Humanitarian aid organization, UNICEF, has utilized Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) as a means of raising funds to help with its mission of providing internet access to schools located in developing regions all over the world. The name of the initiative is called the “Giga initiative,” and it aims to help 1.1 million schools across 49 countries.
This UNICEF-led initiative aims to tackle the dilemma in a novel way through a joint venture with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which led to the creation of Giga in 2019. Gerben Kijne, blockchain product manager at Giga, outlined the firm’s Project Connect initiative at the Blockchain Expo in Amsterdam. Giga has made strides in connecting schools to the internet in developing countries around the world.
About 2.9 billion people still don’t have connectivity to the World Wide Web. Data provided by UNICEF highlights that the majority of the people who lacks this essential service reside in undeveloped countries, and children continue to be disadvantaged by the lack of internet connectivity at local schools.
The first step in this process for the initiative was mapping schools and their connectivity through Project Connect. Giga utilizes machine learning technology to scan satellite images to identify schools on an open-source map. To date, it has pinpointed over 1.1 million schools across 49 countries, and connectivity data for a third of these schools.
After identifying the number of schools in need of internet accessibility, through Project Connect, the next step in the process is creating a novel fundraising initiative that taps into the world of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and nonfungible tokens (NFTs).
In an interview, after his keynote address at the RAI Convention Centre in Amsterdam, Kijne unpacked Giga’s Patchwork Kingdoms initiative. With NFTs surging in popularity over the past couple of years, Giga looked to make the most of the craze through its own NFT-led fundraising experiment in March 2022.
To utilize NFTs, Giga teamed up with Dutch artist Nadieh Bremer, who is Snowcrash Labs’ data visualization scientist and artist to launch a collection of 1,000 procedurally generated NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain. The NFTs were produced using Giga’s school data to represent those with and without internet connectivity.
Describing the NFTs, each piece has a world ‘above’ representing connected schools, and a world ‘below’ for unconnected schools. The squares in the hidden pale ‘reflection’ city represent a lack of connectivity contrasted with the ‘vibrant’ connectivity in schools in the upright city. The various colors show how many children are still in need of Internet access. The artwork is inspired by Giga’s live maps on school connectivity. The collection of NFTs incorporates data on more than 280,000 schools from 21 countries, and each artwork represents a subset of these schools.
The NFT public sale raised around 240 Ether (ETH) in totality, valued at $700,000, which went directly to connecting schools to the internet. Kijne conceded that the value raised was secondary to the exploration of a different kind of philanthropic fundraising.
UNICEF selling 1,000 data-driven non-fungible tokens (NFTs), makes it the United Nation’s (UN’s) largest-ever NFT collection to date, and the initiative was initially announced ahead of commemorations of UNICEF’s 75th anniversary.
He explained, “I think NFTs also provides a really interesting use case. One of the things that we’re starting to look into is what does philanthropy look like for the next generation of people? Because if you go to UNICEF now and you donate, I don’t even know what you get, probably like a ‘thank you email’ or something.”
Kijne believes that NFTs can provide a closer connection to donations, highlighting their use to track the impact of donations through the ownership of a specific school’s NFT and monitor when the funds raised are “cashed in” to pay for internet connectivity.
There are a lot of things to learn from the NFT-based fundraising initiative. As Kijne reflected, building a community before the launch may well have helped boost support. As has been seen in the NFT space, community members play a role, but opportunistic NFT investors are always present and looking for a chance to profit from new launches.
On this, he explained, “I think quite a few people that sort of joined us, they formed one of two camps. We have the people we were aiming for, Giga supporters. Many bought their first NFT ever. Then the other group is people who are thinking, ‘Oh, a UNICEF NFT! Let me get on that.’”
Despite that fact, the project has been deemed a success and provides an intriguing use case for blockchain-based NFTs as a means of transparent, community-building fundraising. The public sale in March 2022 sold out in three hours and raised $550,000. The additional 20% of funds raised came from secondary sales on OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT platform.
UNICEF seeks to capitalize on the potential of the digital revolution for every child to thrive, including a variety of high-profile priorities such as mental health and climate change. As these specific NFTs are bought, collectors will own a snapshot of Giga’s progress at this point in time. Further developments to the NFTs will include the ability to collect individual schools, connect Patchwork Kingdoms, and observe the network of cityscapes grow as Giga evolves and more schools and communities are connected.
In addition to being the UN’s largest known NFT collection, it is believed this marks the first time the UN has created NFTs based on data. The collection is supported by the Ethereum Foundation, Snowcrash Labs, CfC St. Moritz, Metagood, and Wondros.