Research Webinar – Björn Rust + Chris Elsden

On Thursday 16th April we hosted  our first in a series of research webinars. Given the normalisation of streaming technologies due to COVID-19 we wanted to keep the research conversations going and two researchers stepped forward to discuss ‘The State of Distributed Ledger Technologies and Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Action’. For those who missed the talk please see the recording below.

The State of Distributed Ledger Technologies and Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Action
Björn Rust & Chris Elsden
Thursday 16th April 4pm

Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) are among the most promising innovations to have emerged during the last decade, with the potential to fundamentally transform existing economic, institutional and social systems. The promise of these technologies to deliver aid at low cost while reducing transaction times and streamlining reporting has obvious appeal at a time where humanitarian budgets are under increasing pressure and the call for market-based interventions has never been greater.

However, the hype surrounding these DLT-based interventions may not be proportionate to their short-term outcomes or long-term viability. Many systems are haphazardly designed and unsympathetic to their intended context, while many more simply do not survive beyond pilot stage if indeed they exist at all.

As a rare example of DLT-based cash and voucher assistance (CVA) that exists beyond empty promises, the UnBlocked Cash pilot deployed by Oxfam in partnership with Sempo and ConsenSys demonstrates how such a system might be operationalised, and the significant barriers to industry-wide adoption that still exist. Over the course of a month, Oxfam and its partners distributed 966,443 Vanuatu Vatu (VUV) to 187 heads of households and 29 vendors, which was estimated to have directly benefited some 1,209 individuals in two urban communities in one of the world’s most at-risk countries.

The system they deployed was the first example of a DLT-based CVA in the Pacific and the first globally to employ a stablecoin. Additionally, the system was uniquely designed to withstand periods without connectivity while avoiding double-spends by using near-field communication (NFC) cards in tandem with a side-channel.

This case study of the UnBlocked Cash pilot will objectively examine its strengths and weaknesses while questioning how we might improve the provision of aid in this age of crisis and complexity.


Björn Rust
Björn Rust is a researcher, innovator and educator dedicated to the advancement of speculative and critical design in private, public and third sector organisations. Recently his work has centred on digital inclusion and emerging contexts in humanitarian action particularly in South East Asia and the Pacific. He was the research lead and a technical advisor for Oxfam’s Unblock Cash pilot and is an alumnus of the OxLabs innovation hub.

Chris Elsden
Chris Elsden is a post-doctoral research associate in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh where he undertakes a broad range of work related to understanding experiences of a data-driven life. Before working on the AHRC Creative Informatics project, Chris led user and design research on the OxChain project, exploring the future of philanthropy and international development with the emergence of blockchain technologies. This work ultimately resulted in a real-world trial of a mobile app ‘Smart Donations’, in partnership with Oxfam Australia and their supporters. Smart Donations uses smart contracts to allow donors to set conditions about how and when they give, based on data from real-world events, such as a natural disaster, or rising temperatures. You can find out more about this pilot here: https://oxchain.lancaster.ac.uk/

Running Order
16:00 – Welcome by Chris Speed (host)

16:05 – Introduction to Björn Rust & Chris Elsden (panellists)

16:10 – Björn Rust: Cash Transfer

16:30 – Conversation

16:45 – Open to Zoom Q&As

Image Credit: Keith Parsons, Oxfam Australia

Online Zoom Webinar