Master Students Use Blockchain as a Tool For Altruism


According to University of Toronto News (U of T News), two students of the University believe that the blockchain technology could improve social equity. The two students, named Zachary Skeith and Vanessa Ko are both master students  of global affairs.

When Zachary started working at the research and development startup called “Three Lefts” he only knew the basics of how blockchain worked. However, he was very optimistic regarding the potential of the underlying technology to cryptocurrencies.

According to University of Toronto, blockchain is defined as, “digital logs of information that are stored across a network of personal computers [that] use cryptography to make sure that individual records can’t be altered or counterfeited. The decentralized nature of blockchains ensures that no one person or institution can control the system, yet everyone can use it.”

While working at the startup, he started to understand more aspects of the  technology supporting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which made him realize how much the technology could be helpful for social good. Since every transaction is recorded on the ledger, all transactions are traceable,which makes the blockchain technology much more transparent and trustworthy than the current system.

For example, with blockchain, the money sent for humanitarian aid would always reach the person in need since the blockchain and smart contracts can make it so it is only possible to withdraw the money for certain purposes.

“I spent most of my childhood moving around different continents. I was very lucky to see a lot of the world, but it also made me very aware of the many global challenges we’re facing,” Zachary says. “It’s really exciting to me to see the immense potential of blockchain to change entrenched power structures.”

The startup where Zachary works has started utilizing  blockchain to empower people. The company is working on a project to give access to business funding to minorities.

With this idea, everyone who works for the company could vote to decide how the company will distribute the funds, so business decision will be taken collectively with the  transparency of the decentralized ledger, mentioned Skeith.

Two other projects on which “Three Lefts” is currently working on are securing and controlling Indigenous groups’ intellectual property, and help fighting forced labor.

With Skeith’s background in global affairs, his main focus is about finding out what an “ethical future” of blockchain would look like.  At his current job, he has great skills for social relation and he is good at facilitating social interactions between people from different backgrounds.

Zachary Skeith mentioned,

“Because of my global affairs background, my focus is the political and social impact of technological innovation…Whereas most people in the tech space think they need to scale up first and governance will come later, I believe the opposite is true. We need to think about social capital first.”

Recently, there’s been many problems for companies that didn’t think about the ethical and the governance aspects for their products such as Facebook who got criticized for spreading fake news and allowing advertisers to segregate the ads based on racial characteristics.

“I think we’re at a point where we need to define how we want this technology to work. If we treat the blockchain like we’ve treated most technologies from the early ’90s, then the blockchain is going to become just another status quo tool[…] And that would be a shame because it has the potential to fundamentally improve our society,” mentioned Skeith.

Last year, during an internship with the UN, Vanessa Ko, another master student of global affairs, started working to find out how the blockchain technology could help humanitarian aid.

In October, she published a whitepaper in which she explained how blockchains can allow aid projects to work together.

“One potential use could be to track the supply chain of aid items. With the help of the blockchain, you could trace exactly where aid comes from and where it goes. That could be a huge help in co-ordinating between different agencies and keeping everyone accountable[…]Because anything of value can be stored in the blockchain, the applications are endless,” explained Ko.

Blockchain will probably disrupt many business sectors in the near future. Presently, the blockchain technology is mostly used for peer-2-peer transactions and situations, but Vanessa Ko and Zachary Skeith believe the technology could have a bigger impact for humanitarian causes.

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