UNICEF Fund Manager: Cryptocurrency Could Revolutionize Humanitarian Aid
When disaster strikes the swift delivery of aid often plays a massive role in preventing disease, exposure, and the pause in the delivery of essential services from exacerbating an already dire situation.
The abysmal response in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island in 2017 serves as a perfect example. In fact, data from a Harvard University study estimated that the delayed response in distributing aid contributed to an excess death count of 4,645, whereas the official death count by the government of Puerto Rico remains at 64.
First responders and organizations that deliver humanitarian aid realize that urgent action saves lives and for this reason they are always searching for ways to streamline their processes.
Cointelegraph recently reported that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had announced the launch of a cryptocurrency-backed fund aimed at supporting the development of open-source technology that benefits young people around the world. According to UNICEF the Cryptocurrency Fund will “hold and make transactions in cryptocurrency,” specifically Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH).
“Under the structure of the UNICEF Cryptocurrency Fund, contributions will be held in their cryptocurrency of contribution, and granted out in the same cryptocurrency.”
We’re naturally curious when any large government-backed organization openly embraces cryptocurrency, so, we reached out to Sunita Grote, Program Funding Manager for UNICEF Innovation, to learn more.
Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
CoinTelegraph: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into this space.
Sunita Grote: I’ve been with UNICEF innovation for 5 years. I co-founded and manage the fiat fund, where we make investments in startups that are working in the countries UNICEF operates in.
Prior to joining UNICEF, I worked in health programming for about 10 years and I saw the need for approaching health services and other social services that impact children in a new way. The Innovation Fund allows UNICEF to explore innovative financing and new technology solutions.
CT: Could you explain why UNICEF decided to partner with the Ethereum Foundation?
SG: We had a number of conversations with leading foundations and partners in the space. It was clear that the Ethereum Foundation is closely aligned with the objectives of our fund. They’re focused on developing solutions on public blockchains, and that was key to our partnership and finding common ground.
CT: Does UNICEF have any concerns about the potential anonymity of contributions to the Cryptocurrency Fund?
SG: At the moment, all contributions follow the standard know-your-customer (KYC) and due diligence processes that UNICEF uses for the contributions it receives in any currency. UNICEF National Committees in France, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA are currently able to accept donations. They are the primary recipients of cryptocurrency donations and they conduct the necessary screening processes.
Over time we will refine our process and hope to increase the number of national committees able to accept contributions in cryptocurrency, however we will not be accepting anonymous donations. All donations will be publicly visible as part of an ethos of transparency and accountability, to ensure all transactions are traceable from source to recipient.
CT: Will UNICEF hold cryptocurrency in the Cryptocurrency Fund, or will it just be a pipeline that immediately converts cryptocurrency back to government-issued currency?
SG: No, cryptocurrency-based donations will not be converted to government-backed currencies. The idea is to receive, hold, and disburse crypto as crypto. At no point in the process does it get converted into any other currency. This allows us to fully leverage the benefits that crypto offers.
We can track all transactions via the blockchain, and can see how recipients use the funds. Recipients have also agreed to not convert the funds into any other digital asset or government-backed currency. UNICEF appreciates that all transactions are stored in the blockchain, and this is part of the reason why we prefer to leave crypto as crypto.
CT: What are your thoughts about the inherent volatility of digital assets? Does this pose a risk to UNICEF operations?
SG: No, the volatility of cryptocurrency does not impact our operations because we are choosing to leave crypto as crypto, including in our financial statements, where cryptocurrency will be reported as crypto. Because there is no conversion, and because contributions in crypto are accounted for separately from other currencies, volatility doesn’t impede our ability to provide services.
CT: Will proceeds from the Cryptocurrency Fund go towards UNICEF's general operations, or will it be directed to a specific project?
SG: Currently, the application of crypto-based donations is limited to our Cryptocurrency Fund and contributions are used to support companies expanding their blockchain solutions. Right now cryptocurrency donations are not used to support the services that UNICEF traditionally provides for children. UNICEF selected and funded these companies based on their ability to provide services and technologies that generate value and good for those in need across the world.
Our innovation fund has made more than 70 investments, including a handful of blockchain and crypto-oriented companies from developing and emerging markets. Three of these companies have received a grant from the crypto fund, and will use it to expand and refine their platforms.
The recipient companies are Atix Labs in Argentina, Prescrypto in Mexico, and Utopixar in Tunisia.
CT: Looking beyond cryptocurrency as a source of revenue, what potential do you see for blockchain technology itself in contributing to UNICEF's mission?
SG: At UNICEF’s Office of Innovation we explore various technologies to see if and how various applications can benefit children. We have been exploring the use of blockchain for a few years, and there are three key benefits:
– It lets us tap into a new resource base for UNICEF and expand our network to receive contributions
– Blockchain can improve efficiency and transparency by tracking the flow of resources and transactions in a more transparent way. Blockchain makes us more accountable and has the potential to reduce the amount of resources we need to do our work. We’re a $7 billion global organization that conducts a lot of transactions between various parts of our organization, so we are looking to see how blockchain can help us manage and track these in a more efficient way.
– We are exploring how how blockchain can disrupt and improve systems that deliver programs for children. Blockchain may allow us to make payments in a new way and improve how cash transfers are made.
UNICEF is able to make these explorations and establish the Cryptocurrency Fund thanks to the collaboration across the organization of different teams, including finance, legal and other technical teams. In this way, we are exploring and leveraging the benefits of blockchain for the whole organization, and hope that the broader UN system will also benefit from these efforts.