We’ve probably never been as dependent on technology as we are now. Working from home, learning, communicating, shopping; think about the problem you have if your phone or laptop breaks down or the internet connection gets lost. According to Vodafone, data traffic has increased by as much as 50% in some areas, the top 4 social media channels by 20% and Netflix has lowered the quality of its streams by a quarter because it could not meet the demand. Although experts are already warning of the even faster-growing power of the already very powerful tech companies, such as Amazon and Facebook, it is also very nice to see how new technologies are used to combat corona. Artificial Intelligence is used to predict pandemics and accelerate drug development, blockchain technology is now also used in various ways. In this blog 5 things for which blockchain technology is and can be used in the corona crisis.

The rapid advance of blockchain in technology was already a fact. In a previous blog, I wrote that 15% of healthcare executives were already implementing the technology, which is now gaining momentum. The Red Cross now allows donations in Bitcoin and global organizations such as the World Health Organization and my colleagues at the World Economic Forum are setting up one after another cooperation platform so that governments and organizations from different countries can work together.

Sharing Data

This cooperation is urgently needed because corona has no boundaries. Sharing data is currently extremely important to help governments and healthcare professionals make the right decisions, but “just sharing” is easier said than done. Not only because there is a lot of suspicion about the validity of data (the CIA even investigates whether China is publishing the correct numbers), but also simply because the data is stored in so-called data silos, which, according to experts, makes interoperability extremely difficult. Language barriers, cultural differences, privacy laws, and various other obstacles add to that and make it unnecessarily difficult for experts to do their important and urgent work at the moment.

The World Health Organization has taken the lead in setting up corona blockchain & AI platform MiPasa, in collaboration with IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft. Using big data, it predicts trends, detects outbreaks, and supports analysis. China, Europe, and several large hospitals such as the famous John Hopkins have already proactively joined.

Mapping the chain

One of the biggest problems that corona poses on a business level, is the insane disruption of many supply chains. Over 75% of companies now report, their supply chain has been compromised and often don’t know where the actual problem is, because the chain is often long and far from transparent. Not practical, if you want to know as a government, where your shipment of mouth masks currently is located. But it’s not just the face masks or disinfectant soap that has a hitch in the non-transparent disillusionment cable; over 5 million companies source parts or products from the Wuhan region in China, which was locked for a long time. Companies like Apple have almost all their production in sealed China and Dutch eCommerce giant Coolblue even canceled its affiliate program because it could no longer meet the demand due to the decreasing supply of products from China.

One of the biggest breakthroughs that blockchain technology facilitates is supply chain transparency. This has already delivered great results worldwide; supermarkets like Albert Heijn and Carrefour that save millions of euros through efficiency gains, dozens of companies worldwide use IBM’s Food Trust blockchain platform to track food from seed to sale, tens of thousands of deaths are prevented by countering fake medicines and many other industries are booking through the strategic deployment of the technology, great progress in optimizing and shortening their supply chains. This is still in its infancy in many industries and one of McKinsey’s main recommendations is to make the chains transparent as soon as possible, to counteract the effects of the corona crisis as soon as possible. Not only, according to Harvard Business Review, to know 24/7 where products are located in real-time, but also to counter fake products. In China, 31 million fake mouth masks have already been seized, which are supposed to save lives. Alipay has already set up a blockchain platform to track medical devices and the Dutch Tymlez started developing blockchain websites during the hackathon “Tech against Corona” to map the supply and demand of medical supplies. The World Economic Forum has launched a major initiative for all possible supply chains to make them more transparent, efficient, and trusted, precisely because they have also been proven to accelerate sustainability.

Farewell Fake news

Baking soda or drinking water every 15 minutes to combat corona, 5G, and ibuprofen which makes corona worse, hold your breath for 10 seconds to test whether you have corona, all Whatsapp messages from medical professors from Italy and China who give advice and the United States who used corona as a biological weapon to break down China’s power. We used to call this an urban legend, but in 2020 “fake news.” Due to our hyper-connectivity, these types of fake messages spread very quickly and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from real ones. According to the World Health Organization, we must, therefore, watch out for a new virus: information disease, the rapid viral spread of fake news about corona. Facebook and Instagram are already using fact-checkers. The Dutch Cybersprint, together with journalist Huib Modderkolk, is investigating fake websites that claim to communicate on behalf of RIVM. Worldwide, more and more organizations are using blockchain to prevent “fake corona news,” such as in China and Italy. The investigations into the prevention of ‘fake news’ with blockchain have been ongoing for some time; Frankwatching co-initiated the “Blockchain As FactChecker” study, with many groundbreaking results.

Is my donation effective?

Our confidence in practically everything; from media to food and from politics to each other, continues to decline. The number of donations to charities is also decreasing sharply and a sixth of the Dutch even distrust charities, often because of all the money that sticks to the bow and the opacity of the expenditure and impact of it. Corona has ensured that many people donate to charities again; Amazon founder Bezos donated $ 100 million, Microsoft founder Gates $ 100 million, and Twitter founder Dorsey even donated one billion. The big question remains; where does that money all go? Is it well spent? Unfortunately, there are too many examples of charity money, which has been misused, such as Oxfam Novib employees who paid for sex parties in Haiti.

Dozens of charities, including many in the Netherlands, are now busy putting donations on the blockchain. As with supply chains, the donation technology ensures great transparency for both donors and the organization itself. This not only strengthens the integrity of the organization but according to the Longfonds also the projects themselves, which can be executed much more efficiently. Receiving payments in cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin), which the Red Cross already offers, also ensures that the high transaction and banking costs are avoided.

The helping helicopter

The last big opportunity I see, where blockchain can provide wonderful support in coping with the corona crisis, is not yet operational but is already being discussed and studied a lot worldwide. Many governments are currently printing massive amounts of money to pump into their economies; Europe € 750 billion and the European countries individually already more than € 200 billion and the United States even € 2 trillion. In addition to supporting companies, support packages are also being made quickly for citizens, who are losing their jobs en masse due to the crisis. Almost 50 million unemployed people are already expected in the United States, Spain has already cost a million jobs and expectations in the Netherlands range from 1 to 2 million unemployed. Now in The Netherlands, we have the most beautiful social safety net in the world, but in countries where people do not have such a net, you see the immediate, urgent need of a rapidly growing group of people who can no longer pay their rent or even buy food. Two global discussions and developments are now suddenly accelerated by corona; those about basic income and those about a ‘Central Bank Digital Currency’ (CBDC); a digital variant of the Euro, Dollar, Yen, and all other currencies.
The discussion around basic income, also known as helicopter money, is now being conducted by many experts around the situation in America. Trump wants to give every American citizen $ 1000 within a few weeks to be able to buy necessary groceries. Something the US government has done during a few previous recessions. Now there are many studies that show and strongly recommend the positive effects of a basic income, as historian Rutger Bregman summed up nicely in the TED talk he gave at TEDxMaastricht. The problem surrounding the practical implementation lies in the payment. In America, the government wants to send money through traditional checks, which are sent by mail. A slow, fraud-prone, and costly process, which is far from convenient in these times. A CBDC could play a great role in this as it addresses all the problems of checks. China was already at the forefront of developing a digital Yen and has recently accelerated that process. Europe was also already working on a digital Euro and because of the corona crisis, the United States has finally started working on a Digital Dollar, probably to distribute the helicopter money digitally in the most efficient way possible. It is not yet known whether all this will succeed, but the chances are high, especially because of the pressure.

Many technological developments have a negative impact on our society, according to colleagues from the World Economic Forum and other organizations such as the IMF. Let’s hope that corona shows the positive side of technologies such as AI and blockchain and that we can get out safely again soon!

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2013. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and founder of an advisory boutique (working for governments, family offices and several multinationals), he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3, all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the rise and global impact of blockchain technology.