How will blockchain technologies change international development?
The OxChain project is exploring the potential implications of blockchain in the delivery of Oxfam’s aid programmes. There has recently been a plethora of projects aiming to solve problems in international development using blockchain. These include transparency platforms, such as AgriLedger and Provenance, blockchain funding platforms like BitNation’s humanitarian aid and Disberse, transparency and identity services such as ID2020, and peer-to-peer emergency humanitarian aid such as GeoAid. OxChain will build on these technical interventions by considering wider critical and political issues. The project is unique because it involves working closely with a global and trusted development organisation, Oxfam, to explore the challenges and potentials that blockchain might bring.
We have centred our research on these potential applications. Blockchain raises the possibility of more direct, and targeted, transactions between actors, potentially removing middle-men in the delivery of aid (see our work in this area here). Blockchain also has potential for more secure supply-chain mapping, and it could support alternative or complementary currencies, which might be carefully regulated, or foster particular values and practices in their use.
These possible applications have potentially far-reaching implications for Oxfam, raising the following research questions:
How would Oxfam’s position as a development ‘expert’ which constructs, solves and funds development solutions be changed by the peer-to-peer, anonymous, secure transactions permitted by the blockchain?
What new geographies of development (real and imagined) might be produced by blockchain technology? What new organising principles of international development might the blockchain produce?
Could Oxfam do more to recognise the conditions of production that enable it to sell second-hand ‘fast fashion’? Do innovations like blockchain, manufacturing data and smart contracts provide a way to recognise new values in Oxfam’s global production network?
How might Oxfam use data it might gather from its recipients, and what are the implications of repositioning recipients as data producers? As Oxfam is entering to these debates early, this provides a unique opportunity to shape debates on ethical engagement with data in developing countries.
Frip Ethique is Oxfam’s social enterprise in Senegal which sells secondhand clothes. We are exploring possible uses of blockchain in this context which could involve Frip Ethique issuing its own currency for the purchase of its bales of second hand clothes, with Oxfam donors subsidising these for individual traders (underpinned by secure blockchain technology which would facilitate direct payments from donor to recipient).
We are investigating the implications of such a currency were it to circulate on the ground, and what new relationships and expectations this might produce between donor and recipient. To pursue this, we are engaging with Frip Ethique and other stakeholders to develop initial ideas and opportunities in this space. Our technical team are undertaking scoping work for a platform which would support the distribution of ‘FripCoins’ or other cryptocurrencies in development contexts.