These days, it seems like everyone is talking about blockchain and disruptive technology, and their potential to revolutionize financial inclusion, or at least speed up progress exponentially. But do these proclamations sometimes have you scratching your head, wishing you understood what blockchain actually is?
You don’t have to be a tech geek to understand the basics of blockchain and its possible use cases in financial inclusion. So we here at FinDev Gateway put together a Gateway Guide for you on the top resources we found that helped us to get a handle on these big questions - what blockchain really is, and why it’s relevant for financial inclusion and development.
FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS BLOCKCHAIN?
To start out, here's a simple infographic to get some of the basic concepts, courtesy of Blockchain.wtf. They actually have a number of other infographics as well, which are very helpful to break down these abstract and complex ideas into simple, easy-to-understand steps.
We also found a couple of short videos that offer simple explanations and illustrations of how blockchain works, and what its potential use cases are.
VIDEO: How Does a Blockchain Work - Simply Explained Though its technological underpinnings may be complex, anyone can understand the basic concept of blockchain. This video provides an easy-to-follow explanation in plain English of how blockchain works.
SECOND OF ALL, WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT BLOCKCHAIN?
A number of recent publications explore how blockchain technology can be applied to help solve a range of different development problems, in particular financial inclusion. Here are five of the most recent and relevant papers that we found helpful to decode this mystery.
This primer aims to equip international development agencies and partners to assess whether and how distributed ledger technology (DLT), such as blockchain, might apply to their work. It provides a set of key questions to consider for assessing relevance of DLT to particular development challenges, a basic summary of the technical aspects of DLT, and an illustrative list of DLT applications being tested across a range of sectors.
This white paper explores how blockchain technology can foster human development. It provides a non-technical overview of blockchain and illustrates the range of applications in development areas and sectors from a public/private goods perspective. It argues that remittances and digital money are two of the most promising areas for blockchain development.
This white paper suggests that the transformative power of blockchain technology should not be seen as a threat to existing systems of governance; rather, it should be seen as an opportunity for national and international institutions to defend the rights of those they represent and to accelerate our collective progress towards meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The paper explains how the technology works and illustrates how blockchains have brought new levels of efficiency and effectiveness to the fields of development aid, supply chain management, renewable energy, economic growth, and several others.
This research provides an overview of the technology and its unfolding applications in emerging markets. It examines whether blockchain can be used to mitigate de-risking by financial institutions and looks more closely at the financial services sector.
This Brief summarizes CGAP’s approach and offers insights into the applicability of DLT to agricultural finance in a developing country context. Instead of adding to the buzz and presenting DLT as a cure-all for what ails agricultural finance, the Brief presents a framework for analyzing potential use cases through the lens of the technology's unique features.
BUT IS THERE TOO MUCH HYPE?
While a lot of people are excited about the potential that blockchain has to offer, many others are skeptical of just how revolutionary it will turn out to be. A plethora of essays and blog posts have been written on both sides - touting the promise of this new technology, or forewarning of its pitfalls. If you are thinking of finding blockchain solutions in the financial inclusion space, a recent blog post by CGAP’s CEO, Greta Bull, lays out a number of key issues that need to be carefully considered:
Blockchain: A Solution in Search of a Problem? (29 May 2018) "The question we have is not 'Does blockchain work?' but 'Does it work better than other technology solutions in the market?' And what are the cost-benefit trade-offs to switching to a new consensus-based technology solution? We have seen lots of proofs of concept that it can work, but not a lot of quantified analysis on why a DLT solution might be better than existing alternatives."