When hurricane Irma struck, it left a path of chaos and destruction in its wake stretching from Antigua and Barbuda to Saint Martin, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Cuba, and the United States. The storm, which lasted from August 31 to September 11, stretched across 650 miles and affected at least nine US states. Streets were turned into gurgling rivers, houses and vehicles submerged, power lines and trees snapped like twigs and over a hundred lives lost.
The aftermath of the storm left survivors vulnerable, with no access to clean water, food, and shelter. Communities and charity organizations quickly rose to the occasion, donating cash and Bitcoin. Hovering at $7,000 per coin from just under $1,000 at the beginning of the year, Bitcoin has had a phenomenal year, defying predictions and smashing through several all-time high records. This growth has been fueled by increased usage and adoption of the currency by individuals, businesses, and now charities.
Dogged by recent scandals and calls for more transparency, charities are turning to the blockchain and its financial instrument, cryptocurrency, to make donation records easily accessible and accountable. Transactions on the blockchain are recorded on an immutable, public ledger distributed across hundreds of thousands of computers for anyone to see and verify. Due to its distributed nature, records on the blockchain cannot be altered in any way.
“Traditionally, you can’t get your money back or determine how it’s being used,” Michael Yeung, a founder of blockchain-based charity organization Grace Token, told NYTimes. “Now we can specify a time or conditions for each donation.”
Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency, was created in 2009 as a digital asset for peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries over a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Because everything is tracked, Bitcoin enables donors to easily see where their donation goes to after it leaves their wallet.
“You’ve seen numerous scandals where charitable donations end up being used for operating costs,” said Andreas Antonopoulos, a Bitcoin expert, “It’s very difficult to see where a donation is going, but this could change that”
This tracking mechanism is ushering a new era of transparency for both donors and charity, deepening their connection to humanitarian causes by providing them with a tool to see how their donations are being used.
For Brad Hines, a digital marketing strategist in Boston, all he wanted to do when he sent funds from his Bitcoin wallet to the Red Cross, was to help those whose lives had been devastated by the flood using an incorruptible medium.