Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Development

Project description

Title: Blockchain Lab
Commissioned by: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
Country: Global
Overall term: 2018 bis 2020


Now and then, we wake up to some new technology that promises to change the world. Blockchain – as a distributed ledger technology (DLT) – has come to be one of those widely acclaimed disruptive forces. The hype surrounding the technology has sparked anything from vivid dreams to sobering disillusionment during the past couple of years. While some argue that it will completely revolutionise the social and economic fabric of our societies, others discard the technology as a self-indulgent hype by enumerating its shortcomings and pointing at the suitability of existing technologies such as traditional databases, cloud computing or cryptography. So what is all the buzz about?

Blockchain promises to fundamentally transform how societies, economies and governmental institutions collaborate. Its transparent, disintermediating and resilient nature has generated major expectations and hopes – also regarding the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A few blockchain applications have indeed demonstrated direct or indirect impacts on these goals. Transferring remittances, for example, has become cheaper than ever before. Responsibly mined diamonds, for example, are now traceable on digital ledgers, thus giving consumers the certainty that they are not purchasing blood diamonds.

Within the field of sustainable development, concrete implementation experience, however, remains scarce. Considering that blockchain technology is still at an early stage of development, the most suitable framework conditions and design choices have yet to be determined. Many possibilities and impossibilities of the technology remain unknown and most blockchain initiatives still need to demonstrate their viability in real-life scenarios and at scale.


The Lab taps into the transformative potential of blockchain and related technologies to achieve the Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Hype vs. Reality


The Lab examines and assesses a wide range of blockchain applications before piloting a subset of the most promising cases that outline clear value in terms of the SDGs. The scope of applications ranges from simple timestamping tools for public sector accountability, to reliable education credentials and to smarter energy grids that enable peer-to-peer trading. Through proof-of-concepts and pilot projects worldwide, the Lab seeks to generate much needed real-world exposure of blockchain use cases, while exploring the convergence with other technologies; notably, sensors, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

For the most promising blockchain use cases to acquire real-world exposure, the Lab builds the necessary bridges between the tech world and the international development community. It engages the start-up ecosystem, development practitioners, governmental institutions, academia, and the business sector alike, to develop the necessary economic, legal and institutional frameworks for blockchain use cases to gain traction.

The Lab’s methodology is based in an agile, interdisciplinary, and innovation management approach. It relies, among others, on co-creative workshops, design thinking and hackathons. Each pilot is geared towards users and target groups as well as development-policy objectives as illustrated by the Principles for Digital Development.

Solution Conference „Chain2Sustain“ – Blockchain for Sustainable Supply Chains


After assessing over 150 use cases for blockchain technology within the framework of sustainable development, the Lab has released its own set of the 15 most promising use cases to guide further implementation of the technology.

To enable development practitioners to make appropriate use of the technology, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) published a comprehensive handbook on its application containing a step-by-step guide for the setup of sustainable blockchain pilots. It further spelled out several governance and implementation concepts for use cases including land titles, supply chains, education credential verification, electricity trading.

Based on this overarching experience, the Lab has run its own pilots and harnessed knowledge on the technology’s possible alignment with the SDGs:

The Lab initiated a collaboration with the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization’s Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO INNOTECH) and the Technische Universität Berlin to prove that blockchain-based education credentials can prevent widespread certificate forgery in the higher education sector. Through its engagement in this field, the Lab is assisting in the international standard setting to counter the risk of new platform monopolies.

The Lab supported Bangladesh’s Access to Information (a2i) programme by assessing the feasibility of an envisioned blockchain-based land registration project. By undertaking a user-centric scoping mission, it was able to propose alternative technological solutions that are strongly aligned with user needs to overcome ongoing obstacles in Bangladesh’s land sector.

In the face of an excess of mobility applications in urban centres across all continents, the Lab has been promoting the idea of interoperability as a quality criterion for truly intermodal Mobility-as-a-Service platforms.

Given the suspected impact of the cryptocurrency Libra that Facebook announced in 2019, the Lab released an op-ed on examining the stablecoin’s promise and underlying payment infrastructure.