The Importance of Blockchain to International Development

April 13, 2020
Our Investigations
Almudena Sanz
Almudena Sanz

Blockchain technology is being talked about everywhere right now. There are lots of news about this technology and its applications in different fields. You maybe wondering how is this technology applicable for my specific area of interests. And Graphext can help you do that in a few easy steps.

We recently worked with the United Nations to understand the importance of Blockchain and other emerging technologies in the field of international development. Christopher Fabian explains why understanding these technologies and applications is crucial for UNICEF in their MIT report.

We wanted to find the main areas of interests and how they have evolved over time. We have identified and downloaded more than 10,000 article links related to emerging technologies that have been shared by UN agencies and affiliates in public sources. Using Graphext, we found the similarity among the article content, and visualized it using a graph network to identify patterns. Each node in the network is an article, and articles are clustered together based on similar topics. Most popular topics are tagged and automatically summarized as significant terms on the left hand panel, so we can get a quick summary of different types of narratives.

Among all the emerging technologies, as we are mostly interested in blockchain, we drilled down to only look at the clusters that are focused on blockchain. The orange cluster is about cryptocurrencies based in blockchain, such as bitcoin or ethereum; and the green cluster is about specific applications of blockchain technology. By drilling down into the clusters, we can dive into the sub narratives to understand the reasons why blockchain is interesting to the UN, especially in the area of food and energy.

We can find different types of applications of blockchain technology around food in international development. For example, we can see how blockchain is being used to aid Food Programmes for refugees, eliminating third party financial service provider for refugees and reducing enormously transaction costs.

This cluster contains data points showing how blockchain is being used to increase security in the food industry and supply chain overcoming fraud and and ensuring trusted information about the food process in all steps.

Let’s also look at blockchain technology in the energy sector. With just two filters we can identify two very different clusters. One cluster in green with articles about how mining blockchain based cryptos is unsustainable in energy terms, and another in red about how blockchain is helping build new kinds of energy grids to contribute to sustainability.

We also analysed how the hot topics trended over time. For example, the cluster about energy consumption of mining peaked from Dec 2017 to Jan 2018, with the drop of the value of bitcoin, when The New York Times or Bloomberg started writing articles of concern about the impact that the network’s electricity use could have on global warming. The red cluster, about blockchain used for energy grids, peaked in Oct 2017 when the MIT Technology Review published an article on this.

It seems like blockchain technology has many interesting applications for international development, and the UN is keeping a close eye on it. The ability of blockchain technology to empower small transactions eliminating the need and costs of third parties, and the possibility of creating systems globally while ensuring a trusted environment are two of their key assets. However, the energy consumption to mine blockchain’s cryptocurrencies is an issue that could damage its reputation as a non-sustainable resource.


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