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  • Global development and the technology of trust

    Trust in global development is waning

    Trust in global institutions is at an all-time low and the global development sector is no exception. A recent survey of the UK public’s trust in charitable institutions found that in fact the overseas aid sector ranks second to last. The survey was carried out shortly after the Oxfam scandal, who last week have been banned from operating in Haiti because of allegations surrounding members of staff engaging in sexual misconduct. In this past month alone, The Times reported that dozens of aid organisations were implicated in a sex-for-food scandal documented by an official United Nations report that was not made publicly available. The decline of trust in the sector is an alarming trend during a time when the world faces a pivotal moment for global development cooperation.

    Digital innovation in global development

    Digital innovation is one such avenue which may be able to resolve the increasing trend of decreasing trust. Cryptocurrencies and blockchains in particular appear to offer promising new ways to restore public trust by increasing transparency and accountability. Blockchain enables efficient, fast, auditable and secure methods to send value on the internet without needing to use a trusted third party. From making secure payments via a peer-to-peer network, to using “smart contracts” that transfer assets between parties when certain conditions are met, the potential to transform the global development sector is enormous. But, just like with the internet in the mid-1990s, there is still a rocky process of technical, social, and ethical development to come before crypto-projects reach meaningful usage and maturity.

    With that being said, there are now over 200 active crypto-based projects designed to bring greater transparency and trust to global development. In Africa, Cellulant, a payments and digital service company is using Agrikore, its mobile blockchain-based platform, to enable secure payments for those involved in the agriculture industry. Blockchains are also shown to provide greater transparency and accountability between donors and organisations. The Ixo Foundation is one such organisation who enables donor’s and organisations to create verified impact claims, otherwise known as a “proof of impact”, in order to optimise the way impact is measured, delivered and evaluated in pursuing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This proof can be used to access social impact bonds and government subsidies, and the data from these impact claims becomes part of a global impact ledger, which interested parties can access to make informed decisions and optimise impact initiatives. For example, the Amply Project, supported by UNICEF and Innovation Edge, is using the Ixo Foundation’s protocol to revolutionise early childhood development in Africa by tracking attendance in pre-schools using blockchain technology. This presents an exciting opportunity for organisations to increase impact and accountability of public services by tracking and authenticating developments in real-time.

    Err on the side of caution

    Blockchains and cryptocurrencies are likely to impact global development and wider society in ways we still do not yet fully realise. Like the internet before it, blockchains are pushing us to question how our society is structured, value is defined, and participation is rewarded. Although this technology is still in its infancy, remarkable advances are already being made across every sphere of industry, and concerns over how much decision-making capability we give to computers should go under intense scrutiny. In global development, discussions surrounding stronger regulation, supervision and the value of human expertise need to be addressed sooner rather than later so that we build the sort of governance structures that will benefit us all. In the meantime, a healthy scepticism will help us put one foot in front of the other. The future, it seems, is already here.

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