Skip to Content
Blockchain

The World Bank is a verified blockchain booster

Its efforts are still just experiments, but the global development bank is serious about using blockchains to help it reduce poverty.
September 13, 2018
Jake Belcher

Satoshi Nakamoto invented the Bitcoin blockchain as a way for people to make financial transactions without the need for banks or governments. So it’s ironic that one of the world’s biggest boosters of blockchains—shared cryptographic ledgers inspired by the one that underlies Nakamoto’s invention—is the World Bank, which is owned by governments. It makes sense, though, argues Prema Shrikrishna, who works in the bank’s Technology Innovation Lab. That’s because her organization’s goal for its recently launched blockchain lab is to “put power back in the hands of the people.”

It’s still very early in the process, but the lab’s experiments in education, financial services, and efforts to trace agricultural and pharmaceutical supply chains are already providing valuable lessons, Shrikrishna said today at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference today.

This year, the World Bank partnered with Consensys, a company focused on developing applications using Ethereum, to explore how blockchain technology can help improve a pilot-stage educational platform called Evoke. The first goal is to give the project’s donors more transparency into how their money is being used, Shrikrishna explained. The next step will be finding ways to use crypto-tokens to incentivize students to participate and complete certain tasks.

Shrikrishna also explained how the bank is experimenting with a mix of information technologies, including blockchains, to figure out how to bring more transparency to the palm oil industry’s supply chain. Blockchains may provide an opportunity to use crypto-tokens to encourage palm fruit farmers and the middlemen that stand between farms and mills to enter higher-quality data about fruit as it moves through the chain, she said.

The most concrete blockchain-based application the World Bank has developed so far is a bond it recently issued with the help of an Australian bank that uses a private version of Ethereum. Bonds are a huge part of the bank’s operations—it issues more than $50 billion in bonds each year to raise money for sustainable development. So far, the blockchain-based bond has raised around $80 million. Shrikrishna said the goal of the project is to explore how blockchain technology can make it easier for investors to access the market while also increasing transparency around financing. The bond has an unusually short two-year lifetime, which Shrikrishna says will give the bank the opportunity to quickly learn from the experience, adapt to technological innovations that may emerge in the meantime, and “issue the next bond with a much higher level of confidence.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.