Blockchain Technology and the UN: The Sustainable Development Goals

BlockX Labs | Laura Marissa Cullell | June 11, 2019

UN SDGs - Blockchain Technology and the UN: The Sustainable Development GoalsCan technology progress human rights? Provide humanitarian aid? Help combat Climate Change? Address issues of identity, trafficking, and provide access to food?

The answer to these questions is potentially yes! Blockchain is a fantastic space to explore these issues right now.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working on my thesis on Blockchain, Human Rights and International Law for the U.N. Mandated University for Peace. I have had the chance to learn about a plethora of innovative projects, pilots, and ideas that human rights activists are currently working on to make the world a better place. Is it lucrative? Not always. But it does help make a tangible difference.

For those that are unfamiliar, in 2015, all 193 members of the United Nations unanimously passed a resolution implementing a 15-year plan of achieving 17 Sustainable Development, global goals by 2030 (SDGs). Each of these goals has targets to achieve, totalling 169 different targets. The SDGs cover a broad range of social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean water, sanitation, energy, environment, and social justice.

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SDG No. 2: Eradication of Hunger

World Food Programme — Building Blocks

UN Aid programs have been wrought with countless cases of fraud, red tape, hefty administrative fees and mismanagement of funds. In order to provide the maximum amount of aid to those who need it the most, the World Food Programme (WFP) implemented a pilot project in 2017 called Building Blocks. It was an early experiment that enabled the transfer of WFP Food and cash on a public Ethereum blockchain through a smartphone app to vulnerable families in Pakistan, addressing SDG Goal №1 and 2- poverty and hunger.

Within months, the WFP expanded the pilot to a Syrian refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan to successfully facilitate cash transfers for over 10,000 Syrian refugees on its blockchain payments platform. According to CCN, the implementation of blockchain technology also enabled Syrian refugees to buy food from local retailers using a biometric scan of their eye where each transaction was recorded on a blockchain, rendering the use of cash, bank cards, and paper vouchers obsolete. In this case, the refugees did not need to share any sensitive data with banks or mobile operators, benefiting from greater security and privacy through an immutable, secure blockchain.

Now, the World Food Programme is currently expanding its Ethereum-based blockchain after saving millions of dollars in bank transfers by utilizing decentralised blockchain technology. Currently, the WFP feeds over 100 million people across 80 countries.

SDG No. 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

ID2020 and Digital Identities

Article 6 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights stipulates that “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” The Sustainable Development Goals (2015–2030) include target 16.9 which aims to “provide legal identity to all, including birth registration, by 2030.” ID2020 believes this must include the >20M refugees worldwide and seeks to provide.

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ID2020 is an alliance of governments, NGOs, and the private sector, along with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. All of these entities seek to use blockchain technology to give refugees a digital identity. They have currently teamed up with Accenture and are looking at rolling out an inter-operable, user-owned and controlled digital identity to its hundreds of thousands of staff. They hope that this initiative will evolve to a standard background check which can be distributed to potential clients using a biometrics system that can manage data on fingerprints and irises.

Improvements on failed Governance Models

One of the biggest advantages of using blockchain technology lies in its’ governance mechanisms. Blockchains enable trust which would, in turn, help mitigate corruption. Current international and domestic governance models are wrought with bureaucracy, red tape, and inefficiencies, which hinders access to these key governance structures.

The UNDP proposed a model of Good Governance which provides a cursory framework for how governments should operate:

  1. Participation — all citizens have the right to an equal voice in decision making
  2. Rule of Law — fair an impartial legal frameworks specifically regarding human rights.
  3. Transparency — based on free flow of information, where processes, institutions and information is always readily accessible.
  4. Responsiveness — Institutions and government agencies serve all stakeholders.
  5. Consensus Orientation — acknowledging differing interests and attempts to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interests of the group and (where possible), on policies and procedures
  6. Equity — All citizens regardless of gender, have opportunities to maintain their well-being
  7. Effectiveness and Efficiency — Allows both processes and institutions produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources
  8. Accountability — where decision makers in government, the private sector, and civil society organizations are accountable to the public as well as to institutional stakeholders.

Blockchain strengthens trust, and promotes information sharing between institutions and the public. It can have an impact on democratic voting models and promote the principles of good governance. A blockchain operates on the principles of consensus, accountability and transparency between all parties.

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According to Guillaume Chapron, “Local communities could be empowered to manage their natural resources through ad hoc voting. For example, fish might be traded on a platform only if harvest quotas were approved by a community-based democratic process.”

By digitizing governance models and facilitating the creation of digital societies, such as e-Estonia, achieving access to just and peaceful institutions is definitely attainable.

Blockchain and the progression of Human Rights

Kobina Hughes believes that blockchain presents an opportunity for the Internet development community to claim a degree of recognition in the human rights realm.

It only makes sense that technology is being utilised to promote gender equality and address current social concerns in ways that are only able to be explored now due to innovations in technology.

The fact that Blockchain is currently being adopted by governments and international organs is a wonderful first step at utilizing technology for promoting human rights for all.

Laura Marissa Cullell - Blockchain Technology and the UN: The Sustainable Development GoalsLaura Marissa Cullell is the HR,  Marketing & Operations Officer at BlockX Labs.  She is an MA Graduand of the UN University of Peace in International Law and Human Rights. She loves puns, glitter, and reading an obscene amount of books.  You can reach her at: lcullell@blockxlabs.com

 


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