Does Blockchain Hold the Key to Solving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

Green and Red Lines Market Activity

By Joseph Thompson, CEO of AID:Tech

AID:Tech transforms how governments, enterprises, and NGOs deliver digital entitlements.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced by the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) in 2015. The goals are a universal call to action and provide UN member states (193 countries) with a framework of general but clear targets and indicators. These targets are intended for supporting the design, development, and delivery of policies and programs that can address some of the largest and most entrenched problems surrounding development and disparity across the world.

Addressing the criticisms around the precursor of the SDGs - the eight Millennium Development Goals - that they were too narrow in their formulation and considerations (such as overlooking root causes and inequalities), the SDGs were collaboratively built by an open working group backed by the largest consultation program at the time. The introduction of the SDGs brought about a reinvigorated wave of energy and enthusiasm.

The question is, how have we fared so far? Two years after the introduction of the SDGs, the United Nations released a report ‘the Sustainable Development Goals Report’ in 2017 and concluded that while the world has made progress, the pace of progress must accelerate, in order to be able to meet targets set out for 2030[1]. Despite impressive progress, in 2015 5.9 million children under the age of five died worldwide and over 150 million children under the age of five are still underdeveloped.

The report also concludes that progress has been uneven; the SDGs are not enjoyed equally by all. Men continue to enjoy substantially greater economic opportunities than women[2]. Smaller, more vulnerable economies continue to be affected disproportionately by negative factors. Urban populations continue to have greater access to basic services such as clean water, electricity, and connectivity in comparison to their rural counterparts. [3]

There are a great number of impactful factors but there are two in particular that have the potential to unlock the pace and quality of progress.

The first - Identity. Identity plays a critical role in shaping the effectiveness of how policies and programs reach citizens. Its significance well recognized as one of the goals - No. 16.9 where everyone should have a legal identity by 2030. Yet, there are approximately 2 billion people today who lack legal identity. This includes over 600 million children, the majority of these with births never formally registered.

Without legal identity, these people are without access to the formal services that many of us take for granted and this exclusion begins as early as birth. According to The World Bank, only 19 out of 198 economies provide a unique identity solution at birth and go on to use this consistently for identification and service delivery. An identity solution that does not provide access in some form or manner has no intrinsic value; it is simply for counting heads.

The second - Transparency. Transparency underpins the scope of accountability and the effectiveness of how services are delivered to citizens. It is only with transparency and therefore traceability that we can ensure those most in need are receiving the services they require. By knowing how delivery is made then we can genuinely understand the rate of progress being made.

Ultimately, without knowing who and how, policies, programs, and services are being delivered, sustainable development is out of the question.[4] Former Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, remarked in 2012 that 30% of all development assistance is prevented from reaching its final destination due to corruption alone.

Blockchain leverages cryptography to permanently document the transfer of value and securely build a digital ledger that is shared between a network of participants. Distributing the validation and consensus mechanism remove vulnerability by having a single point of failure and manipulability. It removes the need for unnecessary intermediaries whilst maintaining trust while enhancing security and traceability.

All this converges towards low friction value transfer - services and entitlements such as access to aid, welfare, education, and healthcare as well as enabling donations to be delivered digitally. The ability to provision unique identifiers also underpins a robust identity solution harnessing blockchain technology. In one fell swoop, blockchain technology combines robust identity solution with transparent service delivery.

Implemented by organizations, blockchain-based solutions open up a landscape where there is confidence in knowing that distributed resources are going to those intended and where it is possible to know how, what, and to whom deliveries are made in real time. For instance, an aid provider gains effective and unprecedented control with the knowledge of exactly how resources are being distributed (supply) and are being consumed by intended beneficiaries (demand). With this information, stakeholders can identify wastage, inefficiencies, and cases of fraud and error.

Blockchain technology does not have to operate as a lone innovative technology either. With reliable and transparent information playing a key role, the data that becomes available with the long-term implementation of blockchain technology can be plugged into other technologies including AI and Machine Learning.

In the simplest fashion, clear insight into the ongoing consumption of resources provides high level predictive capabilities. For instance, if the consumption of a particular medication (e.g. antibiotics) encounters a sudden spike in a program, implementers are given the opportunity to be proactive and take this information to implement early intervention or even preventative measures (against possibilities of outbreak of epidemics).

Right now, the potential of blockchain technology is very much treated as a hype that could lead to great change or none at all. Yet we do see an increasing number of practical applications, which is a hugely encouraging sight by those within the industry. Establishing the efficacy of the technology is key in the current and upcoming few years but there is no reason why blockchain technology will not be operating behind the curtains, just as the Internet does now, in ten years’ time playing a key role in the development realm.

There is no doubt that people will start noticing resources blockchain technology in their everyday lives - though perhaps not as the killer app that many seek but as an integral infrastructure mechanism that silently improves the status quo in ways we did not know possible.

About AID:Tech

AID:Tech uses the SDG’s as their business compass that helps define the overall technology development. Being the first company in the world to deliver international aid, using blockchain technology, in 2015, their vision has always been to leverage technology to solve the world's biggest problems. Currently AID:Tech has projects in Tanzania, SDG Goal 3.2, to deliver medical entitlements to pregnant women, in Serbia they are reducing remittances by 400%, which is SDG Goal 10.C, and in Ireland, Singapore and the USA, they are partnering with large NGO’s and government bodies to partner on transparent peer-2-peer donations where a donor can determine the impact of their donation - SDG 17, Partnerships.

[1]The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2017

[2] Women holds less than a third of senior and middle management positions in the majority of 67 countries.

[3] Access of electricity in rural areas is over 20% lower than in urban areas.

[4]Finding the missing millions can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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