How to Save the World with Blockchain

Everyone wants to try a slice of the blockchain pie. From little known tech circles in 2008 to the World Economic Forum in 2018, the technology has come a long way. Technologists, economists, governments, and civil society are all interested in blockchain’s potential to solve critical global problems.

The number of Blockchain startups is quickly climbing, with groups pushing solutions for everything from food scarcity to climate change. Some of these efforts will help combat growing challenges, but not all will succeed.

The crystal ball on where the technology will be the most effective is still a bit cloudy. But when you think you have an idea for a blockchain-based solution that could have a real, credible impact on the world, it is difficult to sift through the noise and the hype on the internet and evaluate it objectively. Coming up with an idea and building a blockchain solution in your head is the easy part. What do you do next?

While plenty of information (some better than others) is available online for those that want to profit off of blockchain or invest in cryptocurrencies, not enough is available for those that want to see this technology applied to social impact solutions. It can be hard to know if your solution will work, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing it. This is why we start small. A great idea can be scaled.  

BTA’s role in the social impact world has been to curate outstanding blockchain-based solutions for real-world problems, test their effectiveness using our resources and partnerships, and share insights on our efforts and similar initiatives from across the blockchain ecosystem. We get tons of great ideas for putting blockchain to work solving the world’s toughest social and governance problems. What distinguishes a strong idea that has the potential to succeed from the rest? Details.

What we’re looking for are well-defined challenges that could benefit from the transparent, efficient, and secure nature of the technology. When you think your idea is ready to be presented to the world, pause, and take a moment to explore these questions first:

The Problem

It is important to be familiar with the problem you are trying to solve. You must know the stakes if you get it right or wrong, the stakeholders, and the influencers who either like the status quo or are trying to change it. You must also be able to defend why it is important and critical to solve this problem. None of these answers are easy.

Questions to ask: What is the problem you are trying to solve? Why does it need to be solved? Do you and your intended partners have expertise in the area?

Your Solution

You must be able to explain why your solution is better than the ones (blockchain or non-blockchain based) that are already being employed. Using a blockchain does require additional resources and migrating records onto a blockchain takes time. It is often difficult to convince people to utilize emerging technologies, and some of the ways in which blockchain-based systems were utilized in the past has left the technology with a mixed reputation (although conventional wisdom on that front is changing rapidly). And sometimes, blockchain is just not the ideal solution. Among other things, it could be due to the necessity of a central database or confusion in the accuracy of existing data (good data in, good data out; but blockchain won’t save you if you have bad data to start with). The solution you propose needs to be worth the effort it takes to deploy it and it must take into consideration all of these complications.

Questions to ask: What solutions already exist for this problem? What are its drawbacks? How does your blockchain-based solution deal with those drawbacks?

Your Expertise

You need to have a clear idea about what kind of expertise you need to pull this off. In general, the team working on a solution should have technical expertise (experienced blockchain coders are essential), communications expertise (someone who can translate the technical aspects of your solution to other stakeholders), and subject matter expertise (someone who is well-versed in the field in which you are going to deploy your solution).

Questions to ask: What kind of expertise do we have on our team? Where are we lacking in expertise? Where can we get it? Are there partnerships we could pursue that could strengthen our team?

And finally, is your idea sustainable?

Blockchain-based solutions aimed at solving a societal problem may not be easy to monetize. The success of your solution depends on your ability to design and deploy it in such a way that it requires minimal supervision and maintenance. This is particularly relevant if it is meant to be deployed in developing parts of the world that may not necessarily have monumental resources to dedicate to this project.

Right now, around the world,  there are dozens of pilots being designed, tested and launched that harness blockchain for social impact. We are on the lookout for the next big or little idea that could be scaled or applied to one of too many challenges we all face whether it is due to a lack of trust, transparency, or security. The quickest way to develop the next big solution is to pursue proofs of concepts and test them rigorously. As you think about the framework outlined here, if you have an idea for a pilot with the BTA, contact us here.


Asvatha Babu is a fellow at the Blockchain Trust Accelerator (BTA) at New America. As a BTA Fellow, Babu supports the team with strategic research and writing, organizing events, and vetting project proposals.