At Blockchain for Social Impact, jointly organized by Chain Intelligence, Mai Luong, and the Columbia Blockchain Alliance – with its founder Kiran Murty moderating, the standing room only crowd Monday evening was energized by the variety of unique and unexpected use cases for blockchain in serving humanity.

Maomao Hu, co-founder of Kora, for instance, is working hard to see that crypto mining perhaps becomes overshadowed by what you might call blockchain plowing. No one is earning money by harvesting digital corn, but instead, Kora is leveraging decentralized applications to create better, more profitable lives for farmers in the developing world.

“We’re taking these small family farms and we’re mechanizing them, and we’re adding data to the farming to reach economy of scale and earn more profits,” Hu said. “Now is the time we can link them to global markets.”

In March 2018, Kora began a beta launch of its product with 300 farmers in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. It handles payments from the farming aggregator to the individual farmers, money transfers between farmers and suppliers, and pooling of capital into Collaboratively Validated Nodes (CVNs).

Returning to his alma mater of Columbia for the evening’s panel, Joel Phillips, founder of Siglo, observed something interesting as he traveled between developed and emerging markets.

“What we see in developing markets is that the existing structures are viewed as “good enough,” whereas in emerging markets, what’s there today doesn’t work at all, and we can put this infrastructure on the blockchain from day one,” Phillips said.

Siglo increases access to networks via content paid for by brand sponsors. Meanwhile, the first app to use their protocol, Pig.gi, has over 1 million registered users In Mexico and Colombia, and allows users to earn reward coins and spend them on airtime top-ups after viewing branded content or taking surveys.

Panelist Fennie Wang, who heads up legal, operations, and strategy for the ixo Network, sees blockchain as an instrument of social justice.

“Why is it that emerging economies have to wait a generation before technology gets mature enough in the developed world and passes along to them?” she said. 

“We should be able to develop technology today in a way that’s workable for these developing economies so that they can leapfrog into new technologies. It’s important to change this mentality.”

Wang’s ixo Network was born out of UNICEF Ventures’ first blockchain investment, Amply, which has tokenized over 50,000 pre-school attendance records in South Africa since 2016. 

Ariana Fowler, impact analyst for ConsenSys Social Impact agrees with Wang, and believes that attitudes must change, so that it’s no longer two separate conversations regarding blockchain for the haves and the have-nots.

“I think it’s interesting the way that impact conversations always turn into “Global South” vs. “Global North,” but impact can happen anywhere. We’re looking at inner city housing outside of Berkeley, at the same time that we’re looking at projects in Nigeria, in New York, and in the Philippines,” she said.

“The idea that we’re re-creating the world means that we get to design this decentralized, equitable world that can empower everyone, both in developed and developing contexts.”

Lest anyone forget, Fowler reminded the crowd that blockchain was meant for impact.

“Impact is ingrained into the technology. It’s not like it’s blockchain and impact or blockchain for impact. Impact is in the blockchain, and I think we forget that a lot.”