UNICEFs Blockchain Engineer Mehran Hydary: Why tech and funding solutions are needed for international organizations moving forward

ARYZE spoke with Mehran Hydary, Blockchain Product Engineer at UNICEF to discuss how international organizations working globally could benefit from investing in innovation, tech, and payment solutions.

Mehran Hydary works as a Blockchain Product Engineer at UNICEF where he is part of the office of innovation. Hydary’s involvement with blockchain began as he was working at Deloitte and found a bitcoin ATM in the company office. Soon he found out there was a Deloitte blockchain team working on building dApps and helping companies figure out what role blockchain could play in their businesses. Hydary ended up working on the blockchain team where he was in charge of product development. Now he works with UNICEF where he and his team share a passion for tech solutions having social impact.

Our team sees blockchain benefitting in three main ways: Firstly, leveraging innovative financing models to distribute resources. Secondly, increasing the efficiency and transparency of internal processes, and thirdly, incentivizing and encouraging the creation of open-source digital public goods.

UNICEF currently works with various blockchain initiatives and is constantly looking for ways to leverage new technologies for social causes. One of their programs is called ‘Project Connect’, which started out of the need expressed by many UNICEF partners and Country offices to know where schools are and how connected they are. By generating this data, UNICEF would be able to help form programs around education, health and emergencies. 

Now, with Project Connect the plan has been laid out to map all the schools in the world by using data science, satellite imagery, and machine learning. This real-time data helps governments and network providers identify schools without access to the internet, to then, with the help of UNICEF, connect them. GIGA is such an initiative, which was launched by UNICEF and ITU in September 2019, to connect every school community to the internet, so that every young person will have access to information, opportunity and choice.

Blockchain Engineer Mehran
Mehran Hydary

Another tech-based initiative of UNICEF is called the Venture Fund, as Hydary comments:

The Venture Fund collaborates with innovators on the ground in UNICEF program countries to build and test new solutions at the pace required to keep up with the rapidly evolving challenges children are facing. The objective is to identify and pilot promising frontier technologies to develop scalable platforms that UNICEF can use in a range of applications and country settings.

The Venture Fund makes $US 50-100K early stage investments in technologies developed by UNICEF country offices or companies in UNICEF program countries. Currently, there is a funding opportunity open for blockchains startups. The deadline for applications is on the 26th of July 2020.

According to Hydary, it is important for international organizations to look into new platforms and technology solutions like blockchain, as they have the potential to impact vulnerable people at scale. Up to now, UNICEF has made 100 investments in digital public goods across 57 countries globally, which allows for the development of open—source tech solutions that are able to positively impact the lives of vulnerable children.

Blockchain for efficient transfers

Besides the benefits that tech solutions bring to external causes, organizations like UNICEF also face enough internal hurdles that technologies like blockchain could help to solve. One of these areas is investments, where the current situation is very slow and expensive. Hydary illustrates what facilitating money transfers globally looks like for global organizations within the current system:

First, UNICEF will flag to its local bank that they want to make an international transfer. Then the local bank will reach out to a partner bank that has branches globally (in the local region and the region that the money will arrive). Next, the global bank will reach out to another local bank in the country that the money will arrive and finally, the local bank in the country (where the money is sent to) will give the money to the receiver.

UNICEF has started to look into ways that blockchain can improve this process and launched the UNICEF CryptoFund. Within this initiative, the team explores how blockchain and cryptocurrencies can improve transparency and efficiency. Currently, the organization can receive, hold, and disburse donations of the cryptocurrencies Ether and Bitcoin through the fund. 

UNICEF’s SURGE students with Vitalik Buterin (founder of Ethereum)

Photo credits: UNICEF

Using blockchain and crypto allows UNICEF to move funds at a fraction of a cost of typical bank transfers and the settlement of these transactions happens within less than 24 hours. This is a huge difference compared to traditional payment methods, where transferring money cross-borders usually takes multiple days or even weeks.

Using blockchain technology as the infrastructure for funding also increases transparency for donors. 

When it comes to the transfer of funds and efficiency, donors and people interested in the work that UNICEF does are interested in how money is spent. The CryptoFund was established to introduce that transparency to the process. 

As more and more transactions are funneled through the CryptoFund investments are made in crypto, we can start establishing a more transparent ecosystem (around the world) to see how donor funds are being used by startups / programs around the world.  

UNICEF’s approach of looking into new technology and funding solutions shows how international organizations could greatly benefit from innovation. Traditional processes and money transfers have become slow and limited, whereas new technologies offer real-time and cheap opportunities for every-day (global) operations. As UNICEF also demonstrates, strategically utilizing and testing various innovative technologies, can greatly improve the lives of many vulnerable individuals world-wide.

To connect with Mehran and learn more about UNICEF, connect with him on LinkedIn. If you like to read more articles about technology, payments and blockchain, please visit our blog or check out the ARYZE website

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