Category Archives: Innovation

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit: Joining Together to Shape the Future of Blockchain For Humanity

November 16, 2017, New York City  —  Blockchain technology is already driving innovation in the finance and public sectors globally. Now humanitarian and technology leaders are exploring how the technology could revolutionize humanitarian response to global complex emergencies.

This transformation was explored at the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit on November 10 hosted by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in partnership with the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, Center of International Humanitarian Cooperation, University of Northampton, United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology, and Civic Hall.

More than 250 humanitarian workers, United Nations officials, governmental and public sector representatives, technology experts, and academics convened at the Summit to explore the vast potential of blockchain technology and grapple with the challenges.

Blockchain — a distributed ledger technology —  could be used to solve those challenges, such as storing identification, educational and professional qualifications of displaced persons; implementing direct cash transfer programs via cryptocurrencies; or managing contracts for migrant workers.

“Blockchain can have a role in not only serving the people endangered in these crises, perhaps in refugee camps or disaster response, but also in finding new ways that allow people to be more self-reliant, long term humanitarian projects to be more inclusive, and protection to be more central to long term humanitarian response.

As always the interest of humanitarians must go beyond the financial and fulfil the ultimate humanitarian principle of do no harm. The most essential objective we believe is to ensure transparency, data protection, and participation of beneficiaries by utilizing the blockchain through facilitating user centered design and ensuring their autonomy in the process,” said Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

Through panels, speeches, breakout sessions, and workshops attendees discussed topics such as humanitarian financing, ethical frameworks, smart contracts, gender empowerment, and sustainable development goals (SDGs) in relation to blockchain technology.

Rahul Chandran, Director of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation, closed the Summit with three practical actions for humanitarians and technologists:

  • Put the good energy of the Summit to use by applying the technology to concrete real world problems;
  • Manage risks by having upfront conversations about ethics and governance; and
  • Ground change and impact in evidence and open ourselves up to scrutiny.

“We need collective effort and that does not just happen spontaneously. It takes the private sector, blockchain companies, coming to governments and actually saying we want standards, we want ethical codes…It takes an exchange of ideas, because we’re still so early in this process,” said Chandran who encouraged participants to continue engagement on the subject.

Following the Blockchain Summit, the IIHA is launching the Blockchain for Humanity Initiative alongside the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, University of Northampton, and University of Groningen. The Blockchain for Humanity Initiative will provide ongoing actions for further discussion and engagement with like-minded institutions and practitioners concerning the application of blockchain technology for humanitarian action.

The first opportunities for engagement include:

The Humanitarian Blockchain Summit was made possible with the generous support of  Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Consensys and Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance.

Photos from the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

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Beyond the Hype: Blockchain for Humanity

Photo credit: UNHCR

 

This article was originally published on Tech’s Good.

October 27, 2017, New York City – Imagine a world where humanitarian aid can reach people affected by crises exponentially faster, where refugees can store their health, education and identification in an uncorrupted system, and where migrant workers can have safer working conditions through smart contracts. This is the world blockchain technologists and humanitarians envision — one with more sustainable and dignified responses to humanitarian crises.

Blockchain technology offers the humanitarian world a more direct option for information and currency transmission during emergencies with increased speed, traceability, and safety. This innovation has a promising future in humanitarian work, but not without possible challenges and risks.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA)’s Blockchain for Humanity initiative aims to promote cross-sector partnership to explore blockchain-based solutions for better policies in the humanitarian sector. Our upcoming Humanitarian Blockchain Summit will gather humanitarians, technology experts, scholars and social innovators to discuss the dynamic future of blockchain for relief efforts.

Beyond the Hype

But what is blockchain and what is behind all the hype?

Many people are familiar with blockchain-hosted crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin or blockchain softwares such as Hyperledger and Ethereum, but few know about the many potential applications of or technical details behind the technology. Collin Thompson of Intrepid Ventures does an excellent job of hashing out the system’s intricacies in a 2016 Medium series.

This video produced by The Guardian also highlights the inner workings of Bitcoin, one of the first forms of cryptocurrency on a blockchain.

The most crucial element of the technology is that every transaction on a block incorporates a previous block, forming a chain of blocks (hence the term blockchain). This feature makes the blockchain highly secure and very difficult to hack. It also allows for the instant transfer of funds or information without the need for an intermediary, like banking services or currency exchanges. This makes the transaction of currencies or information more efficient, affordable, and secure.

The Humanitarian Revolution

In humanitarian contexts, cryptocurrencies can enhance financial inclusion, ensure remittances are more accessible across borders, and facilitate immediate payment for lifesaving aid. For example, Bitnation, a humanitarian agency in Europe, allows donations to reach refugees through Bitcoin. Each donation is directly credited to a refugee’s debit card allowing them to withdraw cash without dealing with banks, that are often restrictive.

Humanitarian organizations are justifiably interested in other ways blockchain could enable more efficient humanitarian action and transparent aid delivery. If done with collaboration, ethics, and ingenuity, blockchain can revolutionize humanitarian response. Some agencies are leading the way:

ID2020 and Microsoft are creating a system allowing people to register their identity documents on a blockchain database. This project aims to to provide digital IDs to millions of undocumented or stateless people who lack access to basic government and financial services. This could have a life-saving impact for crisis-affected people, who frequently struggle to begin their lives anew without proper identification.

Aid:Tech in Lebanon provides e-vouchers on a blockchain to Syrian refugees in camps, allowing them to purchase goods in a localized refugee-economy and increasing the likelihood for self-reliance in the camp.

Handshake is designing a system for fair and legal labor contracts for international migrant workers, in an effort to minimize the prevalence of exploitation and insecurity while ensuring human rights and fair wages for work.

Governments have started to implement this technology in their own programs, storing information on the blockchain. Some examples include the management and organization of:

Additionally, blockchain has the capacity to ensure more secure delivery of lifesaving supplies through supply chain tracking, more transparent procurement of aid, more impactful humanitarian financing through impact bonds, and safer protection mechanisms through data encryption.

Tech for Good, Never Harm

Needless to say, the potential for blockchain as a tool for social change is overwhelming. However, so are the possible complications and challenges that may arise in using the technology within marginalized communities. Critical reflection and examination is essential if we are to ensure the technology serves the needs of the people before interests of companies and the questions are many, including:

  • If the data transacted on the blockchain is immutable, do people have the right or the ability to remove themselves from a blockchain system?
  • How can private and sensitive information (such as ethnicity, religion, gender, or other identification types) be left out of the hands of people who may intend to do harm?
  • In case of breach or abuse, what jurisdiction applies and who is accountable to ensuring data privacy?
  • How can crisis-affected populations have agency in interacting on the blockchain?
  • What measures or ethical standards could be put in place to ensure that vulnerable people fully understand the technology, and potential consequences of their interaction with it?

The blockchain, as a cross-border network, is not yet regulated by international or national laws. As long as data is managed on a global decentralized network, the protection and security concerns are numerous — especially in places with more autocratic governments, less corporate regulation, and populations already in peril.

Zara Rahman, fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, pointedly exemplified the protection risks of data registration currently facing Rohingya refugees. Modern-day crises, especially those fueled by ethnic violence, should compel humanitarians to employ technological interventions with the utmost caution.

By collecting evidence, piloting projects, sharing information, and analyzing the true impact of blockchain projects, we can begin to safely and effectively address these questions and outline new ethical standards to guide the use of technology in crisis. By staying true to the humanitarian principle to “do no harm” above all other objectives, we believe the humanitarian community can reach new heights with blockchain while simultaneously protecting those most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and suffering amidst crises.

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

The IIHA’s upcoming Humanitarian Blockchain Summit at Fordham University in New York City aims to spark a conversation about the potential for blockchain and humanitarian impact while keeping these ethical concerns at the forefront. The summit will allow humanitarian organizations to present the process, outcome and challenges of pilot blockchain projects while also providing space for dialogue among humanitarian and technology experts on future scalability and challenges.

Ultimately, we hope the Summit will be more than an exchange of ideas, but the start of an ongoing process for the development of a complete policy framework based on concrete results and with direct applicability to the humanitarian sector.

Some of the many partners coming to the table include the United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology (UNOICT), the Centre for Innovation at Leiden UniversityCivic HallConsensysID2020HandshakeUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations WomenCentre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance, and World Identity Network, among others.

Blockchain technology provides an opportunity to an interconnected world to truly incite systemic change that may not only increase the impact of humanitarian response, but perhaps lessen the severity and likelihood of crises in the first place. Creating policies, collaborating across sectors and interests, and prioritizing humanitarian ethics and principles is essential for ensuring blockchain truly serves humanity.

Registration for the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit at Fordham University in New York City is now open.

Lara Lopis, IIHA Innovation Intern, Master’s student in Science and Technology Policy — University of Sussex 2018

Angela Wells, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Communications Officer, awells14@fordham.edu

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IIHA Announces Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

The Humanitarian Blockchain Summit will bring technology experts, scholars, and humanitarian practitioners together for dynamic discussions about the future of blockchain technology in humanitarian operations and in pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Blockchain technology holds great potential for improving these operations—whether it’s used to transfer cash to disaster victims, coordinate the delivery of supplies, streamline humanitarian financing, or make humanitarian projects more gender-inclusive.

The summit is designed for those interested in using blockchain for tangible humanitarian impact. Breakout sessions will focus on overcoming challenges to using blockchain, as well as identifying the best ways to develop humanitarian-friendly blockchain platforms, among other topics. The sessions will also include collaborative exercises and presentations about how some organizations are using blockchain.

The goal of the event is for participants to recommend policies for using blockchain in specific humanitarian interventions.

Objectives

  • Highlight a range of piloted and pioneered blockchain initiatives for humanitarian action;
  • Facilitate the ethical adoption of humanitarian blockchain solutions in response to technical, legal, and governance challenges facing the humanitarian sector;
  • Bring together people from across sectors to foster new partnerships, encourage technical collaboration, and explore nontraditional funding sources;
  • Curate existing open-source tools used in humanitarian blockchain services; and
  • Build a digital community of developers interested in impacting humanitarian assistance.

Program

Plenary sessions will highlight the work of major humanitarian agencies—both intergovernmental and nongovernmental— testing blockchain to address child protection, gender equity, cash and food assistance, and other humanitarian challenges. Special announcements will also happen in this context.

Breakout sessions and workshops will introduce specific field-tested prototypes or pilot projects for blockchain technology in humanitarian settings. Topical examples include humanitarian financing; data responsibility and protection; identity management in crises; and micro-contracts. Working sessions will focus on tackling specific issues that hinders a broader adoption of these systems in the humanitarian sector.

Speakers and participants will be encouraged to provide feedback on ongoing projects and propose new ideas for scale and replication.

A more comprehensive agenda is coming soon.

Pre-Summit Events

Blockchain Day: What is “The Blockchain” and why it matters to the UN and Member States? – August 17, 2017 at United Nations Secretariat

Organized by the Office of Information and Communications Technology.

Missed this event? Check out the live recording.

Government Blockchain Professionals Group: International Case Studies – September 18, 2017 at Fordham University Lincoln Center

Organized by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and Government Blockchain Association.

Missed this event? Check out the live recording.

Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Risks in Operations of Governmental Institutions – September 29, 2017 from 10 to 10:30 AM at Fordham University Lincoln Center 140W 62nd Street, Room 212

Hosted by the Institute of International of Humanitarian Affairs in partnership with Office of Information and Communications Technology, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies, and United Nations Department of Field Support.

Blockchain for the United Nations: humanitarian and other applications – November 9, 2017 from 3 to 5:30 PM at United Nations Secretariat

This pre-summit event will increase participants’ knowledge of blockchain technology through demonstrations of innovative blockchain tools and projects for humanitarian action.

In partnership with the Office of Information and Communications Technology.

Summit Partners

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs is hosting the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit in partnership with innovative academics and humanitarians from:

Stay Informed

Please sign up here and we’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available.

Contact Information

For media inquiries: contact Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer
To partner with us: contact Giulio Coppi, IIHA Innovation Fellow

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Normalizing the data revolution

This article was written by Giulio Coppi, Innovation Fellow at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University, and originally published by Tech’s Good, a new digital publication critically evaluating the social impact of technology.

Violations of humanitarian law and human rights, displacement, human trafficking, conflict, and the forces that drive such abuses pose some of the most critical justice issues of our time. Simultaneously, technology and data have never had a more important role to play in ending and responding to crisis.

“The data, I think, will save us on many levels,” said Ms. Atefeh Riazi, Chief Information and Technology Officer of the United Nations, to a group of humanitarian workers enrolled in Fordham University’s Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action course this July in New York City.

This course brought together leading experts from humanitarian, technology and design sectors as part of a bigger effort to put data science at the center of humanitarian action. This and other initiatives — like the upcoming Summer School on Big Data at the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University or the opening of the new Centre for Humanitarian Data — are nothing short of a declaration of unified support for smarter and more ethical uses of data for social good.

The full exploitation of humanitarian data sources has the potential to improve the way crises are forecasted, monitored and addressed. Proper management of data could drastically increase the impact and timeliness of humanitarian assistance and protection activities, such as identifying the needs of affected populations or distributing life-saving resources. But the path ahead is rocky and complex.

Challenges in policycapacity and implementation are many and sometimes disheartening, considering the high stakes and potentially dangerous consequences. All this, however, should not come as a surprise.

Three years ago, while speaking in front of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, Ban Ki-moon defined the “rapid access to reliable, comprehensive and accurate data” as a critical component to the activities of the United Nations and its partners.

Similarly, in 2014, while recognizing the important advancements made in this field, a report of the Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development published the report A World That Counts to highlight the gaps that hinder UN agencies from harnessing the full power of data.

In response to the report, Director of UNDP Human Development Report Office, Selim Jahan, urged the international community to “make sure that the coming revolution leads to the world having the right information, at the right time, to build accountability and make good decisions and so improve lives.”

Historically, however, revolutions that evolved into something lasting and stable did so in less than three years. An endless state of revolution can hardly be considered an ideal situation to aspire to, especially in the humanitarian sector.

Three years since the day the then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon drew his “ambitious and achievable mission” to leverage the Data Revolution to shape what we now call the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), humanitarians seem more worshipers of an abstract utopia, rather than victors of a revolution.

For many humanitarians, the tech world seems removed and disconnected from their own. Despite growing evidence, some still question that classic humanitarian activities like response coordination or ensuring protection of highly vulnerable populations could benefit from a more intensely data-based approach. Meanwhile, the humanitarian sector has yet to produce the policy, strategies and governance change that the data buzz has promised. Few organizations have truly embraced and incorporated data at the core of their programming or professional development activities. Even less have adopted or developed the adequate tools that would allow data (or Big Data) management to become daily routine.

The humanitarian sector, though, is hungry for projects centered on smart humanitarian data management. The frustration with the limited capacity for data-driven aid delivery is palpable. Those who are ready to evolve and take up the challenge to harness the power of data often feel their good intentions are ignored or downplayed because of institutional incapacity to adapt and internally innovate.

Moving forward, humanitarians, as community, need to tackle some core issues to truly progress in normalizing data-based humanitarianism. Potentially useful steps, though not exhaustive, include:

  1. Adopting data governance systems that can produce lasting and relevant change in internal organization management;
  2. Supporting a common language apparatus based on shared data strategies and protocols that can bridge the gap between data for humanitarian action and development (such as the HDX and HXL Standard);
  3. Ensuring that internal strategies consider Data and Innovationinterdependent;
  4. Advocating for more ethical data protection, responsibility, and management frameworks, and extending their application to public and private partners;
  5. Adopting Open Source and Open Data as mandatory approaches for all humanitarian data projects, allowing all humanitarians — but especially local actors — to access and own the most innovative tools for aid delivery and life-saving solutions;
  6. Developing shared corporate engagement strategies that can allow organic and structured innovation and cross-collaboration, beyond the current public-private partnership model.

In upcoming posts on the IIHA blog, I will further expand these points, also integrating the lessons learned on the way as we progress on new projects such as the HumanityX Summer School on Big Data for Peace and Justice hosted by the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, and the hosting of the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit on November 10, 2017.

Note: The ideas expressed in this piece are the result of personal and professional experiences as field manager, researcher and teacher, and they do not represent anything more than a proposal for discussion. Special thanks to Angela Wells and Jorn Poldermans for their valuable intellectual contribution in the development and edit process of this piece.

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