Guided by a vision with people at its heart, WFP is harnessing the benefits of blockchain technology in its operations. Since 2017, WFP and its partners have been applying blockchain technology through the “Building Blocks” (BB) project to help achieve its mission while working with the wider United Nations/INGO community to push for greater efficiency across humanitarian and development operations.
The idea behind Building Blocks is built on the concept of a common, equally owned, operated, and governed humanitarian blockchain network – where reputable humanitarian and development organizations can freely join the network and run their operations on it.
Through Building Blocks, various actors have a way of increasing the coordination of their responses, ensuring greater accountability, accuracy, and partnership with the prime objective of improving the lives of the people served in constrained environments.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Powered by blockchain technology, Building Blocks provides a neutral space for multiple humanitarian actors to collaborate in a decentralized and independent manner. On BB, humanitarian organizations can deploy applications (smart contracts) to accommodate various humanitarian use cases. This solution presents a unique opportunity to overcome traditional barriers to inter-organizational collaboration at scale. BB currently enables “value transfers”.
most humanitarian responses, organizations need to transfer something of value to the people served (e.g., cash or food), the people need to redeem that something of value, and the whole process must be accounted for. BB impeccably and conveniently enables the coordination of incoming inter-organizational assistance and subsequent redemption, even in highly complex programmatic contexts. Other use cases, such as digital ID, education credentials, and land registries, remain to be explored.
What is the current status of your innovation?
- Operational since 2017 and the world’s largest humanitarian implementation of blockchain technology.
- Serves 1+ million Syrian and Rohingya refugees in Jordan and Bangladesh. USD 475 million transferred through 20 million transactions. Saved USD 3 million in bank fees.
- From 01 May to 31 August 2022, coordinated USD 337 million of cash in Ukraine and prevented USD 35 million of unintended assistance overlap (duplication), resulting in available funding to support an extra 185,000 thousand people for three months.
Collaborations & Partnerships
In September 2020, BB was deployed in Lebanon to help coordinate the relief efforts of 17 organizations across eight assistance categories for the people affected by the Beirut blast. From January 2021, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund water, sanitation, and hygiene items are being distributed on Building Blocks in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. In May 2022, BB was deployed in Ukraine to help coordinate assistance from 18* organizations to those affected by the conflict.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Building Blocks started with a 100-person proof of concept in January 2017 in Pakistan and has since been scaled to serve over 1 million people, making it the world’s largest implementation of blockchain technology for humanitarian assistance. Building Blocks is deployed in Jordan to support Syrian refugees, Bangladesh to support Rohingya refugees. Recently BB was deployed in Ukraine as a cash assistance coordination mechanism among various UN agencies/NGOs serving people in need.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
BB is operational in Bangladesh and Jordan, together BB has been serving 1 million Syrian and Rohingya refugees with USD 475 million through 20 million transactions. During the same period, BB has also saved USD 3 million in bank fees.
Additionally, BB was recently deployed in Ukraine. As a result, between 01 May and 31 August, 18 humanitarian organizations coordinated USD 337 million of cash to 3 million affected Ukrainians and prevented USD 35 million of unintended assistance overlap (deduplication). This enabled supporting an extra 185,000 thousand people for three months purely due to the inter-organizational collaboration on BB.
Challenges and Failures
The beauty of blockchain is that the same underlying architecture can accommodate many different use cases such as digital ID, health records, education credentials, land registries, and more. The main barrier to using it in these ways at this stage is around data protection and privacy, in a world where not all end users have access to digital technology. The limitation here is obvious: many of the populations we support don’t have smartphones and connectivity – though things are changing rapidly. In the meantime, we have started with applications such as value transfer, using pseudonymous accounts that do not require foundational sensitive personal information.
Conditions for Success
Have a vision but take a practical approach to what can be achieved today and be prepared for the coming future. Scale is being successfully achieved through incremental builds and roll-out. Field experience and political buy in are key factors in a successful solution. Technical aspects are the least problematic. The challenge is to adapt the technology to implementing organizations’ specific context.
Building Blocks is built for flexibility and modularity. This way, organizations can continue using their preferred systems (e.g., for beneficiary management) while coordinating and (if needed) delivering assistance on BB.
Political and human aspects (misinformation & misunderstanding) proved to be the biggest hurdle. Explaining the concept is hard. It is hard to convey the message that BB is about the network and the network effect. The concept of co-development is not well understood. It can be hard to persuade others to change their models and join the BB project.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
26 January 2023