The Future of Giving

What might smart contracts and programmable currency mean for the future of giving?

OxChain is researching whether donors could be offered (or indeed demand) more transparency and control over how and where their donation is used. Blockchain would enable Oxfam to track the impact of a donation, and allow conditions to be set on its use (by Oxfam itself, by donors, or by local partners). This has potentially huge implications, which are practical, conceptual and political.

A large NGO like Oxfam which needs flexibility in how it spends money to address immediate needs like emergencies, and to fund long-term development interventions. However, what if regular donors or those engaging with Oxfam shops were given more of a say in how they wanted to support Oxfam’s work? If individual donors start having more control over Oxfam’s priorities, what might this mean for the framing of development problems? How would Oxfam respond to the increased power that programmable donations might give donors?

This also presents a challenge to wider practices and organising principles of international development. Blockchain giving may reposition recipients as people who are able to make direct claims on, and enter into direct relationship with, potential donors. These donors may want to programme conditions into their donations. For Oxfam as an institution, this may challenge its current participation and empowerment programmes, and reshape Oxfam’s status as development expert.

Smart contracts and programmable currency therefore represents a huge challenge to Oxfam’s existing practices, but the opportunity is to promote deeper engagement, more choice and more transparent relationships between recipient and donor.

Oxfam Unwrapped

Oxfam invites its supporters to buy gifts for developing country recipients, from the famous Oxfam goat, to services like safe water and education. At present, these are one-off payments that function as vouchers. What if Oxfam Unwrapped was more than a one-off payment, but the beginning of a relationship between a donor and a recipient? What might this mean for the concept of ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’, and how might this relationship be changed?

To explore these ideas, we are doing design-led research with shoppers and donors to explore whether donors and shoppers would value this kind of engagement, and if it might encourage them to donate more. We are interested in how donors be empowered, without compromising the flexibility of Oxfam’s missions and its desire to set development priorities.

We will be making design probes and other low-fi and speculative prototypes to explore the design of new kinds of programmable donations.  Our technical team are also undertaking scoping work to prototype systems for programmable donations and ways of visualising and representing such offerings for donors.