What does Web3 have to do with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?

Launching our new #Web3for2030 report and online programme

At current pace we won’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the latest Climate COP confirmed we won’t reach the Paris Climate Agreement goals either. The global community is far from achieving most of the important milestones we have signed up for, this can feel incredibly overwhelming and quite debilitating. We know we need to keep doing more of what works and greatly accelerate this with funding and people. But we also know we need to do new things differently. We require reimagining, new tools, new methods, new techniques — new ways of achieving these important goals.

The way the global impact community currently works doesn’t work at the right pace or scale for the change we need to make. There are multiple coordination problems, getting the right money and people around the right problem at the right time. Organizations like UNDP advocate therefore, for a better approach to achieving big goals and missions like the SDGs. We see scale being achieved through a series of complimentary actions that lead to scale in a different way to a one shot, silver bullet, approach. Underlying these portfolios requires new systems, processes, and methods and Web3 offers a suite of new tools and technologies that can support this agenda in an open, transparent, decentralized, and scalable way.

Web3 can provide new ways to achieve the SDGs

Although Web3 is often referred to as a group of technologies such as Blockchain, Decentralized Finance, Cryptocurrency and NFTs — ultimately Web3 is creating the opportunity for new financial, economic, governance and innovation paradigms to emerge. For development professionals Web3 is a tool that changes how money is shared and transacted, how decisions are made by groups of people, how people and organizations are incentivized within markets and this creates new opportunities to support the SDG agenda.

Web3 Oppotunity Space

Sharing our new report and a programme

To support the UNDP (and hopefully other UN agencies and impact professionals) to understand and harness the potential of Web3 for impact we are launching two products. A report and an online programme. The web programme builds on the report with explainer videos and case studies. We wanted to make these resources very practical, so they include many examples and case studies to help you to directly connect Web3 with your work and with the SDGs. The videos and additional content are there to help you dig deeper into particular areas of interest and we will build on these in the future if there is interest.

Web3 is already being used to achieve the SDGs

There are already many examples of Web3 being used for Climate Action, initiatives such as , carbon-backed currencies, like Klima that have the potential to provide the economic incentive mechanisms needed to make a real impact on climate change through carbon positive transactions. Or the Regen Network who are exploring different ecological asset classes and their potential to support the development of regenerative finance. Or ReSeed which is a scalable experiment in rural farmer carbon protection. These are all examples of Web3 working to provide real world products and services to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement.

What does UNDP (or other impact organizations) have to do to harness Web3 for positive impact?

Web3 is agnostic, like all technology and therefore needs to be shepherded towards impact goals. This cannot be left to a market and is an important role for organizations like UNDP. We need to build our own capabilities and skills to do so and in the report, we suggest some practical ways the UNDP can harness Web3 for positive impact.

The UNDP and its partners can support innovation ecosystems through partnering to develop education, training, networking, acceleration, and incubation support programmes; capitalizing local ecosystems through funding core ecosystem activities and organizations; supporting experimentation by adding Web3 projects to a portfolio of solutions towards a key development mission. The UNDP can also support in the development of specific high leverage infrastructure, this could mean translating key tools to make them more accessible in a local contest, but it could also mean providing the core physical infrastructure needed for an ecosystem to function successfully, such as mobile and broadband infrastructure.

UNDP can act as the connective tissue, for example If local innovation ecosystems are going to thrive in a Web3 context, all the organizations that currently support local communities in a development context are going to need to engage with them in new ways. UNDP can also fund and deliver research and advocacy and ensure, where possible, the development and diffusion of the technology is done in an ethical, inclusive way that ensures everyone can have the benefits of the system.

Currently almost every government in the world is wrestling with how to regulate crypto currencies, Defi tokens and DAOs. This is a complex and difficult task and the consequences of getting it wrong could have lasting impact. UNDP can support governments to ensure inclusivity, to be anticipatory and agile and to support an innovation ecosystem in country and across borders

Changing ourselves?

Implementing Web3 tools does require a mindset change, it’s about openness and decentralization, a vision we often talk about in development. Communities making decisions for themselves, true self determination is an often-stated dream. However, the reality of this is that often development structures are not set up for this. Web3 could challenge UNDP to decentralize and to bring the best people around the problem at any given time, it could really enable partners to join UNDP through breaking down cumbersome and closed procurement rules, our funding, outputs and outcomes could be made transparent for everyone to see in real time. The opportunities to change the face of development are huge.

What’s next?

We hope you enjoy these resources!

The report you can find here: https://www.undp.org/publications/web3for2030-how-can-web3-help-achieve-sustainable-development-goals

and the programme is here: https://undp.db.team/web3/

We already know of several governments asking the UNDP for advice and guidance in this area and we hope these resources support this.

We think there is great space for donors to support experimentation and capacity building for impact and hope these resources build a case for that. This work can also be added too so we appreciate any thoughts, comments, feedback, and provocations. Please share by tweeting us @kateannasutton, @yeoro or @ricap_undp

This blog has been written by Kate Sutton. Thanks to Agnes Huller and Rowan Yeoman for reviewing.

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Regional Innovation Centre UNDP Asia-Pacific

Doing development differently through designing, developing, curating, collating and championing innovation and digital across the Asia Pacific Region.