What are the use cases of Blockchain outside of bitcoin? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Alyssa Satara, Masters of Law (LLM) Public International Law & Human Rights, City University London (2016):
Blockchain is best known for being the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether (the currency of Ethereum), but blockchain is much more than an instrument of finance.
It's an encrypted database of agreements, so to speak. This means once a "deal" is made, neither party can go back and rewrite the terms. Smart Contracts--a blockchain-based contract that holds both parties accountable by only completing the terms of the agreement once both parties have fulfilled their end of the bargain--is a perfect example.
Blockchain serves as a bookkeeping platform or ledger that is incorruptible, enforces transparency, and bypasses censorship. By tackling issues of financial, political and institutional corruption, this has the potential to create massive social change--and greatly protect the human rights of every individual.
We're already seeing some of this amazing work unfold.
1. Tackling the Refugee Crisis
This year, the UNWFP sent over 10,000 Syrian refugees cryptocurrency-based vouchers.
Led by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, and blockchain big data firm Datarella, Parity Technologies put this platform into action and helped thousands of refugees use cryptocurrency to purchase food, according to Coindesk.
In 2014, the Syrian crisis had "become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era," said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Today, the global refugee crisis continues to grow, and the agencies and countries who are heavily invested are having to look toward new solutions to solve an otherwise unmanageable situation.
The opportunity to bypass bureaucracy and international uncertainty with Ethereum technology not only gives refugees direct access to donations, but stands as a huge first step in including them in dialogue aimed at solving the international refugee crisis.
2. Creating financial avenues for the world's most impoverished people
The same blockchain platform used to provide financial vouchers to refugees is also working to bridge a poverty gap around the world. As we've already seen, blockchain can act as a bank-like institution for people without bank accounts.
As long as you have access to a smartphone, you'll have a way to conveniently access money.
Additionally, blockchain is a decentralized system, which means you don't get charged to transfer money the way you would with typical financial institutions. This disrupts the international socio-economic landscape because remittance is costly, and as such can deter businesses from reaching certain regions of the world, severing opportunities for developing nations. It also creates a financial strain for people sending money to their family members overseas.
Last year, the total amount it cost to send money to Sub-saharan Africa was over $30 billion, and according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the yearly remittance from international financial transfers out of the US is up to $50 billion.
BitPesa, a platform that sends and collects crypto-payments between Africa and the rest of the world, is an excellent example of the positive effects and economic freedom blockchain technology can offer.
This is exceptionally promising, considering Africa is currently the most costly continent to send money to.
This technology tackles two huge variables of global poverty. First, it makes sending money cheaper for migrants, immigrants, and refugees who need to send money back to their families, and second, it makes doing business with hard-to-reach countries more convenient.
This alone has the potential to lessen extreme poverty.
3. Preventing voter fraud
Cybersecurity and voter fraud have been exceptionally concerning since the United States' 2016 election. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time voter legitimacy has been question.
Voter fraud is a critical imposition on the productive and accountable formation of democracy across the globe.
Blockchain technology has the ability to provide an unhackable electronic vote-counting system. This system can secure an election during voter registration, and can account for the voters identification and insure votes cannot be tampered with at a later date.
In the same way blockchain acts as a public ledger for cryptocurrencies, it can also create a permanent and public ledger for votes as tallied--promising a future of equitable democratic elections around the world.
There's a startup already working on this called Follow My Vote.
4. Improving Government Efficiency
Blockchain has the ability to accelerate governmental capabilities and affect functions like public benefits, healthcare, and education.
For example, government processes can be slow, difficult to understand, and highly susceptible to corruption. Blockchain, as a solution, can aid governments in being more efficient and secure--in every sense.
The archaic technology in hospitals around the world create unnecessary issues for medical patients and their records. MedRec is a perfect example of what blockchain is looking to improve within healthcare. According to MIT Media Lab, MedRec is, "a novel, decentralized record management system for EMRs that uses blockchain technology to manage authentication, confidentiality, accountability, and data sharing."
Blockchain, as both a technology and an industry, is still largely undefined. We are in an exploration stage, far from any established or proven solutions. However, it's a promising (and relevant) solution aiming to solve for some of human right's most vulnerable areas: corruption, financial inequality, and access to information.
By setting an international precedent---and hopefully a standard--for transparency, blockchain tech is closing the economic gap and solving for the preservation of human rights.