Key Takeaways and Themes from GBBC’s Blockchain Central UNGA 2020
Recordings of all the sessions are available on GBBC’s YouTube Channel
The 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session has been unlike any other in the organization’s seventy-five-year history, with most leaders appearing virtually rather than in-person, but as the UN confidently asserted, “that’s not to say that the wheels of global diplomacy and sustainable development will not be turning at the usual speed.”
This year’s Global Blockchain Business Council’s (GBBC) Blockchain Central UNGA also went virtual. While it is easy to miss the energy, spontaneous conversations, and busyness of a large in-person gathering, the GBBC made the most of going virtual to create a larger, more open, inclusive, and international forum for discussion and debate. The GBBC also had the privilege to partner with the United Nations Foundation as an official partner of Global Goals Week.
The GBBC’s Blockchain Central UNGA 2020 brought together 99 speakers from 6 continents (all 7 if we can consider Captain Don Walsh, who has made over 80 expeditions to the poles and for whom the “Walsh Spur” in the Antarctic is named, to be a representative of Antarctica).
Together, 99 of the leading voices in technology, policy, business and beyond came together on a virtual stage across 32 sessions to discuss and debate the role of technology and community in accelerating progress toward the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs “provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity” across a wide array of target areas, including ending poverty, ending hunger, enabling good health and well-being, and promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth. To meet the 169 targets outlined in the SDGs by 2030, investment and commitment will be crucial, as will utilizing the latest innovations across science, technology, and innovation.
Over the course of the Blockchain Central UNGA discussions on everything from stablecoins and financial inclusion to shifting public health paradigms in the development of a Coronavirus vaccine and creating ethical supply chains; several key themes emerged around how we can put tech, particularly blockchain, to work to accelerate progress toward the SDGs. A few are outlined below:
Standardization and Harmonization
As blockchain continues to evolve and scale, the potential of the technology to contribute further several of the SDGs is notable, for example in democratizing finance or revitalizing the conversation around carbon credits. However, before large-scale transformations aided by blockchain technology can occur, thought frameworks and standards must be implemented.
In a panel discussion on the Global Standards Mapping Initiative (GSMI), a soon to be released and compendium of resources that map and assess the current state of the blockchain and digital asset landscape, Sumedha Deshmukh of the World Economic Forum, underscored the importance of standardization and harmonization, stating that “one of the core gaps identified [in the GSMI] was standards and interoperability. How are we making sure [blockchain] technology is working for end users? There is so much work being done, but so much of the activity is not being communicated and aligned.”
As actors around the world, including many of the GBBC members who participated in Blockchain Central UNGA, work to construct innovation blockchain-based solutions to address society’s toughest challenges, thoughtful frameworks and standards will enable blockchain technology to grow at scale.
Seizing Current Opportunities
Innovation often thrives in times of economic downturn. New opportunities arise and current struggles are brought to the fore in ways that can no longer be ignored. Blockchain Central UNGA speakers did not shy away from highlighting these opportunities, covering the need to democratize finance, create more ethical supply chains, and revive trust and resilience in our institutions, just to name a few.
In a panel on “Reviving Trust and Resilience in Our Institutions,” Alan Cohn, Partner at Steptoe & Johnson, emphasized that “when stress is placed on existing infrastructure — we don’t have the trust and transparency needed to function under pressure, so then you have a dual failure.” And, ultimately, “we need to do better.”
When it comes to financial inclusion, David Treat, GBBC Board Chair and Head of Blockchain at Accenture, emphasized that while there are nearly “2 billion unbanked people globally,” this can be viewed as a “tremendous opportunity to build new, better solutions that impact people in substantive ways.” Moreover, “we have the technical and intellectual ability to address these challenges.”
Also speaking on financial inclusion, Sergio Mello, CEO of Tangem, highlighted the need for buy-in from large corporations, governments and regulators to solve many of these global problems, including financial inclusion, and urged the industry “to start working with regulators and governments to have a top-down approach for financial inclusion.”
Paul Thanos, Director for Finance and Insurance Industries at the U.S. Department of Commerce, also encouraged listeners to reconsider the meaning of “decent work.” As many individuals struggle to survive, we must not lower the threshold for decent work, but rather “give individuals and communities the tools not just to survive but thrive.”
Seizing current opportunities to develop new solutions and models extends beyond the commonly discussed issues, into equally important, but less discussed challenges, like mental health. In this vein, GBBC member Sensorium Corporation’s Brian Kean presented on treating mental health concerns through virtual reality-enabled therapy, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic has brought on what some are calling a secondary, mental health pandemic.
Building Back with Everyone
While the need for innovation to tackle the problems addressed in the SDGs is clear, Superintendent Linda Lacewell of the New York State Department of Financial Services, reminded us of the “third crisis — more visible now with people out in the streets for racial justice… communities of color were excluded [from] the beginning.” The Superintendent went on to say that “we [must] reduce inequality” and underscored DFS’ commitment to doing its part as we work to “build back better.”
In her keynote, Megan Roberts, Director of Policy Planning for the UN Foundation, praised the blockchain community for its commitment to working together and said, “[there] is a role for everyone.” Robert Opp, Chief Digital Officer of the United Nations Development Programme, also cautioned the tech community to remember that “the development and deployment of new technologies needs to be intentionally inclusive … unless we really think of inclusivity from the beginning, we are going to continue to leave people behind.”
So What is Behind All of This? And How Do We Get There?
The World Bank estimates that an annual $4 trillion investment is needed for developing countries to achieve the SDGs. So how do we help developing countries attract commercial financing? In a panel moderated by Donna Parisi, Global Head of Financial Services and FinTech at Shearman & Sterling, on “The Future of Capital Markets,” senior leaders in financial services explored how capital market developments are driving financing and innovation in sectors of importance to the SDGs, such as infrastructure, corporate, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
On a panel focused on “Standardizing Carbon Credits” in partnership with Accenture, Tim Grant, CEO of SIX Digital Exchange, explained that “at the end of the day” the reason stakeholders across industries are working towards the SDGs is because it “is the right things to do for the earth, for our kids, for society…the good news is that the pandemic has created an accelerant for a lot of these ideas.” It does not end there, though. One of the challenges is to take the socially responsible thing to do and turn it “into a commercial reality.” Akon, entrepreneur and award-winning artist, also urged participants to remember that “it is important [for us] to pay back the blessings given to us and that most of the world’s problems can be solved through collaboration and dialogue.”
Furthermore, we must also find new ways to make “sustainable irresistible,” according to Frantz Beznik, Global Head of Sustainable Innovation, Procter & Gamble, who presented on the 50L Home, a P&G-spearheaded initiative to solve the urban water crisis. In sum, we need to embrace our social responsibility, turn it into a commercial reality, and make it such that the sustainable solution becomes the default.
Thank you to the GBBC community for coming together during these unprecedented times to share, discuss, and debate how we can work together and utilize emerging technologies, such as blockchain, to chart a path forward towards more sustainable, equitable, and functional societies in line with the SDGs.
Thank You to Our Partners for Their Support of this Event and Their Commitment to the SDGs.
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