In most developing and emerging economies, governments are, in principle, the main providers of public goods such as justice, security, health and education, among others.
However, this does not imply that the governments themselves deliver such goods. Most of the time, the implementation is outsourced to private partners, both for profit and non-profit purposes.
The new Blockchain research document: by decompressing the disruptive potential of blockchain technology for human development, shows that this is the case of the design and current implementation of blockchain technologies in the global South.
The fact that local regulations are far behind new technologies has provided a fertile ground for this to take place, as has already happened with other technologies.
In principle, blockchain technologies could be used to provide government services that involve the management and general management of public documents that, at least in many developing countries, are difficult for people.
More generally, blockchains could be used to support the general provision of most public goods to citizens and stakeholders, especially those that require personal interaction and require individual identification.
There is an implicit link between blockchain technology and e-government, and is now being explored by a selected group of blockchain startups.
- Procivis, a Swiss startup, will soon launch an application store based on blockchain that offers public services selected to the public. It will also offer identity services to clients.
- Recently, Ukraine signed an agreement with BitFury to support the provision of public services to citizens, among other activities.
- Dubai also joined the wave of blockchain technology and now plans to become a full blockchain city by 2020 as part of its ongoing Smart Dubai initiative.
- Several blockchain startups are now supporting these areas and working in countries such as the Philippines and Estonia, among others.
- Health is one of the key objectives of Hyperledger, an inter-industry collaborative space to develop protocols and open standards for distributed accounting technologies
- On the contrary, the education sector has not managed to attract much interest from startups and blockchain technology consortiums.
Most of the examples that follow show how blockchain technologies could support a wide variety of smart government initiatives and programs.
Land titles were perhaps the first area in which Blockchain’s technological planning took place and the possible deployment in a developing country. In 2015, the Honduran government signed an agreement with Factom, a US startup, to use blockchains to manage the registry of property titles and help manage fraud and corruption.
How did this happen? A local foundation that promotes libertarian values initially approached the startup and then proactively built the bridge between the technology company and the central government. A confidential agreement was signed later. However, a few months later the project was stopped for reasons that are still unclear.
Last year, similar initiatives were also launched in Georgia and Ghana. In the case of Georgia, the world-renowned economist Hernando de Soto participates as a member of the advisory board of BitFury, the blockchain startup that implements this initiative.
The case of Ghana is perhaps more interesting because a local non-profit startup, BitLand, is using the Bitcoin blockchain to manage property titles and resolve land disputes. BitLand is working closely with local institutions whose mandate is to issue title deeds and are willing to try new technologies to solve problems that have been outstanding for decades. BenBen is another startup in Ghana working on the same subject.
While initiatives in Ghana seem to have faded, Sweden is making successful progress on its own property deed project, thus overcoming the proof-of-concept stage. In any case, this seems to suggest that blockchain implementations in developing countries face complex challenges.
Several startups are already working on blockchain identity services. For example:
- OneID84 provides multi-factor authentication and single sign-on services, among others.
- Namecoin developed key technology to protect and authenticate personal identity, encourage freedom of expression and prevent surveillance.
This seems to be one of the most promising fields for the successful application of blockchain technologies, as reflected by the growing number of new companies working in this area.
The identity based on Blockchain technology can be used effectively to manage passports, birth and wedding certificates, national and electoral identifications, and to manage electronic residency programs, among others.
However, some critics argue that existing digital ID technologies work well and are much more scalable than those that use blockchain platforms. Scalability limitations of Blockchain technology could prevent massive deployments in countries with large populations such as India and China.
Freedom of expression
Startups like FlorinCoin and Publicism promote freedom of expression in different ways. The first has created a distributed accounting application (Dapp) called Alexandria that aims to be a decentralized repository of knowledge and information managed directly by end users. One of its applications is the preservation of censored digital content that usually disappears quickly from the Internet.
- Floricoin has improved the chain of blocks by introducing the possibility of attaching comments to the blocks in the chain.
- Publicism offers support to journalists who face censorship in many countries, allowing journalists to use pseudonyms to protect their identities.
- MazaCoin, whose objective is to support the native and indigenous communities of the United States. UU., Recently began using its platform to protect freedom of expression and store protest photos in the block chain.
The National Democratic Institute of the United States (NDI) has partnered with BitFury, the same startup that makes property titles in Georgia, to promote anti-corruption efforts with a platform called Blockchain Trust Accelerator.
The objective is to promote the development of blockchain applications that can foster open government and transparency. Launched in June 2016, there is still not much information available on how the accelerator is evolving.
Electoral processes of various types have also benefited from the deployment and use of blockchain technologies. Follow My Vote is a startup that uses distributed ledgers to execute voting processes and prevent fraud and identity theft. One of the potential advantages is that voters who use blockchains can verify their voting choices by using their private keys at any time.
Ukraine is a country that has jumped into this area. The country will use E-vox, a distributed book based on Ethereum for local elections. The implementation has already started in a couple of cities.
However, one of the central issues is access to private keys that hackers could acquire in various ways, or voters could offer loans or sell their private keys to obtain an economic benefit. Once it emerges as a viable method, it will be interesting to compare chain block voting with Internet voting, which is already in use in Estonia.
New forms of government
Some blockchain platforms aim to replace or at least emulate the government. The best example is Bitnation, which allows users to create their own countries without borders that offer a series of services to their citizens. These countries have their own constitutions and some even offer basic income to their citizens.
Help and development
Ayuda: Tech, una compañía con sede en Londres es quizás la primera startup de tecnología de cadena de bloques que apoyó los esfuerzos humanitarios y de desarrollo en Medio Oriente. La compañía ofrece un sistema de cupones que se puede usar incluso en los contextos más desafiantes y ayuda a garantizar que los recursos financieros lleguen de manera segura a sus destinos finales. Bitnation ahora también está ofreciendo apoyo a los refugiados.
Según un informe, siete agencias de la ONU están explorando y / o utilizando tecnologías blockchain para respaldar sus operaciones y programas.
- UNICEF desembolsó USD 100,000 para apoyar una startup, 9Needs, y tiene planes para hacer lo mismo para otras cinco o diez startups. 9Needs trabaja en innovaciones de salud y desarrollo.
- UNDP is supporting monetary transfers and financial tools in Serbia and Moldova, and plans to expand soon to other countries.
- The United Nations Program of Work Program (WFP) announced a pilot blockchain technology project using Ethereum to disburse financial support to people in need in Jordan, drawing on the results of a smaller initiative in Pakistan.