From hashtags to hashclaims for impact

Information technologies are converging in ways that we hope will give us super-human powers to make positive impacts on the world. Today I gave a talk on The Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Impact Finance, at the Skoll World Forum. This article sums up key ideas I presented on the evolution of memes - from hashtags to hashclaims.

Innovations in how capital gets formed and allocated are becoming available to us all. We can now literally mint our own digital money, as crypto-tokens. Then we can offer these to the world using increasingly innovative market distribution mechanisms. This can change how the world works, in ways we could not have previously imagined.

ixo has been building a protocol for transforming impact data into impact capital, through tokenisation. We believe this has the potential to transform how impacts get delivered, evaluated and funded. Tokenisation of impact data could drive exponential growth in the impact economy.

But this is not a new idea. In early 2008, almost 10 years ago to the day, I was invited to give a conference presentation on how the Next Web (2.0) and the new phenomenon of social media could potentially be used for social action.

I thought it would be radical if we could use these new collaboration technologies to create a system for issuing credits. This would enable us to all become share-stakeholders, to invest in projects that we believe in. This seemed like a liberating technology that could enable us all to have a greater part in generating positive impacts.

Remember that at the time, around 2008, there was a crisis of trust in the global financial system. I was working at the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and there was growing disillusionment in how the international development and aid system works.

But the idea of an alternative, decentralised, collaborative marketplace for impact was too early and I was also too naïve about what we could do with Web 2.0 technologies.


What we got was the hashtag. This has become a symbol of the past decade.

The hashtag is a technology device that has demonstrated the power of social media to launch cultural and political revolutions. But it has also become a sign of our dependency on social media platforms to give us some form of legitimacy (gets out his phone to hashtag #speakingatskoll).

Increasingly this selfish gene has also become the vector for memes of mistruths and bad ideas.

The problems in the world have escalated and are now even greater than in 2008. The crisis of trust in our institutions is growing, and this extends to our political systems and economic dependencies. People’s trust in the social media companies they have given their data to and on which we have come to rely has also been shattered — particularly by recent (unsurprising) revelations of how our personal data is being systematically abused.

From hashtags to hashclaims

But the idea would not just go away! I have a hunch the technology for memes is finally evolving in a radically good way…

I propose that hash-tags can evolve into a new form of meme, which for now I will refer to as hash-claims. By this, I mean cryptographically hashed claims about the world. When we tokenise these claims, as verifiable claims, we can create entirely new forms of economy and ways of financing impact.Oxford professor, Richard Dawkins, who first introduced us to the term Memes in 2006

Simon de la Rouviere’s radical ideas around tokenised meme markets give us a sense of the kinds of directions this evolution could take.

Most recently, Simon has proposed how we could protect a shared commons, by combining curved token bonding towards a token-curated registry of entities that can prove their impacts. As it becomes more valuable to protect the commons, it becomes more valuable to have the associated reputation of protecting it.

The threshold

Today we are on the threshold, moving from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0. This is more likely to be a revolution, than an evolution.

What does this mean for impact?

We want to believe that we use impact data to direct capital into achieving impacts because this proves that impacts happened. We already know that good information can enable us to produce better results.

But the reality is that we are still not very good at counting what matters, or valuing what counts. Up until now, our information technologies have given us poor data.

The problems of poor data and the promise of the data revolution

This is why the UN Secretary-General called for A data revolution for sustainable development, before the Global Goals were launched in 2015,

So what’s the problem with Web 2.0 databases? Think about this — would you seriously trust my database if I offered this to you? Even if you feel that you can trust me, would you be able to use the data that I put into a data commons for development?

Web 3.0 and blockchain technologies will liberate data! We now have the tools that enable us to collect, communicate and store data in a new high-definition format, which we call verifiable impact claims.

The Web 3 data liberation

This data is high-resolution as it all resolves to universally unique identifiers that can be authenticated on the public key infrastructures of public blockchains. The data is high-fidelity, as it is cryptographically hashed and digitally signed in ways that can be independently verified.

A storyboard that illustrates our usual low-definition way of making claims.

Imagine a typical scenario where a vaccine (with a barcode identifier), is administered to an identified young woman, at a specific time and place, by a healthcare worker who records the event, with his signature, on an immunisation card issued by a health NGO. The organisation announces on Twitter that it has achieved the target of 1,000 immunisations — hashtag #StopHepB. Can we trust any of these claims?

Can we trust this claim? 1,000 doeses of vaccine delivered to #StopHepB

Compare this with the new high-definition way of making a digital claim that can be verified. For illustration purposes, this is what the claim looks like for the event — with identifiers, hash values and digital signatures. This data model is fractal because we can record a claim about a single event as easily as we can record a claim about a project, consisting of a thousand events. (For the proper code version, visit the ixo Github).

An illustrative depiction of a Verfiable Impact Claim (*this is not real code!)

Now we have a machine-readable data resource that can be validated through consensus on the ixo blockchain network, verified by evaluation agents — that include human evaluators augmented by software algorithms, or in future carried out entirely by intelligent oracles that will triangulate data from external sources and become smarter through machine learning.

The result is a hash-claim, that we can trust.

This creates a valuable digital asset. When a record of this is stored on a blockchain, this provides provenance of impact data over time, transparency of impact funding, accountability for performance, attribution for results and a marketplace mechanism for sharing impact data. But the most exciting innovation for impact financing is that it creates a new asset class for the impact economy.

By tokenizing hash-claims, impact data with proof of impact can be traded for impact capital, in ways that have not been possible before. This should enable new decentralized marketplaces to emerge for delivering, evaluating and investing in impacts.

This could profoundly change who gets to benefit from the impact economy.

Cryptographic tokens are useful because they give the holder digital rights –which include rights to access, rights to use and rights of ownership.

Now let’s consider that the UN Sustainable Development Goals are founded on a framework of rights — the right to health, the right to clean water, the right to gender equality, and so on…

Tokens as a mechanism for distributing Rights

I believe that a tokenized impact economy will provide a much fairer, inclusive and abundant way of distributing these rights to many more people.

But this is going to depend on how we will use these technologies to create impact projects and how we give agents the new tools to participate as service providers, evaluators, investors, beneficiaries and stake-holders.

Over the past 4 years, we have been building a decentralized platform for exchanging impact data and to create innovative financing mechanisms, such as smart impact bonds.

This has been a challenging journey! When we started in 2014, the technologies were nowhere near feasible to implement. We built Amply — a platform for digitising pre-school attendance claims in South Africa. This was initially a hybrid of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 technologies. We made a lot of mistakes and failures and have learnt many lessons. But with the support of partners such as The Innovation Edge, the South African Government and UNICEF, we are now preparing to scale this for around 800,000 and are offering the Amply application to other countries.

In July, we will start demonstrating how the ixo protocol can be used to run smart impact bonds, to improve educational outcomes across 3 states in India, for 200,000 girls attending primary school.

We are working with the Gold Standard foundation to tokenize impact claims from IoT sensors attached to clean cook-stoves, to generate carbon credits.

Tracking ecological regeneration through reforestation in Madagascar

In one of our newest initiatives, with Seneca Public Zoo, the protocol will be used to verify ecological regeneration funded by public donations to a reforestation project in Madagascar. This will use new carbon-sensing technology from Rochester Institute of Technology.

It is exciting to see the promise of technologies converging for impact and there has never been a time like this for us to be able to count what matters and to value what counts for people and the planet.


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