Following the announcement of UNOPS new partnership with IOTA, we caught up with our resident blockchain expert to hear more about the collaboration, and the exciting potential Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) could have for enhancing UNOPS operations.
Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) uses independent computers (known as nodes) to record, share and synchronize transactions in their respective electronic ledgers – across institutions and geographies – as opposed to keeping this data centralized. Blockchain is one type of distributed ledger, whereby data is organized into ‘blocks’ that are chained together in an append only mode.
Source: The World Bank
There are a lot of different blockchain networks and projects happening right now. What made IOTA stand out as a potential partner for UNOPS?
Currently UNOPS is engaged with several entities, many of which use Bitcoin, Ethereum and other blockchains. We carry out our work all over the world, often in places with limited transport infrastructure, let alone digital infrastructure. This means sporadic access to high-speed internet connections or even electricity. We are excited to test out the capabilities of IOTA’s distributed ledger built specifically for IoT devices, which can be operated on battery power and/or alternative connectivity networks. There are some use cases you simply can’t build with most blockchains today, because the computing requirements are still too high.
So, how will the partnership work? Will UNOPS start with a specific trial, or set of trials, of the technology?
We are working with the IOTA Foundation to identify the most appropriate use cases for the first ‘proof of concept’, to help address some of the challenges that the UN as a whole faces when working in the field. It’s very much a collaborative process. We are learning about their technology, and they are learning about our unique challenges and tech needs. The idea is to work iteratively, scoping out the use case and figuring out which missing puzzle pieces IOTA’s technology can supply. As we identify gaps in the proposed test solution or additional elements that need to be added, we’ll work together with IOTA to identify and involve suitable other partners as well.
It’s very much a collaborative process. We are learning about their technology, and they are learning about our unique challenges and tech needs.
What kind of implementation timeline is UNOPS looking at? When can we expect to see IOTA integrated into UNOPS operations?
Timelines in innovation are notoriously hard to predict. The idea is to work as efficiently as possible during the scoping phase, brainstorming and testing ideas in teams, discarding the ones that don’t seem promising, and pushing forward with the ones that have potential. Doing the actual design work to implement an idea could go quickly or slowly. It depends entirely on the complexity of the problem being tackled and how many different parts the solution entails need to be integrated: hardware, software, user experience, etc. It is difficult to know in advance what the sticking points will be. The only way to do this is to roll-up our sleeves and dive in, the UNOPS way – it’s about getting the job done! Innovation is not something we could simply put out a tender for. Innovation is, by definition, something beyond our scope of knowledge. We have to learn by doing what an innovative solution would be. Innovating for field environments is a bottom up rather than top-down process.
How did UNOPS go about establishing the partnership with IOTA? Were there any deciding factors?
UNOPS always carefully vets its collaborators and partners, and this was no exception. We did our homework, conducted due diligence processes and came to the conclusion that the technology and the team was promising enough to move forward with. Our priority at UNOPS is finding real solutions to real problems. The best way to do that is to cast a wide net and think creatively.
Will UNOPS explore other blockchain use cases going forward as well?
Yes, of course. We are already working with a number of start-ups and incubators from across the DLT spectrum. We will continue to look out for better solutions. If a use case makes sense, we’ll consider it. But, as I have said previously, we do not do blockchain simply for the sake of doing blockchain. UNOPS is focusing its efforts on solving real-world challenges. Our priorities always stem from our core mission as an organization, not from the fads of the crypto-space. We explore new technologies so that we can do our job better. At the end of the day, it’s about building a better UN and a better world. That’s what gets us out of bed each morning.
Yoshiyuki Yamamoto is the Special Advisor for UN Engagement and Blockchain Technology at UNOPS, and the most senior UN official working in this field. He explores the application possibilities of blockchain technology for the United Nations and international aid work. Yoshiyuki is the former Director of UNOPS Peace and Security Centre. He has more than 20 years of experience in the United Nations system, mainly in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations, and has spent 15 years working in various fields in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan and Iraq.