Charity, Third Sector, Humanitarian, Ethics

While most mainstream media attention relating to blockchain centres around the changes the technology will bring to finance, security and government, the scale of potential it offers within the charity sector is equally exciting.

Rhodri Davies works at the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) where he leads Giving Thought – CAF’s in-house think tank focusing on current and future issues affecting philanthropy and civil society.

A published author on philanthropy, Rhodri has researched, written and presented on a wide range of topics – from social investment to the charitable applications of cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain – and is much in demand as an adviser to governments, businesses, charities and philanthropists.

Ahead of his appearance at Blockchain Live as part of the panel discussion ‘Unlocking Blockchain’s Power for Transparency: Charity, Development and Trade’, Rhodri sat down with us to give an overview of his work with the CAF and why blockchain can transform the way the charity sector operates.

Blockchain Live: Tell us about the Charity Aids Foundation (CAF) and your role at the Giving Thought think tank.  

Rhodri Davies: CAF is a major national charity which has been around for over 90 years and provides services for donors and charities. We try to help people give money to good causes as effectively as possible.

I have a think-tank background and initially worked on the policy side of things. When I started working with CAF I considered ways we could bring value to the charity sector and how to bring a think-tank mind-set to CAF.

We decided to set up Giving Thought as an in-house think tank. The idea being to look at issues effecting charities and charitable giving from a bigger picture perspective. That meant looking back to the past, taking stock of the present but also thinking about the future.

One of the themes we work on is called the ‘Future of Doing Good’. This is about technologies and social trends and their effect on the way that people are able to support charitable causes. This might be by changing the way people give to charity or by totally disrupting existing models of charitable giving.

‘Giving Unchained’ was the first publication I wrote where I specifically started discussing blockchain in a more general sense.

Blockchain Live: Are there specific things you mention in the Giving Unchained report that are coming to fruition?

Rhodri Davies: Yes. Several of the ideas in the report are in motion, all to varying degrees. Two good examples are donation transparency and the use of blockchain technology to reduce transaction costs through disintermediation.

However, there are only a small handful of live projects that are actually taking money right now and trying to use blockchain to enable things like 100% transparency of donations and donation tracking.

The area where there has probably the least obvious kind of development is in the idea of hyper-rational philanthropy pegged to machine-to-machine transactions.

Blockchain Live: Considering all the propositions you put forward previously, are there any areas you didn’t expect blockchain to affect?  

Rhodri Davies: Yes, in a couple of areas. One in particular is the use of blockchain for sovereign identity – which is an area where there’s a lot of interest.

If blockchain could solve this issue of sovereignty, it would have massive implications for charities, because organisations in the charity sector must deal with a lot personal data from their donors and have come under quite intense scrutiny recently for the way in which they handle data. Furthermore, with charities about to become subject to new regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), this is a significant issue right now.

One of the reasons that charities currently need to hold data is for claiming Gift Aid on donations. I’ve been involved for years now in trying to think through how you can make this process work more effectively. Gift Aid is administratively burdensome, clunky and a lot of aid that could be claimed, goes unclaimed.

Gift Aid could work seamlessly if people had a self-sovereign identity. We could provide a unique identifier to a charity which would be automatically linked to their HMRC records. In this way, users could trust their data is not being mis-used and charities could make sure they were getting the most out of donations.

The second area is around DAOs (Distributed Autonomous Organisations). This is the concept that decentralisation could apply to not just the systems in which charities operate, but to the governance structures themselves.

It’s possible that disintermediation might challenge the structure of a charity or even present a central threat to the very idea of a charity. The thought that you could actually decentralise everything, including charities, is fascinating.

Rhodri Davies will be speaking at Blockchain Live “Unlocking Blockchain’s Power for Transparency: Charity, Development and Trade” with Professor Olinga Ta’eed Director, Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance moderated by Cécile Baird by Blockchain For Good (BC4G) on the Enterprise Channel at 3.55pm.

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