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Blockchain Hackathon: Initiating Positive Change

During March break, TFS hosted a blockchain hackathon in collaboration with Blockchain Learning Group Company, a technology development company. The goal of this program was to provide TFS students with an excellent opportunity to learn blockchain technology along with its social applications, then build out a decentralized blockchain-based application addressing a contemporary social cause. A wide spectrum of social uses have been reviewed during the program.

So what is blockchain? Blockchain is an open-source decentralized digital ledger that holds entries in blocks which are linked together with cryptographic hashes (one-way encrypted/transformed information). Blockchain is not restricted to storing only digital currency (cryptocurrency) transactions such as Bitcoin—it is able to store any type of data on the blocks that are chained together. The main reason for the popularity of this technology is the fact that it is decentralized, which removes all intermediaries/middlemen and trust in a single entity or authority. A decentralized system is spread out on many different nodes, meaning computers or devices, in a network where, in the case of blockchain, numerous nodes store copies of the same ledger. All the nodes agree on the correct current state of the blockchain/ledger, providing one universal and centralized truth, held on all the nodes. The universal truth/state of the ledger is determined through consensus algorithms/mechanisms, which almost always determine the correct state. Unlike most common, centralized apps on the internet, decentralized networks provide hack-proof databases, which require more than 50% of the nodes in the network to agree on mutating the truth of the information stored. For example, to making a change in the Ethereum blockchain requires more than half of the 25,000 Ethereum nodes to initiate the change (12,501 hackers). Centralized applications making up for the majority of the apps we use currently, which are controlled by one central authority, can be completely wiped out by one single hacker. This decentralized network provides a high degree of security, transparency and accuracy to the parties involved in a transaction.

On the first day, representatives of the blockchain development company delivered detailed presentations about the program and some of the projects they have worked on. With effective guidance through brainstorming, we chose two social issues pertaining to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) that could have technological solutions fitting within blockchain’s properties: transparent, decentralized (cannot be corrupted), secure, and easily accessible. After, we split up into two groups, each tackling one of the issues. By the end of the first day of ideation, each group’s research led to the formulation of their respective problem statements.

So, how can blockchain be applied to address social issues? An example of an application of this innovative technology is to securely store entries and inquiries at the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. According to the MIT Technology Review published in April, 2018, the World Food Programme, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations was dispensing international food aid to the Syrian refugees using a blockchain-based system. They use a decentralized digital ledger or “digital wallet” to store all transaction/entry history for buying groceries, record individuals’ identification through iris scanners. Since the introduction of the blockchain technology in this project, transaction costs have been lowered by over 98% due to the elimination of fees charged by intermediaries such as banks. The blockchain system creates a simple, efficient, accessible, and transparent accounting system with many future applications, beyond the refugee camp.

The next two days were allocated for us to follow the developer training program, building all the programming and technical skills needed to implement our ideas. We thoroughly went through the technical aspects of blockchain technology as well as smart contracts (a programmed contract unique to the blockchain ecosystem) and tokens (programmed in Solidity - a smart contract programming language) and how to create a user interface (application programed in React - a javascript interface programming library) interacting with smart contracts and tokens.

We then entered the final phase of the program: the hackathon, where we applied blockchain technology to solve our social problems. The social causes that the two groups finally decided to work on were poverty in Cambodia and the validation of science research papers. Our group decided to apply blockchain technology in order to reduce poverty in Cambodia through educating their youth. We chose to address the educational and child labour issues in Cambodia as they are worsening and encouraged in many different ways, specifically by rising tourism. Children are often taken out of school to earn income to support their families by selling products on streets or working at young ages. Parents often encourage this and students even prefer to work instead of going to school, only realising the short-term financial benefits, at the cost of risking their lives or other risks such as drugs, trafficking and pollution.

We developed a system which incentivizes students to stay in school, specifically continuing to attend middle and secondary school. To this end, we created two types of tokens stored in smart contracts which interact with the Ethereum blockchain; Cambocoin (CCO) and Knowledgecoin (KNC). Cambocoin is the main system tracking and encouraging attendance at school while KNC is a digital resume or report card. Cambocoin tracks attendance by checking students in and out of school with a biometrics system, customized to track important factors all in a streamlined process. It is an optimized system that rewards students and their families with basic needs like food, clothing and daily necessities while dispensing increased amounts of rewards as they progress towards higher levels of education. This further incentivizes students to continue to advance in school and offers more advantages over the short-term income made from selling goods on the street.

On the other hand, the Knowledgecoin tracks students’ academic performance by mapping each student to their grades and comments written by our certified teachers - an additional benefit of our system. These comments can come from the generous help and support of aspiring and certified teachers belonging to any North American school boards. Our certified teachers will organize frequent assemblies engaging the students in activities and presentations to encourage them to continue in school and diverge from other paths such as selling goods on the street or activities that hinder proper learning and development.️ The KNC report card and resume will be easily accessible because of blockchain’s nature and the information can be rendered in many downloadable document formats such as PDF or TXT. The KNC resume can be accessed by universities, employers, and job interviewers to give them an organized and simple overview of the students. We are currently working on finding methods to implement this system in Cambodia.

This week of intensive learning was a great opportunity to hone our knowledge of citizenship skills, teamwork and entrepreneurship. Throughout the learning process, we adopted an international perspective realizing the pressing issues that exist throughout the world. Most importantly, we learned how to use the latest technological advancements to alleviate these problems. Overall, it was wonderful to be able to help our society while learning how to apply current technologies. We all look forward to proceeding to the next step of initiating this meaningful and positive change in the world.

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