Over the past several months, the world has been gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S. alone, nearly 22 million people have filed for unemployment in four weeks between mid-March and early April, increasing the unemployment rate past 4.4% after a record of 113 months of employment growth. Many businesses have had to temporarily discontinue their operations, while others have had to completely refocus and reprioritize their business functions. In the midst of these changes, I am saddened to say that ConsenSys Social Impact (CSI) will also need to sunset its services as ConsenSys continues to sharpen its focus on the application of blockchain technology in the financial services sector via ConsenSys Codefi and other initiatives.
As ConsenSys bolsters its decentralized finance (DeFi) focus, my personal journey as both a technologist and social impact advocate continues, as there is still much work to be done. One thing that the recent COVID19 pandemic has made abundantly clear is that many of the public systems we use today to support affected communities are in great need of immediate, and drastic change — and that the provisioning of such solutions not only uplifts people burdened with hardship, it also empowers society as a whole to be more productive in the process.
Before closing the door on ConsenSys’s chapter in social impact (for now!), I’d like to provide an overview of how CSI came to be, what our team accomplished, and where my personal blockchain for social impact efforts will continue into the future.
Evolution of ConsenSys Social Impact
ConsenSys iterated through four generations of social impact work from 2017 to 2020, the Blockchain Social Impact Coalition (BSIC), ConsenSys Social Impact (CSI), the BSIC Foundation, and, most recently, Social Impact @ ConsenSys (SIC). Such changes not only reflect cultural fluctuations across the lifetime of ConsenSys as a startup, but also how the social sector is maturing its understanding and use of the technology.
In 2017, ConsenSys entered the ‘blockchain for social impact’ ecosystem before it had really developed. Many NGOs, and even national governments hadn’t yet explored how blockchain technology could deeply impact how humanitarian aid and welfare programs were delivered. Developing decentralized applications on the Ethereum blockchain was still somewhat difficult, and technical documentation was sparse at best, let alone education collateral that non-technical organizations could use to better understand the technology.
Yet, there was an international spark of intrigue that the social impact world had about blockchain technology. For some reason, this particular tool felt different than those before it, like virtual reality or machine learning. It seemed as though the theoretical promise of platforms like Ethereum could realize more immediate benefits for those in need than other innovations. Our team, which, at the time, was made up of only three people, initially sought to support this budding interest in more openly applying emerging technology in the social sector by educating and collaborating with NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and impact investors alike. Thus, CSI originally took form as the “Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition” (BSIC) and three years of researching, developing, and deploying some of the world’s first social impact dApps would begin.
Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC)
ConsenSys’s first social sector experiment was the creation of the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC). Founded in early 2017 by Benjamin Siegel and Vanessa Grellet, BSIC’s mission was to emulate what the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance created within the corporate ecosystem and make available a blockchain-forward community of nonprofit organizations, social impact firms, and impact investors to the social sector. I later joined the team as CTO, helping provide a more technical perspective when supporting our NGO partners. BSIC operated out of ConsenSys, and focused on two initiatives:
- Developing and educating a community of social impact agents interested in leveraging blockchain technology
- Facilitating an international hackathon and conference to materialize some of the ideas shared amongst the BSIC community
Over the course of 2017 to 2018, BSIC became a 50+ member initiative and hosted two online hackathons and two conferences in New York City and Washington D.C. Such progress indicated a signal change within the social sector — that NGOs and nonprofits were ready to learn about blockchain and potentially pilot proof of concept deployments to realize the extent of the technology’s potential impact.
Thus, in late 2017, BSIC transformed into an effort focused on both building social impact communities and providing social sector advisory and solution development services globally.
ConsenSys Social Impact (CSI)
As the climate for blockchain-based solution creation within the social sector finally seemed mature enough, the advisory side of BSIC developed into a team in of itself in an effort to more sustainably support incoming opportunities to conduct research, educate NGOs, and develop impact focused software (i.e. decentralized applications). The team was named “ConsenSys Social Impact,” (CSI) and it served as a funded Circle within ConsenSys dedicated toward applying blockchain technology to issues experienced across the social sector. Founded by Benjamin Siegel, Vanessa Grellet, and myself, our team lead with the initial hypothesis that ‘ConsenSys can serve as a social sector leader as it relates to the application of blockchain technology by researching, partnering, and deploying social impact use cases built on the Ethereum network.’
CSI continued to operate for three years and, during that tenure, the team generated $640k in revenue across 17 projects, ranging from piloting Project Unblocked Cash with Sempo and Oxfam International to disburse digital aid in Vanuatu to co-founding Impactio with WWF. You can read more about our many use cases on ConsenSys website today. I’m particularly proud of the following initiatives, because they encompassed everything I strive for as a social practitioner and technologist:
- Developing the Blockchain Program at Black Girls CODE
- Deploying Project Unblocked Cash with Oxfam (as stated)
- Co-founding Impactio with WWF Australia (as stated)
- Working with Hala Systems to develop immutable digital evidence
- Developing the Devcon Scholars Program with the Ethereum Foundation
Through these initiatives, CSI created ~$6M in advertising value equivalency (AVE) for ConsenSys and had a cumulative online media reach of nearly 473M people around the world, proving how blockchain technology cannot only bring novel innovations to the financial services industry, but also help people in need in a practical and real way. Our niche focus on providing emerging technology consultancy and development services within the social sector proved our initial hypothesis, that leveraging technology for good could serve the bottom line as much as it served people in need.
As CSI is wound down, I now begin a new journey within the blockchain ecosystem. In an effort to continue supporting many of CSI’s former partners and clients, I am developing Emerging Impact (EI), which will be the first nonprofit corporation that supports NGOs and government agencies leverage emerging technologies (e.g. blockchain) as a tool for humanitarian initiatives and welfare programming. I still see a great need for technologists, social impact practitioners, and policy makers to solve problems together using the newest technology — stumbling and learning along the way. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that capitalism alone can work, but not during a crisis, and that it is more important that ever to collaborate across sectors to survive and strive as a global community. Now, being the Former Head and Co-Founder of ConsenSys Social Impact, I leave this chapter with the following insight and an immutable reference of a new beginning.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.” — Michelle Obama
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About Robby → Robby is a southern-bred activist and impact entrepreneur. He’s currently CEO of Emerging Impact and served as the former Head of ConsenSys Social Impact. Greenfield is a Brother of ΑΦΑ, a Wolverine Alum, and Emory MBA Alum. Before full-time crypto-life, Robby worked at Goldman Sachs, Teach for America, and Cisco Systems. He commonly writes about crypto-economics and blockchain technology with a social impact focus. Find out more about my projects in the social sector @ http://robtg4.co/