A brief history of UNICEF Innovation’s work with blockchain.

This will be continually updated. Last updated 13 September 2017.
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On this page:
1. Exploring Blockchain
2. Blockchain capacity at UNICEF
3. Early Blockchain applications at UNICEF
4. Further reading and technical resources

Exploring Blockchain 

Over time, people have used different types of money to exchange value, from colored stones, seashells, precious metals, paper money to today’s emerging blockchain technologies. Blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum allow us as well as machines/things to have money systems on which we can run currency as an application. These systems are decentralized, have no central points of control, are powered by the internet and can be governed by smart contracts.

Money is used to communicate and express value but also to express social bonds, relationships and to create organizations. Smart contracts allow anyone to design and run their own tokens as a digital currency to express loyalty, organization or to represent ownership of physical items.

At UNICEF we are trying to delve deeper into understanding the technical, social, ethical and legal challenges of utilizing these emerging technologies in our complex and interconnected world.

Multisig Ethereum Contract 

UNICEF Ethereum Contract: How it works

The Idea: One way to re-shape online transactions is in lowering the ‘cost of trust’ – in effect, improving how parties transfer assets across the Internet. Testing Ethereum-based smart contracts as a tool for improved efficiency, transparency and accountability opens the door not only to decentralized transactions, but to smart (computable and self-executing) contracts that provide a level of trust – and enable various parties to work with each other (usually over the Internet) without the need for a middleman. Creating the first UNICEF Ethereum-based smart contract – in which all activity can be seen – provides a window into the work we’re doing. The individuals involved in authorizing and testing UNICEF’s Ethereum-based smart contracts are also fully, publicly auditable.

UNICEF is now beginning our first explorations into this technology: Through launching a smart contract to receive Ether tokens which will be used as “Gas” (the Ether price required to execute a smart contract – essentially the fuel you need to interact with the Ethereum Blockchain). And validating initial actions (e.g. Ether transfer proposals) on this contract through signatures by validated accounts; meaning that in the future, anyone could look at the transactions and see what’s happened, and any movement of tokens could be accounted for.

Read more here.

2017: Presentation to the World Bank

UNICEF presents on the Blockchain for Development Panel. Watch it below:

2017: Building Bitcoin and Blockchain capacity at UNICEF

The Office of Innovation has held internal sessions to outline and demonstrate how blockchain networks work, using the Bitcoin network.

Subjects covered include (but are not limited to):
Session 1:
Introduction: Money, digital cash, self-sovereign money systems.
Centralized and decentralized networks.
Bitcoin network architecture.
Full-nodes, miner nodes, light-nodes, wallet applications, blockchain explorers.

Session 2:
Digital signing: public/private key cryptography. Ownership based on that instead of trust.
Live transaction: explaining how a transaction goes through, using bitcoin network illustrations.
Hashing, blocks, blockchain, proof-of-work (mining), coinbase transactions (incentive model).

Session 3:
Consensus Mechanisms: proof-of-work.
Transactions: inputs, outputs, unspent transaction outputs, bitcoin script (i.e smart contracts).

Session 4:
Ethereum network.
ERC20 tokens.
Live demo using truffle.js and Geth – deploying ERC20 token.

2016: Presented to UN Agencies

– Participated in UNDP webinar titled ‘Blockchain for Development’. View recording here.

– Presented to UNDP Senior leadership. Access the full deck here.

– Participated in UNDP webinar titled ‘Blockchain for Development’.View recording here.

2015: Explored and developed a prototype app for identity

Created a prototype to demonstrate the concept of “Anonymous Identity” based on James D’angelo’s video titled, “The Basics Of A Bitcoin-Based Global Identity System“.

Example: Enable UN staff in conflict zones to prove their affiliation without having to show identification. 
The way it works: UNICEF uses its public address on the blockchain to send a small amount of bitcoin to another address on the blockchain represented by the digital signature of a photo of the staff person. This app receives a copy of the image, and verifies that it’s been signed by UNICEF.

To demonstrate this, we put our colleague’s cat, Fuzzy (a sample UN staff member) on the blockchain and then found her with the app. To see her yourself, go to http://vipid.herokuapp.com and enter: 1 cat show. To see our colleague, a la Blade Runner, enter: 206 teddy bears.

*This app was designed for illustrative purposes and not for field use.  

Further Reading:

Technical Resources