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3 ways blockchain can accelerate sustainable development

There are 3 areas where blockchain could be an SDG game changer: building resilient and transparent supply chains; creating stronger and more accountable public institutions; spurring responsible sourcing and consumption.

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There are a number of opportunities for blockchain technology to re-cast conventional approaches to sustainable development – and accelerate progress if deployed responsibly.

There are 3 areas where blockchain could be an SDG game changer: building resilient and transparent supply chains; creating stronger and more accountable public institutions; spurring responsible sourcing and consumption.

When the SDGs were conceived in 2012, blockchain technology was in its early days. Few could have foreseen the trajectory and the potential of blockchain for advancing these ambitious targets.

But today, we see opportunities for blockchain technology to re-cast conventional approaches to sustainable development – and accelerate progress if deployed responsibly.

Macro trends of 2020

There are a number of macro trends this year in the world of blockchain and sustainable development that provide context. Moreover, this has been – and will continue to be – an important year for laying the groundwork for major disruptors like digital currency and digital identity.

The trajectory of blockchain technology, in some ways, chimes with that of its predecessors. Following buzz around ambitious aims such as financial inclusion and data ownership, there has been limited work to define what this means and looks like. In fact, if risks and benefits are not carefully evaluated, there is potential for widening existing gaps or the exploitation of vulnerable populations.

It has been encouraging to see momentum towards defining and self-regulating around user protection, such as the Global Digital Finance Code and the Presidio Principles, but it’s important that these conversations stay grounded in the realities of consumer protection, infrastructure capabilities, and the influence of politics and cultural notions to ensure that the technology is able to meaningfully contribute to sustainable development aims.

Moreover, this has been – and will continue to be – an important year for laying the groundwork for major disruptors like digital currency and digital identity.

While some organizations such as the Human Rights Foundation and American Red Cross have long-accepted cryptocurrency donations, we have seen an increase in the number of players looking at digital currency as an avenue for financing the SDGs. For instance, the UNICEF CryptoFund announced its largest round of investments this year and a number of platforms supported a crypto spin on Giving Tuesday.

As conversations around central bank digital currencies and stable coins pick up, so are those on how digital currency may be a tool for direct aid delivery, such as we’ve seen with the World Food Programme’s Building Blocks project, which uses blockchain for authenticating and registering transactions.

There has also been a sustained focus on digital identity as a key enabler of the SDGs. While many of these efforts are in early stages – like the recently-launched PayID that brought together a number of industry leaders – this will certainly be a space to watch as a foundational element for future progress.

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