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14 Feb. 2018 | Comments (0)

It’s impossible to avoid the furor surrounding cryptocurrencies these days. Looking beyond the price fluctuations of crypto markets, examining the blockchain infrastructure that supports the currencies is a fascinating exercise. Given the current world order, where business communications and brand center heavily around purpose and values, the use of blockchain in companies has some interesting implications for citizenship and philanthropy. Blockchain could add a level of transparency and authenticity to corporate practices and resulting communications that could help to rebuild trust in business. 

Others have started to investigate implications of blockchain in philanthropy. Recently, David Lehr and Paul Lamb wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that decentralized technologies—of which blockchain is a leading example—"are transforming philanthropy and NGO work.” They identified five opportunities for blockchain in the social sector:

  • Philanthropy and international aid “To expand fundraising opportunities, a number of charities and foundations are accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrency donations from donors directly.”
  • Remittances “Some organizations are using blockchain technology to reduce the cost of remittances transferred across borders by migrant workers.”
  • Identity and land rights For example, “the World Identity Network and Humanized Internet project can store identifiers such as birth certificates and university degrees on a blockchain, in the form of distributed digital lockboxes. Users can keep their information private and secure, but also give permission for anyone to access it anywhere in the world.”
  • Governance and democracy “Blockchain systems such as Ballotchain can manage online elections with secure and anonymous voting that participants can verify at any time. The system ensures that voters cannot vote twice or commit electoral fraud, thus ensuring the integrity of election processes.”
  • Environmental protection “New blockchain-supported supply chain management systems, which are transparent but cannot be tampered with, can track products from the farm to the table, and show whether or not a food product is organic or Fair Trade.”

Each of these is a very practical example of how blockchain can improve practices in the social sector, but what could it mean for corporate citizenship? Last month, the Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board (SNCR) released “Blockchain Technologies: The Marketing Value of Digital Permanence,” authored by SNCR Advisory Board member and SVP of US B2B Digital at Edelman, Phil Gomes. The piece considers how blockchain will affect the communications and marketing world, asserting it “will have a greater impact on… trade within the next five to ten years than social media did from 1995 to 2005.”

As an example, Gomes details the idea of supply chain management systems, using the example of Provenance, which “uses blockchain technology to not only permanently record certifications of supply chain data for tuna (up through sale), but also those of the participating NGOs tasked with ensuring the catch is slavery-free.”

He also addresses four other potential areas of interest for marketing professionals:

  • Advertising
  • Gaming/VR
  • Loyalty programs
  • Anti-counterfeit and brand protection

The idea of anti-counterfeit and brand protection is hugely relevant to our industry. Imagine the social sector benefits of effective anticounterfeit solutions based on blockchain for the pharmaceutical industry. The black-market drug trade may exceed $200 billion internationally and account for up to 10 percent of the pharmaceuticals in the global supply chain. If the provenance of drugs were more easily traceable and demonstrable, this black-market trade could be eliminated. Global health could stand to benefit considerably, so healthcare companies should be paying attention to the possibilities.

Secure storytelling

The idea that I find most interesting for citizenship and philanthropy relates to transparency and truthfulness within corporations and how those factors could underpin a company’s purpose and values through secure storytelling (the idea that narratives can be proven). As Gomes says in the piece: “At the most fundamental level, what many people see as a financial technology, marketers and communicators might approach as a storytelling technology.”

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found that “the general population’s trust in all four key institutions—business, government, NGOs, and media—has declined broadly.” This has come at a time in which citizenship and philanthropy strategies are supposedly more prominent than ever. Clearly, there is a missing link between the efforts companies are making for better corporate citizenship and the messages that stakeholders are receiving. Technologies to document the authenticity of companies’ stories could be the answer to rebuilding trust.

  • About the Author:Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson

    Alex Parkinson is Principal of Parky Communications, a communications agency specializing in sustainability and CSR reporting and communications. He serves as the Co-Leader of The Conference Board Cor…

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