Move over multimillion-dollar commercial ICOs! Social impact ICOs are vying for talent and investor dollars.

With the 2030 deadline and US$2.5 trillion annual budget set for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is an urgency to take action. But even without these targets, it is obvious that we cannot continue to live with inequality in our world.

Progress of Social Impact ICOs vs. Commercial ICOs

Commercial ICOs have been enjoying a good run this past year.

2017 was a significant year for the ICO industry. … As of late 2017, infrastructure plays have led the ICO market, with 37 percent of the share (at nearly $1.2 billion). Trading and investing come in a distant second at almost 13 percent ($419.6 million), with finance trailing in third with 9.4 percent ($307.4 million).” – Tiana Laurence

Source: Forbes (Tiana Laurence) – “ICOs: Looking Back On 2017 And Ahead To 2018” dated December 21, 2017

What about social impact ICOs?

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of social impact ICOs around.

One could argue that social impact ICOs are actually a better fit for the mindset of blockchain enthusiasts. They who advocate the principles of transparency and disintermediation would be naturally inclined to support social impact ICOs.

Perhaps they’re just not being marketed as aggressively as commercial ICOs?

List of Social Impact ICOs

So is there a list of social impact ICOs? Where can one find such a list?

Our search revealed two (2) working lists of blockchain projects for social impact. One list is by Stanford University (via ICTWorks) and the other is by Positive Blockchain. There’s also a member list of the Blockchain For Social Impact coalition but most of the members aren’t projects per se.

    • The Stanford University list has 238 projects while the Positive Blockchain list has 249 at the time of writing.
    • Between the Stanford University list and Positive Blockchain list, there are altogether 440 blockchain projects for social impact after adjusting for overlaps.
    • The Blockchain For Social Impact list has 38 members, 11 of which are in either the Stanford University list or the Positive Blockchain list or both (i.e., Alice, Blockchain Development Company, Blockchain For Change, Disberse, Everex, ixo Foundation, Kora Network, Pinkcoin, Root Project, Sustainability International, Provenance).
    • Out of the 249 projects listed under Positive Blockchain, only 50 are tokenized (based on the ‘Token’ column in the table from Positive Blockchain). Note: The Stanford University list does not indicate which projects are tokenized.
    • Out of the 390 ICOs listed in CoinSchedule, there are 21 ICOs that are in either the Stanford University list or the Positive Blockchain list or both (i.e., SunContract, ACT, Blockchain Capital, Humaniq, CoFound.it, Ecobit, Civic, Encrypgen, Po.et, Suretly, Everex, Power Ledger, EthLend, Cashaa, BitDegree, Bloom, Restart Energy, AidCoin, MedicalChain, Electrify.Asia, ODEM.IO). Note: The CoinSchedule list does not indicate which ICOs are of the social impact type.

Based on the above, it can be deduced that:

Clearly, there are many blockchain projects for social good. And many don’t necessarily need to do an ICO – opting instead for more traditional funding.

But for those who are going down the ICO route and for crypto investors wanting to include socially impactful investments in their crypto portfolio, what might be the reasons for the dearth of social impact ICOs?

Spotlight: Fennie Wang, ixo Foundation Partnerships and Regulatory Lead

Fennie Wang is the Partnerships and Regulatory Lead of the ixo Foundation where she has has been developing relationships with impact investors, Dapps / startups and foundations. She also leads commercial and legal strategy at the foundation.

We speak to Fennie on the state of social impact ICOs and impact investing.

Three (3) Challenges of Social Impact ICOs

During the conversation, Fennie opines on the prospect of a proliferation of social impact ICOs this year. To that hope, she offers her insights and highlights the following three (3) challenges.

1) Social Impact x Blockchain Education

There is frustration that I’ve heard from folks in the field as true social impact projects – difficulty finding the right investors that understand social impact and blockchain. So there’s a lot of education on both sides of those camps – educating crypto people about social impact, educating impact people about crypto.”

2) Regulatory Uncertainty & Understanding of Tokens as Investment Vehicles

“There’s still trepidation amongst impact investors and equity investors around blockchain and around the regulatory concerns and also the ability to take tokens as their investment vehicle.”

3) Crypto investing climate

“And then on the crypto investors’ side, I think there is a little bit of lip service around social impact. But I think at the end of the day, the greed is still there. They’re seeing larger and larger discounts being offered in the market to compensate for the regulatory risks so they expect crazy discounts north of 50%, 80%, 100%.”

“So there’s that kind of flavor happening on the crypto investing side which I think is very unfortunate for the industry and especially for social impact projects where managing that is extremely important – from building a long-term, high-quality community that is actually working in the social impact and technology space.

Evidently, the space needs maturing. Further into the conversation, we dive into the regulatory landscape.

Regulatory Advantages of Social Impact ICOs

Would there be any regulatory advantages of social impact ICOs over commercial ICOs? Fennie responds:

“It would be wonderful to have some kind of sandbox but at the same time, it would be really, really disastrous for the impact community if we had some kind of fraudulent social impact type of ICO that was taken advantage of or any kind of relaxed rules around ICOs for social impact projects. For the sake of the long-term liability of social impact projects in the blockchain and crypto space, we should in some ways hold ourselves to higher standards.

For example, around social impact bonds – you have structured transactions involving government as outcome payers, involving major investment banks and foundations as impact investors. This is above board. There’s an existing framework for this and now we’re just tokenizing that structure and enabling a wider range of investors to participate in that. I think that is a good taste for some kind of exemption or sandbox around the securities law regulations.

Read about Impak Coin and the guidance given by Canada’s regulatory sandbox, here.

Impact Investing Through Social Impact ICOs

It’s undeniable that ICOs in general have made it easy if not possible for retail investors to directly fund the projects they believe in and share in their monetary success. However, in the case of social impact ICOs, crypto investors may not expect the same inflated returns or steep joining discounts compared to commercial ICOs – conscious of the fact that the fundamental ethos of the projects in this space is “not for profit”, “for social good”.

 

This also contributes to the development community as a whole because on a larger scale, it will increase transparency and accountability in the aid system.

Blockchain-Based Impact Investment Models

With respect to impact investing, the idea is you have private capital that will front money the working capital and so forth for a particular project that’s designed to achieve certain outcomes. And there’s another party – another funder that’s usually a large foundation or a government that will pay the private investors back in return on capital if pre-agreed outcome metrics are met for that project.” – Fennie Wang

Source: Future Tech Podcast (YouTube) – “Fennie Wang-ixo Foundation- Tokenizing Social Impact on the Blockchain” published on December 22, 2017

 

For social impact blockchain project owners, the following two (2) “above board” investing models may be worth exploring – given the changing regulatory landscape.

1) Social Impact Bonds (SIBs)

Social impact bonds have been around since 2010 and have enjoyed some success but have yet to really take off as they’re often not quantifiable so it’s hard to measure their success for stakeholders and future investors. Key to SIBs’ breakthrough is demonstrating proof of impact. Several projects are harnessing the blockchain’s immutability and efficiency not only to provide proof of impact but also possibly create a new asset class of proof of impact. One of these is ixo.

2) Tokenized Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Just like any other token, impact tokens can be sold or traded on secondary exchanges. They can be used to fund other social impact projects within the token’s ecosystem, within the wider impact economy among cooperating projects and exchanged within the token economy. SIBs themselves can also be tokenized. The tokenization of impact paves the way for fund managers to include impact crypto assets such as SIBs and carbon tokens amongst more traditional assets in their portfolio.

As more sophisticated impact investing models come to the fore through deeper understanding of blockchain’s capabilities, investors may soon come to expect higher returns on their impact investments – a positive for impact investing as this raises confidence among investors and encourages more investment.

Blockchain For Social Impact Communities

According to Cecilia Chapiro of UNICEF Innovation, Emerging Technologies:

The way we believe progress can happen is by investing in many different early stage startups and combining them altogether in different clusters that can feed on top of each otherWhen you think about one startup building a blockchain technology for smart contracts, they can achieve x much in y amount of time but if you think about investing in different startups working on smart contracts through blockchain, they can achieve much more if their technologies feed on top of each other. So the way we think about progress and humanitarian relief is we’re now investing in these early-stage prototypes and we hope that in 5, 10 years from now, all these prototypes will become solutions that can address the problems that we’re facing today.” – Cecilia Chapiro

Source: Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition BSIC (YouTube) – “Investing in Blockchain for Social Impact” published on December 7, 2017

Summary


Social impact blockchain projects seeking funding through ICOs have an uphill battle ahead in the year ahead. Blending these two spheres of social impact and blockchain technology will be a challenge that needs to be addressed through education and engagement on both sides. They need to attract the right talent to build well-rounded teams. And with the changing regulatory landscape, they should explore “above board” investment models for themselves and their investors and seek regulatory guidance and legal advice as early as possible.

The blockchain for social impact community as a whole must reach out and collaborate where feasible to speed up development and progress towards solutions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition and UNICEF Innovate are starting points.

Crypto investors should continue to support social impact ICOs but they need to moderate their returns expectations. Demanding proof of impact is one way for them to contribute to the long-term health and viability of these projects.

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The new definition of billionaire. A “billionaire” is someone who positively affects the lives of a billion people. He or she who will reach out and say ‘I will positively affect the lives of a billion people.’

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References:

  1. United Nations (Website) – “Sustainable Development Goals”: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
  2. Forbes – “ICOs: Looking Back On 2017 And Ahead To 2018”: https://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2017/12/21/icos-looking-back-on-2017-and-ahead-to-2018/#351eaed3faa5
  3. ICTWorks – “The Master List of Blockchain Projects in International Development”: https://www.ictworks.org/master-list-blockchain-projects-international-development/#.WrSz88gRU_W
  4. Positive Blockchain – “Explore the Positive Blockchain Database”: https://positiveblockchain.io/
  5. Blockchain for Social Impact (Website) – “Coalition Members”: https://www.blockchainforsocialimpact.com/about-index/
  6. CoinSchedule (Website) – “ICO Results”: https://www.coinschedule.com/icos.html
  7. Fennie Wang (LinkedIn): https://www.linkedin.com/in/fennie-wang-3323061/
  8. ixo Foundation (Website) – “Team”: https://ixo.foundation/
  9. FastCompany (Website) – “Can Initial Coin Offerings Give New Life to Social Good Companies?”: https://www.fastcompany.com/40456378/can-initial-coin-offerings-give-new-life-to-social-good-companies
  10. Graphic – “Figure 1: Impact Investment Ecosystem”: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6f/7f/34/6f7f34ff50e8068b4db00bea85d5b62c.png
  11. Future Tech Podcast (Website) – “Fennie Wang-ixo Foundation – Tokenizing Social Impact on the Blockchain”: https://www.futuretechpodcast.com/podcasts/fennie-wang-ixo-foundation-tokenizing-social-impact-blockchain/
  12. Investopedia (Website) – “Social Impact Bond”: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/social-impact-bond.asp
  13. Social Space (Website) – “Pay For Success and Social Impact Bonds in Singapore”: https://socialspacemag.org/pay-for-success-and-social-impact-bonds-in-singapore/
  14. William Mougayar (Medium) – “Tokenomics – A Business Guide to Token Usage, Utility and Value”: https://medium.com/@wmougayar/tokenomics-a-business-guide-to-token-usage-utility-and-value-b19242053416
  15. Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition BSIC (YouTube) – “Investing In Blockchain for Social Impact”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZAcWAVqEA4
  16. Shots of Awe with Jason Silva (YouTube) – “Captains of Spaceship Earth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHB_G_zWTbc&feature=youtu.be

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