Blockchain for Development: How This Emerging Technology Can Progress the Global Goals

By Annie Rosenthal as part of the 2018 +SocialGood series on emerging technologies

Blockchain is being touted as a potentially transformational force, with the ability to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of our financial and institutional systems. By adding transparency, accountability, and legitimacy to digital interactions, this emerging technology has already inspired solutions that are improving international development work around the world.

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While blockchain has been ubiquitous in conversations about 2018 trends, it is a concept that many people struggle to fully understand. The Guardian explains the technology well in their piece Blockchain: what is it and what does it mean for development?:

“Blockchain is a digital ledger that provides a secure way of making and recording transactions, agreements and contracts — anything that needs to be recorded and verified as having taken place. Rather than being kept in one place like the more traditional ledger book, the database is shared across a network of computers. The ledger becomes a long list of transactions that have taken place since the beginning of the network, getting bigger over time.”

Basically, blockchain is a digital tracker that maintains instant and permanent records validated across a specific chain of computers. This process makes it easy to spot fraudulent behavior, making the transaction enacted through blockchain more secure. Still confused? Check out +SocialGood’s Sartaj Anand as he explains blockchain in under one-minute for Forbes Middle East:

This emerging technology is creating and inspiring impactful solutions that have the potential to positively address many of the Global Goals. Here are some of the many ways blockchain is being used for international development:

Fighting Hunger and Poverty

By making transactions more transparent, accountable, and efficient, blockchain is helping organizations such as the United Nation’s World Food Programme to reach more people with the food and aid they deserve.

Many banks, organizations, and charities struggle to access marginalized people due to the lack of trustworthy and stable infrastructure within at-risk communities. Blockchain makes it much harder to engage in fraudulent behavior, limiting the potential for the misappropriation of funds. This means that it is much easier for donors to track where their money is being spent and for insurers and banks to engage in secure transactions with people who may never have previously been able to receive their services.

Read more about how blockchain is helping to help the world’s poorest people here.

Accessing Education

A child’s education is an invaluable resource. However, many parents struggle to successfully pay for their children’s education. Payment can be too costly, logistically challenging with long journeys needed to secure proof of payment, or cash payments can easily be lost or misappropriated.

Blockchain helps to combat some of these issues. The Center for Strategic & International Studies explores this benefit:

“When these payments occur in a blockchain-based network, parents can make payments via a mobile device into a blockchain ledger. The blockchain can then seamlessly provide proof of payment to the school. The result is a less costly, more reliable interaction for parents and, more importantly, a higher number of children with consistent education.”

Combating Human Trafficking

The World Identity Network (WIN), UNOPS and the United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology (UN-OICT) are working together to utilize blockchain technology to combat child trafficking.

According to United Nations statistics, nearly half of the world’s children under the age of five do not possess a birth certificate. This lack of official documentation means that these children are “invisible” to governments, limiting their access to social programs and making them more vulnerable to trafficking. By offering secure digital identities for these children and tracking global transactions, blockchain has the potential to increase the chance of catching traffickers.

Supporting Renewable Energy

Blockchain technology is also empowering people from Bangladesh, Australia, and around the world to easily invest and benefit from renewable energy. Blockchain makes peer-to-peer trading more legitimate, efficient, and secure. People are utilizing this capability to easily buy and sell excess energy from solar or other energy sources. This allows users to go around energy companies and reduce costs on their renewable energy purchases.

Learn more about how blockchain is being used to support renewable energy and other development causes in this article by Devex.

These are only a few of the ways blockchain is being used to make our world safer, healthier, and more inclusive. The United Nations is working with organizations around the world to explore more ways this new technology can be used for international development. Check out Blockchain for Impact to learn more!

This month we are asking the community to share their insights about blockchain. Do you have a favorite blockchain resource or a success story about the use of blockchain for social good? Tweet it to @plus_socialgood!



A global community of changemakers united around a shared vision for a better world in 2030. A project of the UN Foundation in support of the United Nations.

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A global community of changemakers united around a shared vision for a better world in 2030. A project of the UN Foundation in support of the United Nations.