The statement “Who is actually getting results?”, which has been whispered between attendees in a crowd of 300 at the Blockchain for Social Impact conference in Washington D.C. on the 1st of June, have summed up the sentiment during the event.
The group that assembled at the U.S. Institute for Peace may have spanned from Ethereum entrepreneurs to crypto-curious international development workers, but around the broad spectrum, the sentiment was shockingly cohesive: People want to see results and only results!
The advisor of the Pacific cash and livelihoods at the Oxfam, named Sandra Hart, explained to CoinDesk that they have to stress-test blockchains in complex environments. It is about being demand driven instead of supply driven.
The days of excited chatter surrounding proof-of-concept presentations, as well as lucrative token sales, are gone. It looks like the idea is the best way to get results with the engaging of the people or communities the product or service is geared to help.
As an example, Hart is working on a blockchain pilot in Vanuatu, which is one of the most disaster-prone island nations in the world. The program, which is about to run from around September 2018 until February 2019, leverages the blockchain-linked IDs in order to deliver credit to up to 1,000 households which are displaced by a recent volcano.
There are a lot of attendees at the conference across the board that has noticed the same challenges, as well as chances which Hart faces as she sets up the humanitarian blockchain program of Oxfam. Namely, that kind of blockchain solutions for disenfranchised populations can work the best when they are built cooperatively with recipients, as well as community leaders to complement local habits and infrastructure.
The executive director at the Ethereum-centric startup conglomerate ConsenSys, named Vanessa Grellet, agreed with the insistence of Hart on meeting people where they are. She told CoinDesk that she is the least bullish about projects which try to change behavior without economics.
The statement expressed her belief that technologists have to avoid preaching about wealth creation and instead of that they should listen to how people already use products or services.
In the case of Hart, Oxfam is working with the Vanuatu Society for People with Disabilities and Youth Challenge Vanuatu to make a smartphone application which represents fiat currencies, as the community is closer with mobile devices, as well as cash than with credit cards or tokens.
Hart was also one of those experts at the conference who urged blockchain enthusiasts to build applications alongside diverse communities, not for them.
People should remember the real world
Shortly said, Hart put forth another argument which saw the discussion at the event, and it was about whether tokens are necessary to engage broad communities of supporters. She ultimately argues that no matter how snazzy the product or service may be, tokens might not incentivize people that were not already interested in them. She said that it is widespread that usability is a question mark, based on the cultural context.
She also added that the beneficiaries or the recipients are often used to choose what they buy instead of receiving in-kind assistance, which actually takes the dignity, as well as the choice out of the assistance process.
Grellet agreed that two leading challenges hindering blockchain projects are that many of them do not understand the issue they are trying to solve or work with people that experience those pain points.
To make things even worse, just a few of the teams truly prioritize design, which is a critical component of creating technology which people are going to use. On the other hand, some innovative projects fall short of tangible results.
Grellet said that there is incremental change and there is system change too. What people often propose is system change.
Inside lies the same problem which is faced by activists around the sectors: bureaucracy is a slow, as well as stubborn beast.
In order to counter these common pitfalls, Grellet advised that blockchain enthusiasts should plan baby steps which leverage existing user habits while they are working toward broader disruption. This approach can curb impulses to evangelize Western habits to cultural contexts where they are not making any sense.
She said that they are not convinced that they want to bank the unbanked. They do not want them to go into a system which rejected them. They want to help create new systems, as well as new creditworthiness, capacities and new ways for them to engage with new institutions which permit them to have access to funds.
For instance, even though she has been inspired by startups that can reduce friction, as well as expenses for remittance, she also said that those blockchain solutions leave the underlying problem intact.
They also want to solve the fact that they have smaller chances, she said. Also, she says that people can always reduce costs, but that is a band-aid. Additionally, a lot of the communities do not have the same connectivity as those technologists which enjoy in Silicon Valley.
When speaking to spotty electricity in some areas of Vanuatu, Hart asked what people do when they have to do things off the chain. She also asked about how people develop these products and say, they have to tweak this, change this, to make such products more adaptable, as well accessible when we work in a humanitarian environment.
Partners and not users
The real trick here is the decentralizing access to resources.
To that end, some startups such as RightMesh, which raised $30 million in a token sale which was concluded this week, are looking to put their tokens where their proverbial mouth is.
Brianna MacNeil, who is the blockchain product manager of RightMesh, has stated to CoinDesk that her startup already recruited roughly 100 developers in Bangladesh already so that it could build applications for the upcoming mesh network platform. Probably, RightMesh users are going to have the ability to access the mesh network with their conventional mobile devices, in that way offering connectivity without Wi-Fi.
Hart also noticed that his speaks to some of the infrastructure challenges. MacNeil said that the startups are working on all kinds of open-source apps. They also said that they do not know all of the applications of mesh networking. So, they want to put the tools in the hands of those developers so that they can build some new apps which may not have been possible otherwise, in part because of the lack of connectivity in specific communities.
It is what actually Gellet said she is most excited about in 2018, diversifying the open-source developer community. She said that they are going to see internationalization taking this genuinely global, as well as having local talent create the solutions. That is not just a U.S., Western conversation, according to her.
At the time of one panel that was about refugee communities, the CEO of Techfugee, named Josephine Goube, had the similar request to the audience, saying that they should stop coming to her and asking her to build [apps].
Instead, Goube clarified that her startup is offering resources, as well as opportunities for some displaced people to make their tools. Goube also warned against the idea of making blockchain solutions for refugees, which is a population of roughly 65.6 million people around the world, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
There is not going to be a success without collaboration
Gellet said that the way to scale their local effect is to get enterprises and institutions on board at some level, after empowering these communities. She also added that collaboration was the key in this space. She said that they are not going to succeed without the cooperation of governments, as well as charities, NGOs, enterprises, technologies, all together in one same room.
And yet, for some international development experts, the question remains: Why to use a blockchain instead of a database?
The UN World Food Programme’s director of innovation and change management, Robert Opp, during his talk about the Ethereum pilot program distributing food to 10,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, addressed this problem.
He also told the crowd about their plans of expanding the program to 500,000 people, as well as corresponding identity tech tools, saying that if they thought this was the endpoint in the World Food Programme, they would use a database. He also added that this is not the endpoint, but it was just the beginning.