Carmen Ng, Research & Social Content Lead, PositiveBlockchain – Top 100 Fintech for SDG Influencer

This article features an interview with Carmen Ng, Research & Social Content Lead, PositiveBlockchain, and one of our Top 100 Fintech for SDG Influencers.

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This interview is part of a series of interviews featuring Fintech influencers who are doing work that advances our efforts in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

LATTICE80, in collaboration with FinTech4Good, presents the complete list of Top 100 Fintech for SDG Influencers who are leveraging the power of fintech and blockchain technology to create a positive impact on the future. LATTICE80 is launching our accelerator programme based in Hong Kong to help SDG-focused startups build blockchain solutions. Are you a SDG-focused startup? Click here to indicate your interest.

Disclaimer: The interviews are published on a rolling basis and the order by which they are published by no means representative of any rankings.

This article features an interview with Carmen Ng, Research & Social Content Lead, positiveblockchain,io, and one of our Top 100 Fintech for SDG Influencers.

1. Tell us more about what you do and how your role or project is making an impact. How do they support the SDGs?

PositiveBlockchain is a not-for-profit community exploring the potential of blockchain technology in creating positive socio-environmental impact. We live in a world in which over 780 million people live in extreme poverty, about 1.7 billion people are unbanked and climate action is urgently needed. Blockchain could enable new solutions to support many of the SDGs, but mainstream discussions on blockchain remain within the ‘techies’ circles – with social impact as an afterthought.

On the other hand, non-tech stakeholders working directly with the SDGs often find blockchain a topic too abstract to understand or too complex to use. This knowledge gap between the two ecosystems is hindering society from fully leveraging innovation to improve people’s lives at scale.

At our current stage, PositiveBlockchain focuses on researching global use cases where blockchain is being applied to create social impact. Our database currently lists over 800 projects according to impact areas as well as SDGs, such as agriculture and food, healthcare, energy or climate action. This way, we help connect knowledge between both worlds  —  blockchain and the 17 SDGs. Beyond research, we also host events, consult non-profit partners in special projects, as well as producing research-based social media explainers.

As PositiveBlockchain’s first contributor, I had the chance to be involved in different parts of its early-stage development alongside Lucas Zaehringer, our founder who did the tremendous work of building the initial database. My different hats ranged from supporting the team’s early-phase development strategy, use case research, to producing social content that breaks down use cases for public understanding.

Just this April I hosted PositiveBlockchain’s first meetup panel in Asia (in my home town Hong Kong) where we deep-dived into use cases in areas such as sustainable consumption, rural banking and urban poverty alleviation in Asia. In parallel, our team members also host regular meetup series in Berlin, where we aim to nurture real-life ‘blockchain for social good’ communities.

What’s worth noting is that PositiveBlockchain is a team of passionate volunteers who all contribute our unique skills. I’m mostly focused on research and content, but our team is incredibly lean, so no one is leading anyone in a top-down style. Everyone leads his or her tasks while being very open to collaborate. We all want to enable something larger than ourselves  —  to help the world explore how blockchain could be used to improve lives. I believe such knowledge-enabling and community-building work is how we support the SDGs.

2. Why do you see Fintech and/or Blockchain in particular as an important enabler in creating a social impact?

Whether you’re working toward gender equality or recycling ocean plastic, social impact is achieved through navigating networks of stakeholders, communities, funds or goods, not any single actor. Blockchain as a distributed ledger technology could help re-design value chains. In simpler terms, it enables us to coordinate actors and actions with a new degree of trust and traceability.

If we look at it this way, blockchain could help resolve a variety of pain points in many social impact challenges: from tracing donation transparently, verifying land data, to distributing cash-based food assistance in refugee camps without costly auditing, or supporting the unbanked population with digital identities.

Specifically in Asia, where nearly 40% of investment on basic infrastructure is lost due to corruption, blockchain could be used to reduce risks of fraud at scale. India’s pilot cases of revamping land registry is one such example – using blockchain as an immutable ledger to verify land registry to prevent data manipulation and resolve land disputes, helping to secure land ownership rights for millions of farmers.

If you look at challenges that require complex coordination (often with incomplete infrastructure), you might see blockchain as a secured framework to tokenize units of value for real-time coordination, such as delivering timely health aid without red tape, or facilitating financial inclusion via re-designing remittances among rural banks. The significant potential of blockchain for social impact, in my view, really lies in its diverse potential to decentralise trusted coordination – depending on how it’s applied.

3. What are some challenges you face along the way?

Since many blockchain-for-social-impact projects are in pilot phase, I would say one challenge is to weave through an enormous amount of information with varying degrees of comprehensiveness and clarity – before consolidating objective data about these diverse projects, such as their measurable impact in supporting the SDGs.

Knowledge and insights are what our team strives to contribute to the ecosystem. Therefore it is key that we ourselves take good time to go beyond buzzwords (for both ‘blockchain’ and ‘impact’), concretely map out the value-add of blockchain in the context of specific SDGs or impact areas, before going about enabling awareness or innovation on a public or policy level.

4. What more do you think is needed in the ecosystem to support and facilitate creating a greater social impact?

I believe one way to facilitate greater social impact is simply to integrate non-tech stakeholders in the innovation discussion meaningfully.

Blockchain solutions could be enriched and enhanced when NGOs, governments, or civic communities regularly contribute their socio-political, legal, ethical considerations to the problem-solving process. One way to do so is by building more multi-disciplinary alliances or coalitions, where we can break knowledge silos, inclusively examine and explore potential connections between blockchain and the SDGs.

To put it simply, we need to bridge the ‘blockchain’ ecosystem and the ‘social impact’ system – into one that understands both languages.

5. What do you hope to see or achieve in 10 years’ time?

In 10 years’ time, I believe our greatest challenge won’t be a lack of innovation, but to make sure that innovation serves humanity inclusively – both rich and poor, people and planet.

But inclusiveness is a social act of connecting perspectives, not a technical ‘press-and-play’ button. As an Asian, I hope to help nurture a research and education-focused ‘community lab’, where diverse communities come together to proactively examine technology for social good in Asia.

After all, Asia is home to 60% of humanity, and the world’s fast-growing region with complex development challenges. I’m sure in the next 10 years there will be no shortage of challenges to work on, and no social facets untouched by technology.

I also hope that in the next decade, we would see the mainstream public more and more empowered as ‘technology shapers’.

Coming from a news reporting background, I’ve always recognised how knowledge silos create divides, which ultimately exclude certain demographics from future-shaping discussions. I hope that part of everyone’s future civic identity will be to actively evaluate both the potential and risks of new technology in serving the greater good, but this requires massive efforts in raising public awareness in the first place – an exciting challenge worth working on for another decade.