I showed up to the panel on “Creating Social Impact” at the Blockchain Seattle 2018 Conference not knowing what to expect. I get the gist of blockchain technology, but had not met anyone using the technology with the primary goal of maximizing social impact. However, the two panelists, Kyle Graden, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Seedom, and Joshua Du Chene, contributor, writer, and audio specialist at Giveth, are doing exactly that.
Seedom chooses one nonprofit a month, teaches the organization how to receive cryptocurrency donations, and raises Ether for that cause through a decentralized fundraiser. Giveth’s donation application offers donors a new process for donating to nonprofits that maximizes transparency.
I was struck by the long-term vision that Kyle and Joshua articulated for how blockchain technology can improve the experience of charitable giving. Joshua described a future in which a donor can choose exactly what location and cause to donate to, see how much of the money donated reaches its final destination, and know beyond doubt that no fabrication has occurred. Joshua and Kyle both maintained that blockchain-based applications, which expose all monetary transactions to anyone who wants to look, and ensure that no one actor has unilateral control over funds, are key to making this vision a reality. Seedom allows contributors to vote on what future causes are supported. Giveth’s Donation Application stores all donations on the Ethereum Blockchain, lets donors earmark their gifts for specific purposes, and lets donors maintain control of those funds until they are committed to that specific purpose. So, although these applications are in their early stages, they are already incorporating elements of the long-term vision into the present.
Centralized charitable organizations could probably operate in a way that is similar to what Kyle and Joshua envision. However, today, many conventional charities have embarrassingly high overhead costs and are far from transparent about how funds are spent. A positive consequence of the rise of blockchain-based giving is that it could motivate centralized charitable organizations to improve their transparency, lower overhead costs, and ultimately become more effective and efficient.
It was clear at the panel that these projects are still in early stages of development. Seedom has not yet been widely used, and the Giveth platform is still in a nascent state. But, I left the Blockchain for Social Impact panel with a newfound curiosity about the intersection of blockchain and social good. It seems that well-scoped, targeted blockchain projects have a chance to lead to real improvements in how we go about trying to make the world a better place. What donors, nonprofits, and everyone else is doing to solve the world’s problems is not bad at all. Far from it. But perhaps, one day in the not too distant future, the right blockchain project will help us do better.
Eli Etzioni is a 2018 graduate of Claremont McKenna College.