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Original Building Blocks Proof of Concept in Pakistan, 2017. The project has scaled from 100 test … [+]
With rising inflation and energy prices, many people in the West are having to buckle down and make difficult choices on where household savings can be made. The USDA has estimated that food prices will increase 10 percent this year, though many of us will still be able to make good choices about the food we choose to put on the table for our families, even in these increasingly difficult times.
Many people in the world will not have the food choices available to them in the way that we do. The world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The number of acutely hungry people in the world soared – from 135 million to 345 million people since 2019, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Acute hunger is a state where people march towards starvation.
When Bernhard Kowatsch, Head of the WFP Innovation Accelerator, found out that it only takes 80 cents a day to feed a child properly, it shocked him. He thought if people could tap a button on their smartphones to give 80 cents to feed a child, the solution to this problem could be accelerated, and the “ShareTheMeal” app was born.
“Big challenges can be tackled with innovation, not just in the commercial for-profit world, but in the not-for-profit world, where many of the big social challenges we face are even bigger than the big global business challenges,” says Kowatsch.
ShareTheMeal has 9 million app users around the globe and over 160 million meals have been shared so far. The app won “app of the year” in 2020 on both Apple and Android platforms. Apple CEO Tim Cook praised the “incredible passion, dedication and creativity” of the developer community and cited ShareTheMeal as an app that allows us to “support (…) those who need it the most”.
Building Blocks, a new blockchain application to come out of the WFP Innovation Accelerator allows the transfer of tokenized money on the Ethereum blockchain to refugees to allow them to buy food at a local store, validating the transaction at the point of sale with an iris scan or other forms of digital authentication.
Says Kowatsch, “We modelled the WFP Innovation Accelerator on Silicon Valley accelerators, but for social impact. I believe innovation and technology can help solve many of the complex problems we face in society, and are not just the sole domain of venture capital and business.”
The idea for the Building Blocks blockchain solution was submitted to the Innovation Accelerator by a WFP Finance Officer who went on to attend the innovation boot camp and pilot the app with 100 people in Pakistan. The next pilot was with 10,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan jumping to over 100,000 people in seven months.
Started with a $100,000 grant, the innovation is now used by more than one million people and has transferred more than $400 million, saving 98 percent in banking fees. These are the sort of scaling numbers most commercial tech plays and their West Coast VCs dream of.
The suitability of the blockchain, a publicly accessible infrastructure shared by foundations and charities for making donations, is a great use case. That it enables a unit of account to be available to a refugee, in urgent need of food, for redemption at a local store, is nothing short of technologically elegant coupled with a high degree of (social) utility.
The WFP announced a joint initiative with the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) at the 2022 United Nations General Assembly in New York, which concluded last week. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the UN in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Goal 2 is Zero Hunger, the WFPs Mission.
The join initiative is aligned with this year’s UNGA theme: “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges, to reflect the many connected issues we face today including the war in Ukraine, the energy and cost-of-living crises, the COVID-19 pandemic and humanitarian disasters caused by climate change.”
GBBC Giving is a not-for-profit subsidiary of GBBC and is dedicated to “blockchain for good” and will support fund raising and education. The partnership seeks to raise funds for the WFP focusing first on a pilot targeting $100 million of donations in fiat, crypto, or benefits in kind, with a moonshot target of $1 billion in raised funds if the pilot proves successful.
Sandra Ro, CEO of GBBC says, “We are activating our corporate members and over 60 blockchain clubs and 100 academic institutions in our network to enable young budding social entrepreneurs, with innovative and creative web3 tools, to access the open-source data provided by WFP. We are hoping to create greater and better awareness of the hunger crisis while generating new and innovate technological solutions to help solve some problems.”
The corporate funding pledges GBBC Giving has already received are both numerous and substantial and will help to kick start the pilot program with great momentum. The pilot will start in January 2023 and will look to scale to the moonshot target in October 2024.
“A $1 billion “food for crisis fund” would have a significant impact with notionally $500 million dedicated to saving about 7.2 million of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and another $500 million dedicated to the Innovation Accelerator to drive the network effect of social entrepreneur startups focused on ending world hunger,” says Ro.
Says Kowatsch, “There is not enough support for social entrepreneurs compared to commercial tech startups, and we are setting out to change the calculus here – There has never been a greater amount of funding available for social impact, and we intend to harness it with our skills, experience and our track record of delivery at the WFP Accelerator.”
The world needs more of this kind of thinking, collaborating, and particularly doing. With governments seemingly inert at solving many of the social problems facing us, especially while distracted by tackling the massive global economic problems facing all of us, the use of private capital and donations in the hands of professional asset managers and technology innovators is a welcome step change to solving big society problems, and there is much for all of us to learn from here and applaud.