A Humanitarian Blockchain Trial for NGOs

Brent Phillips
Jan 24, 2018 · 4 min read
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OneRelief’s Innovation lab is inviting humanitarian organizations involved in crisis response to participate in a research project testing an experimental and first of its kind IATI compliant humanitarian blockchain application.

The following is an overview of OneRelief’s Hyperledger Research Project. We’re posting our overview here to give more information to prospective research participants and to tech volunteers interested contributing code and valuable technical insight.

Background: What’s OneRelief, IATI and Blockchain?

OneRelief is a nonprofit building a next-generation mobile application collecting micro-donations for certified humanitarian organizations involved in crisis response. OneRelief is leveraging advances in technology and professional knowledge of humanitarian operations to build a better micro-fundraising app channelling support to humanitarian organizations where support is needed most in the field.

OneRelief’s Innovation Lab is helping by looking further ahead and exploring how to improve humanitarian financing technology at the crowdfunding level in general, for the benefit OneRelief and others.

IATI is an open data sharing standard and technical framework that the humanitarian community has been working concertedly to develop, making it possible for organizations and donors to share detailed, highly structured and comparable information about aid activities, transactions and results with machine applications.

Today over 600 humanitarian organizations and donors are experimenting with reporting activities in compliance with IATI while a growing number of government development agencies are mandating the framework’s use.

The humanitarian community’s efforts to improve open data sharing are rapidly making it possible to query IATI using artificial intelligent applications and digital assistants like Siri, Alexa or Facebook M, although progress has been slowed by leading tech companies not getting involved to help

Blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger system mutually shared by all of its users. Informational inputs are distributed across the entire network and stored in tapper-proof cryptographically timestamped blocks chained together in a linear and chronological order. Contracts or executable programs can be stored within blocks making it possible for users to specially secure or route information or carry out conditional operations. Here’s a good and simple read on Blockchains and contracts.

Hyperledger is an open source blockchain project headed by the Linux Foundation. Here’s a good read simplifying what Hyperledger is. OneRelief is experimenting with using a Hyperledger framework called Fabric developed by IBM.

Hyperledger Research Project

OneRelief’s Hyperledger Research Project is a relatively simple project, particularly from a participant vantage-point. The project will:

  • Build a private blockchain network and a rudimentary user interface
  • Then ask humanitarian organizations to test the interface via providing information on 2 to 5 aid activities reported using IATI information fields

During this period, OneRelief’s Innovation Lab will work with volunteers to:

  • Demonstrate how activity information can be processed, routed through the network and stored in a blockchain ledger visible to participants
  • Demonstrate how a crowdfunding platform can participate in an IATI compliant reporting scenario involving making micro-disbursements to aid organizations
  • Generate contract code to use to demonstrate how specific information provided by network participants can be secured or routed based on user specifications

What’ll be require of research Participants?

The project will require research participants to use a stripped-down blockchain user interface to report 2 to 5 aid activities, using the same information fields organizations would use if they were reporting activities to IATI, albeit a smaller number of fields specially selected by the project.

The project is seeking information on activities (being planned or implemented) which address the needs of populations impacted by severe crises today (for example in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Central African Republic and the Congo).

Lastly, the project will ask organizations to participate in the trial for approximately three months. Over this time, organizations will be asked to make some simple updates to their files reflecting operational status changes, micro-disbursements made to the organizations by OneRelief for testing purposes and what organizations have done in the field.

Risks and Benefits

To work out how to operate a blockchain network and execute smart contracts, project staff will try for example to conceal certain types of information provided by organizations such as the names of individuals reporting information or an exact location of an activity. It is up to organizations to avoid security and other risks by only contributing information which they are willing to make public, no matter how the project will experiment with the information.

Benefit-wise, participating in this research project will give organizations an easy opportunity to test reporting aid activities via a blockchain user interface and see what happens, how their data is made visible to other network users and employed in a fundraising context. The project will expose organizations to IATI information fields and IATI compliant reporting scenarios and give organizations an opportunity to work with software developers to turn IATI reporting scenarios into blockchain code.

Data Fields

The following is a set of IATI information fields that the project will principally use. Here’s a link to activity information that Oxfam GB reported via IATI about operations in Jordan, to see what IATI data looks like.

  • Reporting Organization (name)
  • Contact (name)
  • Activity Title
  • Activity Description (general, target beneficiary, objectives)
  • Status (planned or implemented)
  • Recipient Country
  • Location (name, type)
  • Sector (OECD DAC purpose code)
  • Planned Disbursement (for testing micro-disbursements)
  • Transaction (for testing micro-disbursements)
  • Results (type, title, description, indicator, target, actual)
  • Related Activity

Learn more about the study and get involved

We’re looking forward to discussing this project with humanitarian organizations interested in seeing how blockchain works. Please fill out the following form, providing contact information to Innovation Lab staff:

Inquiry Form


OneRelief — Collecting micro-donations for humanitarian…

Brent Phillips

Written by

Veteran humanitarian actor, former UN staffer, head of the Humanitarian AI meetup groups and producer of the Humanitarian AI Today podcast series.



OneRelief — Collecting micro-donations for humanitarian relief aid.

Brent Phillips

Written by

Veteran humanitarian actor, former UN staffer, head of the Humanitarian AI meetup groups and producer of the Humanitarian AI Today podcast series.



OneRelief — Collecting micro-donations for humanitarian relief aid.

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