Event Recap: Blockchain for Social Impact Conference in Washington, D.C.
The pressing social and environmental challenges facing our global society are not something that the blockchain industry can run from — rather, they are challenges that we can face head on, with one of the most powerful tools in our possession ready to make a difference. Considering this, the humanitarian leaders in the blockchain space came together to incubate the most impacting use cases for distributed ledger technologies as the world copes with issues relating to agriculture, infrastructure, democracy and refugees. The Blockchain for Social Impact Conference (BSIC) was on June 1st at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., and below are the focal points from our MLG team.
The Blockchain for Social Impact Conference brought a strong case for using the blockchain technology to help strengthen our democracy. A compelling panel brought together a varied dais to discuss the topic “Freedom of Press, Fake News, [and] Connectivity.”
Among the speakers was Melissa Jun Rowley, a tech and social impact journalist; Matthew Iles, CEO and Co-founder of Civil; Steven Haft, the SVP Innovation for Time Inc.; and Heidi L Sieck, Principal of Democrats.com LLC; and Micha Benoliel, CEO of Nodle. While approaching the issue from distinct backgrounds, the panel generally agreed that it’s a turbulent time for democratic society — particularly American democracy — and that issues of fake news, voter suppression and voter participation, in their instability, present an opportunity for decentralized systems. The conversation touched on how the willful dissemination of distorted news impacted the 2016 presidential election, and how the blockchain could be used to prevent the wide distribution of knowably false content.
Matthew Iles’ blockchain startup, Civil, wants to “radically open journalism,” by creating a news platform where people directly fund and openly scrutinize independent journalists. According to their whitepaper, the Ethereum-based decentralized platform can be used to create “newsrooms” and “stations” — blockchain-based marketplaces where citizens and journalists form communities around a shared purpose and set of standards, financially support factual reporting and investigative work, and substantially limit misinformation through effective collaborative-editing methods.
The search for authenticity continued with Heidi L. Sieck, the Principal at Democrats.com, the oldest and largest online community of progressive activists. Sieck believes blockchain application can have an immediate short-term impact on polling systems. Polling and consultants, she pointed out, have done a disservice in framing our political perspective of prospective candidates and the way they engage citizens. Tokens could become a powerful source of information for people who want to serve democracy in an authentic way, she said, terming the reallocation of power to the voter as “liquid democracy.”
The panel was perhaps best summed up by Steven Haft, in saying,
“The ethos of this blockchain movement … is so lovely. It’s not ‘get rich quick,’ it’s ‘lets get people voting and put money in the hands of people at the end of a mile we can’t yet reach.’”
An “Agriculture & Blockchain Panel,” brought together Quan Le, the Founder of Binkabi; Regi Wahyu, Founder and CEO of HARA; and Sandra Ro, CEO of the Global Blockchain Business Council. The panel highlighted issues relating to education of blockchain adoption for the agriculture industry in developing nations. Ro pointed out that it is more valuable to listen to people, ask what their problems are, and explain what you can do — rather than face the intellectual shut down form a recipient learning about the intricacies of blockchain technology, or offering platitudes about how the tech will revolutionize their lives.
Regi Wahyu spoke about using the blockchain to eliminate data issues in the agriculture and food supply sector. With very little data available to consumers in his home nation of Indonesia, Wahyu wants to bring people the right to know where their food is coming from. Sharing data was a fundamental issue to all panelists, who agreed that a lack of data transparency is leading to asymmetric information and allowing middlemen to extract more than the value they contribute.
“We need to light up the markets at the local level, and it’s going to get messy. But as you light up the markets, prices become more competitive and efficient and you can determine who is adding value and who is just extracting.” — Sandra Ro
Le identified that only 5% of the 200 billion dollar coffee industry is returned to cocoa farmers, and wants to shorten the supply chain and create cross-border trading for smallholder farmers with decentralized systems.
Finally, one of the Lightning Talks that piqued our interest came from Rohini Srihari, the Chief Data Scientist at PeaceTech Lab. She spoke on how we can use low tech data — applications running on our mobile phones or GPS, for example — to reduce conflict, poverty and suffering. She argued that PeaceTech Lab, which is now searching for scalable solutions for its projects, can use simple tools to do surveys and realize if there is a shortage of medicine or basic supplies in refugee camps, for example.
One of their projects, GroundTruth Global, is creating predictive analytics and real-time risk monitoring to better assist areas prone to social and economic disruption. By creating data “storytelling” on the blockchain — through surveys sent to mobile phones — the group can provide early warnings to citizens in fragile states. These warnings, which could be sent to mobile phones in the affected region, could occur months in advance when determining if a state is unstable, or minutes in advance of a bombing raid. Measurements of potential instability would include collecting data on rises in hate speech, labour disputes, political conflict, or water and soil conditions.
Hala Systems, part of the PeaceTech Accelerator, is currently using sensor and social media technology in Syria to provide early warnings of bombing raids. Two or three minutes, Srihari said, can save hundreds of lives.
The Blockchain for Social Impact was a revealing day for our team at MLG Blockchain.
Not only did it prove that distributed ledger technologies can be a force of good, but impressed upon us the importance of collaboration as we build the decentralized world to support communities worldwide. For more event updates, keep up with our blog or follow MLG Blockchain on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.