Blockchain’s Critical Role in Human Rights Work

Post by 
Ria Ghose
November 30, 2022

n June 1, 2022, 1500 computer scientists, software engineers, and technologists sent an open letter to the US Congressional Leadership, Committee Chairs and Ranking Members “in Support of Responsible Fintech Policy.” The letter urged the Committee to “take a critical, skeptical approach toward industry claims that crypto-assets are an innovative technology that is unreservedly good,” calling crypto “risky, flawed, and unproven digital financial instruments.”1

Within a week, a group of 21 human rights activists “who have dedicated [themselves] to the struggle for freedom and democracy” from some of the most conflict-ridden nations of the world sent a counter letter detailing how they, and the millions who live under authoritarian regimes or unstable economies, rely on Bitcoin and stablecoins. 

The letter stated, “Bitcoin provides financial inclusion and empowerment because it is open and permissionless. Anyone on earth can use it. Bitcoin and stablecoins offer unparalleled access to the global economy for people in countries like Nigeria, Turkey, or Argentina, where local currencies are collapsing, broken, or cut off from the outside world.”2

The human rights activists made a powerful and empathic case for crypto and blockchain, saying, “To most in the West, the horrors of monetary colonialism, misogynist financial policy, frozen bank accounts, exploitative remittance companies, and an inability to connect to the global economy might be distant ideas. To most of us and our communities — and to the majority of people worldwide — they are daily realities. If there were ‘far better solutions already in use’ to overcome these challenges, we would know.”

The activists added, “amidst the failures of legacy financial systems, [crypto] is a valuable plan B as a bridge to the global economy.” 

Crypto and the tech underpinning it, blockchain, is playing a critical role in preserving fundamental human rights and providing the marginalized some dignity in the face of the most incomprehensible upheaval. 

Enabling Refugees to Build a New Life with Distributed Ledgers 

Fadey (pseudonym), a 20-year-old from Lviv, Ukraine, fled to Poland when Russia attacked. His first move before leaving was to withdraw money from ATMs, only to be faced with cashless machines and huge queues. Fadey, however, could turn 40% of his savings into Bitcoin, exchange $600 worth of the crypto into Polish currency złoty using P2P transaction, and buy his bus tickets and accommodations there.3 

Within a month of the Russian invasion, a quarter of Ukrainians had fled, becoming refugees overnight. The UN estimates that “as of May 2022, 100 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide.” Some of the most critical obstacles they face include a lack of safety, no access to money or the ability to buy food and daily necessities, and no documentation or identification to support them or help them get jobs in their new countries. 

Many organizations have been using blockchain technology to bypass these problems. UNESCO-supported BitNation created a blockchain platform providing host governments with verifiable identification for refugees. They use a person’s multiple social media accounts and link them to their social security number, passport and other information to create a refugee emergency ID that the host countries recognize. 

The Finnish Immigration Service works with blockchain startup MONI to give every refugee that enters the country a prepaid MasterCard underpinned by a digital identity number stored on a blockchain. With this ID, and in lieu of a passport required to open bank accounts, immigrants can get help directly from the government as well as small credits to build their score over time and obtain loans in the future. The German government provides blockchain work permits for refugees that prove their qualifications to employers and help them get jobs.  

The UN’s World Food Programme previously distributed money through local banks, often a complicated task in conflict zones. WFP created BuildingBlocks to distribute money/vouchers for food and necessities using blockchain. 

Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution
Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, 2011. Source: Middle East Eye

Turning Local Communities Into Changemakers with Blockchain 

Inspired by the activists of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution in 2011, Coinsense and Utopixar created a blockchain-based decentralized platform that enables people to get together to solve local problems. They incentivized engagement and action by allowing different groups on the platform to issue, distribute and exchange their own digital tokens. 

Coinsense and Utopixar recognized that grassroots orgs are critical in addressing local issues but face financial and human resource constraints. The platform allows local groups to collaborate, crowd-fund their projects, send and receive money with peer-to-peer transactions, and engage and reward those who contribute to chosen social and environmental projects. People can redeem these tokens for fiat currency or vouchers.

Coinsense stated that this project works because it uses a distributed common ledger that makes all group actions transparent and consensus-based, holds the entire group accountable, and offers higher security for everyone. 

Supporting Human Rights Activists With Decentralized Finance 

A cardinal goal of cryptocurrency is financial inclusion. De-Fi is becoming integral to cross-border payments, creating employment opportunities and raising funds for grassroots orgs and nonprofits. The Global South — with a higher percentage of unbanked people — has been relatively quick to adopt crypto. UNCTAD, the UN’s Trade Agency, reports crypto payments have steadily increased in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, while the Central African Republic adopted bitcoin as legal tender in April 2022. 

In Kibera, Kenya, a nonprofit, Human Needs Project, that provides basic infrastructure to get locals out of poverty, started raising funds through crypto. Byrones Khainga, the director of the nonprofit, said that although they weren’t sure initially, “[crypto] is now going to inform how we implement our social welfare activities because we have seen how fast we can move on fundraising.”4

The nonprofit Grassroots Economics Foundation started issuing virtual coins called ‘sarafu,’ meaning currency in Kiswahili. The digital currency helps 50,000 unbanked residents pay for essentials like food, healthcare, and housing. 

The Celo blockchain’s nonprofit organization, the Celo Foundation and the impact investing arm of Mercy Corps, Mercy Corps Ventures, launched a microwork program in Kenya. Microwork breaks up projects into minuscule tasks that can be accomplished online, and people receive micropayments when they complete these tasks. They’re paid in Celo dollars, a stablecoin tethered to the USD, which the locals can transfer into the popular mobile-money platform M-Pesa. Crypto allows the nonprofits to pay workers instantly and without the time and cost hassle of traditional cross-border payments. 

Building a Social Impact Platform to Turn Individual Passion Into Purposeful Collective Action 

At Rabble, we’re building a platform that helps people turn their passion and online activism into real-world action and impactful change. Rabble is for anyone who wants to create a better world — not as a thought exercise — but with boots-on-the-ground work. 

We are creating the tools that will enable you to connect with others who are just as passionate about a cause, pledge your action to the cause, collaborate with others in your community and get rewarded for your work. 

We’ve chosen an incentive mechanism to support social and climate justice work for a few reasons. First, the more you work, the more reward you earn. Second, you are motivated to keep taking action — impactful change rarely happens with one-time volunteering or one-off efforts. And we think sustained work should be rewarded; that’s why the NFTs you mint on Rabble become more valuable with the number of real-world actions you take. 

Enabling global communities to make a difference in their localities and rewarding them for their work requires a platform that’s not subjected to the drawbacks of legacy financial systems or the pitfalls of Web2. We needed a platform that would garner trust amongst all users, protect them from ever-increasing sanctions, and allow us to reward our activists easily. That’s why we chose to build Rabble on the Ethereum blockchain, supported by Polygon wallet.  

Rabble is the on-ramp to social impact in Web3 for passionate individuals, social and climate activists, nonprofits and grassroots organizations, as well as brands who are stewards of the earth. Join us, and let’s change the world together. 



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