Impact Convergence 2.0: A Development Approach Like No Other

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Written by Peter Humphrey and Taynah Reis

In March, the United Nations hosted the fourth iteration of The Power of Collaboration Global Summit, an approach to leverage technology, investment and philanthropy for the attainment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At its heart lies the realization that there is no real development without women. Technology is democratizing economic access in ways that allow heretofore disadvantaged women (in particular) to bypass many “old boys” networks and crack a few glass ceilings. Information distribution leads to knowledge and knowledge empowers. Here capital acquisition rises to the top of development possibilities, particularly at the microfinance level where very small loans are made to individuals and small collectives. These can come from venture capital (e.g. a Western millionaire learning of a highly marketable folk art opportunity in Burkina Faso), specifically dedicated banks, aid agencies and even corporate finance with an inherent interest in the product produced.

With varying degrees of marital discomfort, the approach routinely accelerates family income and can be responsible for a cash ingress that the male’s crop yields or hard labor fail to deliver. So, part of the approach is to keep these men from letting their insecurities torpedo these new sources of income. That resistance certainly varies from culture to culture and there are indeed plenty who revel in their wives’ newfound success. In the Middle East, access to account creation no longer needs the male concurrence that so many banks and hawalas expect. An independent financial profile brings freedom and confidence, both a threat to certain cultural norms. Mobile account creation can also bring salvation to refugees whose movement may have left them completely disenfranchised from their home financial network, no matter how elementary that was.

The Blockchain Revolution Beyond Bitcoin

In this new dawn of technology, blockchaining adds tremendous value, from data/information to knowledge/wisdom, allowing decision makers to think, act and manage resources, smarter and collectively. Here is a revolution born of information availability on a scale never seen before. In essence a blockchain is a distributed ledger checked by all its viewers and assured by digital signatures.  The money-exchange hawalas found in Muslim culture are wonderful early examples of trusted transparent ledgers. Implicit is the trust that comes when a single version of truth is seen globally on multiple platforms, democratically available to very humble stakeholders with nothing more than a cheap cellphone or even just occasional access to the village’s one computer. Some very simple folks can market directly to Western retailers who benefit from absence of middleman costs. And with trust comes automatic contract fulfillment, accelerating all manner of economic interaction.

A trusted common ledger can mean food-tracking from farm to retail and an end to massive wasteful all-encompassing recalls when problems are instead addressed by the surgical precision of a recall from just one problematic farm or processing plant. A common ledger can mean no repetition in crop-enhancing gene excision or gene transfer experiments in crop engineering or pharmaceutical trials of natural materials (“We already tried this turmeric protein on malaria—it was worthless—but there are seven other diseases that need to be tested.”) The ledger allows each plant component to be systematically tried against each condition, almost assuring hits that would otherwise have been missed.

Solar arrays comprised of individual homes can share a common kilowatt ledger to track production and use, with or without the concurrence of the local utility. At low latitudes, the network as a whole may generate an energy surplus which national law can compel these utilities to purchase.

Crowdsourced problem solving and human rights data extraction (e.g. elucidating mass graves and political prison camp minutiae on Google Earth imagery) can also benefit—it is very much a “1 + 1 = 3” approach. And disaster relief need not be duplicative. When parallel relief efforts are subdividing costs (e.g. USAID and ECHO are separately purchasing tents from China for Southeast Asian tsunami recovery, they can nonetheless benefit from buying in bulk, take advantage of the cost savings per unit and bypass any local government skimming).

Common ledgers can bring “Go Fund Me” style collaboration as aid agencies, donors and philanthropists are apprised of needs and hopes at the village, town and district level in struggling nations. Imagine a missionary in Nepal wants to build a school or the mayor of a town in Kenya wants to finish an abandoned well or a remote Kazakh district wants a satellite downlink or a Brazilian NGO wants to complete a biodiversity study or a Fijian chieftain wants to try a solar desalination scheme. All of these projects would be posted so that NGOs, aid agencies and philanthropists could shop for their favorites and contribute to the cause. The beauty of this is that it bypasses wasteful levels of government interference. All too often, efforts such as these pass through (corrupt or careless) third world bureaucracies that make some of the funds disappear.

The bottom line: blockchain technology should result in simultaneous efficacy increase and cost diminution, freeing up resources for additional aid, loans or relief. We would do well to migrate current efforts on to these verifiable common ledgers which take a whack at the global plague of corruption.


About the authors:  

Peter Humphrey, a conference participant, is a former U.S. diplomat, occasional foreign affairs professor and frequent intelligence analyst. He attended and later taught at DIA’s National Intelligence University. Humphrey worked as senior all-source intelligence analyst in Battelle’s Special Program’s Office, specializing in ‘open source’ augmentation of classified studies. He also taught at U.S. Department of Defense’s National Defense University while researching at its Institute for National Strategic Studies.

Taynah Reis, a conference organizer, is a Brazilian code warrior, co-founder and CEO of a hardware, software and games development company Green Tech Impact, Inc. She is president of Green Cross Brasil, founder of the Women’s Exponential Impact Initiative and chief technology officer/UN representative for the Foundation on Support of the UN. Expert in Big Data, data mining, solar energy and networking of Smart City sensors, her passion is using technology to bypass centuries of development in elevating the world’s poorest.