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Cataloguing And Catalyzing Blockchain For Impact

Since the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto white paper first spoke of a “peer-to-peer version of electronic cash” more than a decade ago, social impact applications for blockchain, bitcoin’s underlying technology, have remained a cornerstone in the sector. Indeed, blockchain projects large and small have attached themselves to fighting the scourges of traditional systems and centralized structures, which have produced an uneven embarrassment of riches on the planet and left billions of people on the sidelines. Now, more than having a business case or determination for social impact using blockchain technology, there is a new ledger cataloguing blockchain-powered projects from around the world and how they are aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Blockchain Impact Ledger was spearheaded by New America’s Blockchain Trust Accelerator with support from Social Alpha Foundation. The Blockchain Impact Ledger adds to the previously launched Blueprint for Blockchain and Social Innovation, which sheds new light on how this emerging technology is moving the needle on social causes. The Impact Ledger captures a range of blockchain projects from around the world all having achieved a minimum viable product (MVP) or beyond. The Ledger also highlights the type of blockchain standard being used, the estimated number of people impacted, as well as the project description and SDG alignment. This list, by no means exhaustive, which the authors recognize and hope to spur an open source registry, joins a growing effort among social entrepreneurs, investors and technologists who are de-abstracting the SDGs and turning them in a veritable north star for their investment thesis. Short of this, the required leverage on social impact investments may never move from the billions to the trillions needed to bridge the world’s development deficit. Indeed, the legendary venture capitalist, Bill Tai, who has either spurred or captured most waves of technology investments over the last 3 decades (and is going long on blockchain and cryptocurrencies), has aligned the Extreme Tech Challenge to the SDGs – upping the ante on available capital to $10 million.

Following this announcement in Paris, the Extreme Tech Challenge focusing on breakthrough technologies that help bridge the gap to the SDGs can help spur a wave of innovations and bring much needed attention to early stage social impact projects. No stranger to blockchain-powered startups, Power Ledger, which is featured in the newly launched Impact Ledger for its blockchain-based energy marketplace, was also a winner of the 2018 Extreme Tech Challenge, which was held on Necker Island – a place that has very much catalyzed the blockchain for impact movement through the annual blockchain summits. Between the Impact Ledger and the Extreme Tech Challenge focusing in on the SDGs, investors, entrepreneurs and increasingly the enterprise blockchain arena, which is dominated by large firms, have a guide for where this technology is breaking ground on grinding social challenges.

Critically, the qualification to have a project listed on the Blockchain Impact Ledger is that the project must be beyond the white paper stage, in which many a crypto project all but promised to eradicate poverty, while impoverishing early investors through fraud, vaporware or terrible ideas – a sad case that was evident across the vast majority of initial coin offerings (ICOs). Rather, the Impact Ledger records real-world blockchain implementations, with a number in the energy, identity, market access and financial inclusion, which are mainstays on the blockchain opportunity radar. The real-world experience of these pioneers in blockchain for impact, coupled with growing investor appetite led by venture capitalists like Bill Tai for whom profit and purpose are not competing objectives, may signal an acceleration of this work as well as a refined investment yardstick that puts economic, social and environmental goals on equal footing.

With impact, human development and the SDGs as a guide, there is only one way to go when you are starting at the proverbial bottom. As with all waves of human development and economic progress, innovation and the creative destructive cycle in markets collapses known operating standards, upending established players and enshrining new forms of opportunity and equity. While this type of market making may be true of that other foundational technology, the internet, what many of the blockchain projects registered on the Impact Ledger prove, is that for blockchain to succeed, it is very much an augmenting technology. In energy markets for example, the aim is not to displace the traditional carbon hungry energy matrix that powers most of the world – and, in many cases, such as Puerto Rico, proves to be a single point of failure. Rather, the energy blueprint enabled by blockchain-based solutions, is to rethink last-mile energy generation and distribution, while at the same time lowering the operating costs of energy remarketing and renewable energy investments. California’s push to solar-enable its housing stock beginning in 2020 offers a compelling application of this type of approach, especially now that impact players are beginning to come out of beta and investor interest is beginning to go long not only on blockchain, but on world’s direst social challenges.

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