When blockchain is the topic, a mention of cryptocurrency often isn’t far behind. Yet, talk to the technologists working on blockchain, and eventually the conversation will turn to the potential implications across many disciplines. That includes work to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from agriculture to refugee resettlement to building democracy.
On June 1, the Blockchain for Social Impact Conference is looking to address those issues. The daylong event, held at the U.S. Institute of Peace, features speakers including World Bank CTO Lesly Goh, Lauren Roman of Everledger and UNICEF Senior Adivsor on Innovation Chris Fabian. It’ll also feature projects from the Decentralized Impact Incubator.
“We’re looking to engage the DC community about the possibilities of blockchain and bring together experts and thought leaders from all sectors: government, NGOs, charities, think tanks, impact investors, technologists, innovators. If the blockchain space wants to make a lasting impact, people from every industry have to collaborate,” said lead organizer Valeria Kholostenko, the Head of Global Development and Community at ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based studio building apps and tools for blockchain ecosystems.
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To learn more about the conference and what will be offered, we put some questions to Kholostenko. Here’s a look at the Q&A:
Technical.ly DC: Is this the first time the conference will be in D.C.?
Valeria Kholostenko: Yes, this will be the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition’s first conference in DC. We were thrilled about the turnout at our last conference in New York City, which was attended by over 350 people, including speakers from UNICEF, the Human Rights Foundation, ConsenSys-incubated Civil, and the White Helmets, a Syrian volunteer organization that has saved close to 100,000 lives. Next Friday, we’ll have everyone from Robert Opp, Director of Innovation and Change Management at the UN World Food Programme, to Nik Sekhran, US Chief Conservation Officer, World Wildlife Fund, to ConsenSys reps from uPort and Viant.
TDC: Overall, what is the goal of the event?
VK: We want to confront the issues of our time head-on and work together to make blockchain a vital and accessible resource for citizens around the world. The DC conference will be an opportunity for us to harness the talent, enthusiasm, and resources of the impact community so we can develop blockchain-based solutions to the world’s most pressing global challenges.
TDC: What’s the theme that speakers will be addressing?
VK: Our speakers and panels are covering a number of themes this year. We’ll discuss the current state of blockchain technology, scaling solutions, regulatory frameworks, design thinking, as well as an array of important global issues: identity management, refugee resettlement, supply chain, energy, financial inclusion, human rights, democracy, and voting.
TDC: What’s the connection between BSIC and ConsenSys?
VK: The Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition is an initiative of ConsenSys, a global formation of technologists and entrepreneurs building the infrastructure, applications, and practices to enable a decentralized world. Currently, the coalition consists of 58 organizations across the globe who are building solutions for the world’s most vulnerable populations in places like Nigeria and Moldova.
TDC: Is the U.S. Institute of Peace involved in the conference beyond hosting as a venue?
VK: Our partner for the conference is PeaceTech Lab, who is a collaborator of the ConsenSys Solutions Incubator in DC through their groundTruth initiative. Rohini Srihari, Chief Data Scientist at the PeaceTech Lab, will present on groundTruth at the Conference. ConsenSys and PeaceTech held a workshop earlier this year about using blockchain to secure identities and validate data to help predict social and political disruption. We continue to collaborate and hope to announce that partnership more formally in the coming month.
PeaceTech Lab has also helped us shape content for the day by providing input on panels and bringing their leadership to the conference and to the space in general. PeaceTech is an ideal partner. Much like ConsenSys’ approach to social impact, they are a collective of data scientists, engineers, journalists, and humanitarian practitioners that seek to scale tech solutions through collaboration.
TDC: In general, what makes blockchain useful for organizations looking to make change? Will any examples be on view at the conference?
VK: With blockchain, organizations working to make an impact can disrupt middle-men processes where low accountability expectations have historically been set. At the conference, we will highlight work being carried out by Collaborative Healthcare Solutions, which is working toward automating the sexual assault reporting and expense reimbursement process.
Integrating automated systems that can immutably track events and securely disburse funds is a huge step towards preventing instances of fraud within the public sector, so examples like these provide huge operational benefit––not only to the community, but also to taxpayers that fund many first-response programs to crimes like sexual assault. Blockchain technology has a huge variety of applications: there are projects developing across many sub-verticals of social impact that are looking to create massive change.
TDC: Are there specific sessions or themes that technologists looking to build tools using blockchain will value?
VK: We are going to be hosting two technical workshops: Draper University will conduct a workshop on the topic of Pitching Investors with Blockchain Solutions, and MIT Solve will be hosting a “Solveathon.”
TDC: BSIC also runs an incubator. What’s involved in that program? Is it connected to the conference?
VK: The Decentralized Impact Incubator is a BSIC-run 6-week program to ideate and prototype blockchain-based solutions to global social and environmental challenges. Participants from around the world gather to form teams, design business models, draft proposals, and code. The scope of these challenges includes early-stage ideas for a product/solution, innovative business models, a timeline for sustained development, and if possible, a prototype.
The Conference will be an opportunity to meet the specialists and organizations who are building solutions on the ground and working with key stakeholders, end beneficiaries, and governments to make an immediate and concrete difference in the developing world. Winners from this year’s Decentralized Impact Incubator will present their projects, which are focusing on global issues regarding reliable hardware, refugee support, agriculture practices, and mechanisms for democracy.-30-
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