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Blockchain For Social Good

Rachit Batham, Head of Blockchain Advisory & Relations, Tech Mahindra

Rachit leads the Blockchain Advisory and Solutions portfolio at Tech Mahindra. He was instrumental in setting up the blockchain practice ground up for the organization. He comes with rich advisory experience in large-scale business and technology-led transformation programmes. He has been advising clients on emerging technologies, digital transformation and process excellence. Besides, Rachit is also skilled in running Fintechs accelerator programmes for emerging technologies.

In today’s world, when it comes to society, nothing holds more importance than trust. We, as members of the society, today rely on multiple intermediaries for transactions; whether these are payments-related, registration and movement of assets, or even records management. Even the most technically sophisticated systems built to take care of the aforementioned would usually consist of intermediaries. Blockchain technology disintermediates such system and builds trust amongst the participants; which was difficult to imagine in the pre-blockchain era.

Blockchain technology came to the forefront post 2008 financial crisis, when people felt the need of a system, which enables peer-to-peer money transfer between parties; a downturn-proof system. Adoption of the technology has only been going up north since then, and in the last couple of years, it has seen an exponential uptake.

In principle - the technology builds trust in the system, increases transparency, and ensures identity & transaction privacy of the people. This has far-reaching implications especially when we look at ecosystems that are built to benefit the society as a whole.

Some of the prominent impact areas:
Talking about bringing good to the society, the very first thought that pops-up is that only governments and public sector will have a direct impact, however, with the blockchain technology, each sector sits at the periphery of creating substantially positive impact for the society.

Few Examples of Effective & Efficient Governance:
Blockchain optimizes delivery of government services by sharing digital identity mapped with the respective proof of identity (say birth certificates). It enables digital transactions such as deploying, monitoring, controlling, and regulating social benefit schemes ensuring accountability of the intermediaries in the value chain. It helps to register and authenticate government-licensed assets like

land titles, vehicles, and enables multiple departments to verify the ownership.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a regulation in July 2018, which mandated all the Telcos to use Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to curb any unsolicited commercial communication to subscribers. Tech Mahindra engaged with TRAI early on this and rolled out a solution to help the telecom operators comply with the regulation. Tech Mahindra also won an award under the ‘most innovative use of blockchain for social good’ category for this solution at India Blockchain Awards 2019 for the same.

Societal – It helps in identifying refugees moving acrossborders. Refugees use blockchain-based digital identities to seek financial assistance, open bank accounts, etc. United Nations World Food Program (WFP) piloted this for cash transfers in Jordanian refugee camps and is now planning to test this for food delivery tracking in East Africa.

Financial – Micro-Small & Medium scale Enterprises (MSMEs) form the backbone of any developing economy (MSMEs make about 37 percent of India’s GDP). Blockchain can help in bringing together an ecosystem where financial institutions can extend credit lines to MSMEs which otherwise is a process with huge risks involved. This leads to financial inclusion of MSMEs, leading to an overall development of the country.

Fair practices
In today’s world of globally dispersed supply chains, blockchain could play a big role in prohibiting any conflict materials entering into the chain, thereby promoting fair trade practices. Blockchain is also being used to ensure that the ones at the lower end of a value chain, such as farm producers, get an appropriate and fair price for their produce.

Blockchain helps in saving a lot of energy through peer-to-peer distribution that is otherwise lost through conventional means of distribution. The consumer becomes the prosumer (consumer and producer) and directly trades the excess energy produced by renewable sources with its peers - another step towards building a greener planet.

Digital Health File: A platform that enables data exchange among medical practitioners in which patient takes control of his/her personal healthcare related information. Any modification by practitioners is registered immutably and can be traced, ensuring complete privacy and verifiability.

Blockchain too is also going through its challenging phase – scalability, interoperability, to name a few. These challenges will get resolved in the coming days, as the tech fraternity is working tirelesslytowards resolutions.

However, business challenge is what should be more worrying. The technology, as repeatedly mentioned, works best in an ecosystem. These ecosystems would either comprise of competitors who come together to address a common problem or would comprise of participants of a value chain (say a supply chain). In the first scenario, cooperation amongst competitors would not happen unless the regulator or an equivalent body enforces it or the parties realize that collaborating and then combating the problem makes sense. In the second scenario, players in the value chain will only cooperate when they get the answer to their question - ‘What’s in it for me?’

The Blockchain technology has potential and can overhaul the existing operating models; it is still early days though. Realization of tangible benefits in a blockchain-led transformation will not happen overnight. A number of initiatives are moving from pilot to adoption stage, and it would be interesting to see if blockchain is able to solve some of the problems that our society has been grappling with for quite some time.

Key to success would lie in ‘working backwards’ – identify the problem at hand, define its impact and evaluate if blockchain is the appropriate technology to solve it; and not using it for the sake of it.

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