I have worked in the blockchain space for 6+ months by now and have always felt fortunate that Melbourne has a such an active blockchain community, members of which are always willing to answer my many questions! Still, I find myself feeling a little lost when blockchain conversations venture too deeply into the tech.
That is not to say that I’m not passionate about this technology. Within a few days of starting my first blockchain job, I realized just how much I wanted to support the blockchain community, fueled by my personal experiences with having parts of my life too exposed and too deeply entwined with my social media accounts. I loved participating in conversations about how important the ownership of data is and the need to decentralize the collection of our personal information — the idea of using blockchain technology to take back some power from tech giants and return it to the people has always been powerful for me.
So when this theme was further explored at a recent event by a panel of philanthropists and blockchain experts from the perspective of doing social good, I was captivated. This event, called Blockchain — New Economy Infrastructure for Philanthropy and Social Good was hosted by the RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub and the Blockchain Philanthropy Foundation to present and discuss their research into how blockchain technology can reshape the social impact space. The speakers talked about the importance of measuring impact and how we can use blockchain to restructure the way we collect and share data. By creating a shift in the relationship between data sharers and data collectors, Blockchain has the potential to fundamentally change the role of people versus corporations. This is especially important for the social impact space because even small improvements in systems can change the lives of communities.
This urge to rethink data markets stems from a need to objectively measure impact in philanthropic efforts.
Measuring impact in philanthropy is, needless to say, extremely important. Unfortunately, nonprofit organizations often don’t have the budget, time or resources to invest in systems that can collect good, quality data. Current data collection systems are centralized, so for organizations that do have more developed data collection systems, this information likely comes from their representatives since people outside of these organizations are not properly incentivized to volunteer information. Plus, this knowledge is not often freely shared amongst philanthropic organizations and are kept on private databases. For an industry dedicated to providing public services, decentralizing data collection can help create an environment where the global sharing of valuable learnings is a priority, rather than a luxury.
This is where blockchain technology comes in.
With the ability to create systems where individuals are automatically compensated for their contributions and for every time their information helps someone else (through smart contract technology for example), Blockchain can expand our learnings to include the perspectives of everyone involved in philanthropic initiatives. I pictured it as a decentralized social media platform for crowd-sourced information on current NGO initiatives. In this system, people are incentivized through tokens to candidly share their accounts of philanthropic efforts that they have been involved in or influenced by.
When knowledge sharing becomes democratized, we will be able to measure impact from the perspective of those receiving help in addition to the ones providing it.
If you think about how social media has been able to close the gap between consumers and businesses, blockchain technology can bring that same change to the relationship between people in need and charitable organizations. In this new and improved ecosystem where the voices of everyone is equally important and heard, we will be able to see a more genuine representation of how philanthropists are creating change which can then help us move forward in a more transparent, effective way.
This is just one way (of many discussed on the day) that Blockchain can have a positive impact on our society and social impact initiatives. While this technology is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before maturing into something like the Internet, it’s important to have a long term view of where we see it going. It is definitely encouraging to see some large players in every field participating in these discussions, offering honest and realistic perspectives that ask important questions before moving forward to yet another blockchain. I hope that we will see more and more careful discussions of the value of Blockchain and how it can be integrated to improve, rather than replace systems we already have in place.