrators of bounties, not funds. With the ability to contribute directly to a cause rather than funneling money through a third party, people around the world will become more willing actively contribute to global causes with which they identify.


Bounties on Ethereum

Why open bounties on Ethereum vs. traditional closed systems?

As far as social impact initiatives are concerned, consider a world where all social impact bounties on Ethereum are implemented in the same standard contract.

Practically any application that helps organizations globally outsource contributions can easily interface with any bounty on Ethereum. Such interoperability would greatly boost the potential for widespread galvanization. The simple process of creating and broadcasting bounties makes them a go-to resource for social impact projects to source and organize individuals into truly world-changing movements.

“Entrepreneurship is usually about designing better user interfaces, or building tools that are more comfortable and convenient for their users than the tools that came before, what we are talking about here has more to do with reforming underlying patterns of behavior, and especially the incentives, monetary, social, and otherwise, that drive how we interact.” Change the Incentives, Change the World, Vitalik Buterin

Concrete Applications of Social Impact Bounties

The main goal behind social impact bounties — and why The Bounties Network is now part of the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC) — is to make collaboration cheaper, more seamless, and more transparent than existing social impact models. The BSIC focuses on developing and implementing blockchain products and solutions that can address social and environmental challenges across the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Aiming to inspire, federate, and create bridges between NGO’s, and government agencies, foundations impact investors, philanthropists, and technologists, the focus of social impact bounties will be around:

• Financial Inclusion

• Supply Chain

• Identity and Vulnerable Populations

• Energy and Environment

Here are some of the immediate applications:

1. Social impact investment

Adding a smart contract layer to existing crowdfunding frameworks will ensure that funds are being used for their intended purpose. Programmed stakeholder payout after a set period of time will make long-term commitment much more likely. Blockchain also removes the need for legal and financial intermediaries that often carve out fees from impact investments.

2. Secure personal data

One of the key efforts on the blockchain is returning ownership of identity to individuals. An open identity system that allows users to register their own identity on Ethereum, send and request credentials, sign transactions, and securely manage keys and data will ensure that projects focused on refugees and vulnerable populations can transfer data easily and securely to government agencies, financial institutions, insurance companies, and health professionals.

Bounties focused on rehabilitation and reintegrating vulnerable individuals into the community benefit from the safety and immediacy of data access on the blockchain.

3. Rapid Access and Response

Because of its decentralized nature, the blockchain does not have a single point of control or vulnerability, which means users can access their data quickly whilst retaining full privacy. Recent data hacks have proved yet again that current systems are way too vulnerable. When it comes to humanitarian rescue projects or opioid dependency prevention, for example, decentralized access to data can hasten emergency response and recovery.

In terms of cross-border involvement with social impact bounties or disaster relief programs, volunteers could be deemed safe to work much quicker as organizations could instantaneously access verified work history records and eliminate the costly delays of current emergency aid management processes.

4. Instant funding

The cost of cross border currency transfers has been big business for banks for decades. The ability to incentivize collaboration in support of social impact projects without worrying about multiple currencies, bank transfer time delays, or the need for bank accounts means organizations can reach a broader and much more valuable pool of global contribution without significant processing fees.

5. Long-term behavior change

Without a defined framework and sustained incentivization, inspiring a long-term behavior change can be a difficult goal to achieve. We have seen many social impact projects fall short of their desired goals because behavior bounces back to old ways the second a campaign is over.

Parley for the Oceans, an initiative focused on addressing major threats towards our oceans, has been working tirelessly to drive change in our use of plastic as a global society. The Parley team’s thesis is that we need to synchronize the economic system of humankind with the ecosystem of nature, so we can collectively incentivize environmental protection. Their project represents an interesting opportunity where blockchain-based bounties could foster a widespread and long-term behavioral shift.


Potential Parley bounties set for various periods of time could incentivize businesses to permanently curb their use of plastic. An environmental bounty can span set periods of time and accumulate reward tokens for certain actions that are only dispersed at the end of that period. Galvanizing action for environmental causes is a race against time. Together, we need to move fast enough to turn the ship around before we lose the natural treasures that our very existence depends on.

Reinventing Social Impact

As Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin wrote last year, “the space for experimentation in social systems design will only continue to grow.” Our current social impact system is one system that stands to benefit tremendously from a blockchain-based redesign.

The work done day in and day out by the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition is hard proof of the potential for blockchain to not just facilitate transactions, but to inspire collaboration and compassion between people on opposite reaches of the globe. Ethereum bounties are built to function as a critical instrument of change in our increasingly decentralized social impact space. They will not only incentivize awareness but also verify action, and ensure that when we make an impact, it lasts.

My thanks to Avery Erwin, Mark Beylin, Vivek Singh and others for their feedback and encouragement.

Join our Bounties Slack community, sign up to learning sessions and follow us on Twitter to stay tuned for updates!