What I Learned From My Day At The United Nations, And What You Most Need to Know

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In May of 2018, I was appointed Director of Youth Led Innovation for Blockchain for Impact- a global advocacy platform powering the United Nations system to explore and co-create the application of blockchain technology to initiatives with profound and positive social impact. In other words, to support the United Nations on its mission to apply blockchain technology to power the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. My role specifically is to represent the voice of the youth on these initiatives, to not only ensure that the next generation is educated on, and included in the blockchain global ecosystem, but to also create opportunities for young people to co-create solutions on blockchain technology.

Speaking at the United Nations: The Youth and the Digital Future

My first introduction to the United Nations was on June 4th, 2018, a day that I will never forget. The opportunity to speak at the United Nations on the future of technology and the importance of youth-led innovation was one of the most inspiring and energizing experiences of my life. But I took it very seriously, as there was an important message that I needed to deliver.

The rate of technological innovation presents new opportunities everyday, but it is important that young people are not only a part of the conversations surrounding innovation, but have the opportunity to co-create solutions. There needs to be a unified set of values and beliefs across technology and its many uses. We need to ensure that the goals of today’s inventors are aligned with those of tomorrow’s users. 
In addition, we need to address and bridge the large information gap that exists between young people and transformative technologies like blockchain. We need to strengthen our education around these technologies to ensure ease of entry into a future with a largely digitized and automated workforce. 
Finally, we need to inspire and support young people on their missions to leverage technology to change the world. We need to provide accessible paths to resources and encourage young people to walk down them.

 

The United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

On June 22, 2012 the United Nations made a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030; formalizing the mission as the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Everything from zero hunger to gender equality to industry, innovation, and infrastructure are a part of the 17 SDGs. The mission is broad and the timeline is tight, requiring the full cooperation of all 193 member nations to make these goals become a reality. But there is one underlying driver that can revolutionize the probability of success of the SDGs and accelerate the rate at which these goals are achieved- the implementation of frontier technology. More specifically, the power of the blockchain. 

What is Blockchain?

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016). 

A more simplified way to understand the blockchain- picture a ledger, a giant excel sheet if you will, that can record every transaction happening on the technology; people sending money to one another, doctors inputting healthcare records, mortgages being paid. Everything is securely (and anomalously) tracked, stored, and irreversible on this giant ledger of information. 

Blockchain for Impact x United Nations: The combined force to power the SDGs

Now imagine the possibilities with a system like this. For example, if personal data could be stored anonymously on the blockchain (i.e., birth certificates, transcripts and diplomas, financial savings). What would this mean for a fleeing refugee who no longer had access to their passport or any proof of identification? It would mean that even though they had to relocate, they did not have to restart.

Providing the entire globe with a digital identity by 2030 is one of the core missions of the United Nations, (Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 to be exact), and was one of the major focuses of the summit. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that, “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law."  Blockchain technology brings to life the possibility of a user-owned and controlled digital identity system. At the summit, we worked in dedicated focus groups to brainstorm the implementation plans for such as system, and debate the many risks that come along with it. 

We applied this framework of thinking across a multitude of topics, including: 

  • supply chain transparency
  • financial inclusion
  • slavery and human trafficking
  • regenerative agriculture
  • resilience in democratic systems
  • education, advocacy & engagement
  • the conservation of natural resources

And we didn’t stop there. For each topic, we challenged our thinking to include the impact of blockchain technology on diversity and inclusion, and how each implementation plan may vary across different economic environments.

 

Summary and Key Takeaways:

As I left the United Nations I felt inspired and excited for the future. Leaders from all areas of the world are ready to challenge the status quo of what is and redefine it with what should be. Technology is giving us the chance to build new world, and after sitting in a room with tomorrow’s change-makers, I know that we will build this new world on the right side of history. 

Three key takeaways from the Blockchain for Impact Summit:

  1. Blockchain technology is one of the most revolutionary technologies since the invention of the internet
  2. The United Nations is on a mission to leverage blockchain technologies to build a better world and to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030
  3. Blockchain for Impact was founded to support the United Nations on its mission           

 

A Note For Young Change-Makers Ready To Get Involved:

Blockchain for Impact with be opening all doors for young people who want to learn, co-create, or simply stay connected to the evolution of blockchain technologies for social and humanitarian development. So stay tuned as I shed light on what’s next and how you can make an impact!

BusinessSINEAD BOVELL