Humanitarian Bitcoin: How NGO’s and charities can leverage cryptocurrencies for common good

The decentralized peer-to-peer nature of Bitcoin presents many opportunities for humanitarian, charity and third sector activities. Sending funds to isolated communities, in real time, while paying extremely low fees and with instant compensation is possible only via Bitcoin. As the cryptocurrency adoption increases, sometimes due to unexpected effects such as it being the only viable currency in several disaster or regions under politically turmoil, many more opportunities present for trade to happen directly in Bitcoin and altcoins.

Despite its potential to help needy communities in Africa, mercenaries have still taken advantage of this technology for their own profit, even under humanitarian crisis. In Zimbabwe, for instance, Bitcoin was seen trading with a 40% premium compared to prices in the West during mid 2017. A 10% premium over Western prices is common in African exchanges such as Golix but during the height of the Zimbabwean liquidity crisis the premiums skyrocketed due to the difficulty in cashing Bitcoin or trading it for goods and services.

This presents an incredible opportunity for those in the Third Sector to leverage for the people of these African nations. Through the actions of NGO’s and activists, it would be possible to promote trade directly in Bitcoin, avoiding the middlemen. Educational work could help spread the adoption of Bitcoin and teach small shop owners and consumers how to buy and sell directly in Bitcoin, without any intermediaries. By promoting direct commerce of goods and services in Bitcoin, African communities would be opening themselves to an influx of charity and donations from around the globe without having to pay toll fees.

The same principle applies to needy communities in other troubled regions of the world. Knowledge and training is fundamental for this to become a reality. In fact, commodity computer hardware and Internet access are already available around the world. All that is needed for poor communities to adopt Bitcoin is some basic training and capacitation of economic agents. As a critical mass is formed, the technology will take off on its own, without the need for further intervention. As soon as value is perceived in the trade of goods and services using this virtual medium, most shop owners and consumers alike will demand Bitcoin and related cryptocurrency payment methods.

Areas in which NGOs can offer training to help spread cryptocurrencies worldwide include:

  • Basic cryptocurrency concepts. How value is moved from any point to any other point on Earth in a matter of seconds.
  • Installing and running Bitcoin nodes.
  • Keeping software up to date and troubleshooting common scenarios.
  • Keeping funds safe, basic backup concepts, basic security concepts.

Security Requirements

Basic common sense security practice can be easily taught in poor communities. Basically, Bitcoin security boils down to:

  • Backing up keys, including sensitive private keys.
  • Setting up an offline wallet where the institution’s main funds are kept.
  • Monitoring updates and required patches to the Core program.
  • Instruct trusted individuals on how to act in case the main people responsible for funds are incapacitated.

Continuity of work in case of adversity is one of the main concerns with cryptocurrencies. If someone detains all the secrets to cryptocurrencies and something should happen to them, this will incapacitate the entire team. The individuals responsible for humanitarian work should then prepare for the continuity of the cryptocurrency operation by delegating trust to special people within the organization.

Energetic Requirements

The energetic requirements for a full Bitcoin node are negligible. A low end PC with ample hard drive space is enough to run any size of family-run business. The power consumption of a few incandescent light bulbs, around 200 to 250 watts, is enough to keep a full Bitcoin node running. This low energy requirement can even be supplied by solar panels. Thin bitcoin clients such as Electrum do not require a node to be up all the time. In fact the computer need only be active during transactions in such cases.

Hardware Requirements

Small shops and charity institutions need not run a full Bitcoin node in order to leverage the power of cryptocurrencies. Lightweight clients such as Electrum Bitcoin Wallet will trust one hop beyond it in order to provide a full Bitcoin experience without the need for the full blockchain to be locally stored. For an Electrum wallet any operating system and any basic configuration will do. Even inexpensive portable computers with very limited storage work with this kind of wallet.

Needless to say, in order to be 100% independent, running a full node is the ideal setup.

To run a full Bitcoin node, the institution will need 24×7 internet access and ample hard drive space. CPU and memory requirements are not really demanding, but hard drive space is the single biggest limiting factor.

Bitcoin.org has a nice summary of the initial requirements to run a full Bitcoin Core node:

Conclusions

If local shop owners in Zimbabwe had been properly trained in these basic areas, the year of 2017 could have been the year of mass Bitcoin adoption in that region of Africa. Young Africans are already familiar with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general. What’s needed now is to bring knowledge of the new technology to the poorer and more needy regions, especially those recovering from conflicts. The opportunity presents itself for the third sector to revolutionize charity and humanitarian work around the world using this incredible new technology.

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