5 Lessons from our Uganda Blockchain Pilot Project
Blockchain is a very new technology and still a mystery to most people. Our aim is to show how it can be applied for social impact and to address our world’s challenges. In Uganda, our YESS Impact blockchain pilot project has started four months ago with our local partner Mercy for Women and Youth and blockchain partner hiveonline. In spite of all challenges of Covid-19 and the lockdown, the project is progressing well.
But what is our project about? The project focuses on our YESS Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA), groups of women and men who meet weekly to save money together, discuss entrepreneurship and financial plans and provide business loans to one another through the group. Through simple mobile phones they save their weekly saving and loan information in an app that stores the information on the blockchain. This excellent overview of the groups’ progress allows for transparent recordings. The information cannot be falsified or lost and participants can build up their scores as reliable customers, paying back loans on time etc. I as a co-project manager can access the information from anywhere in the world with a password by simply going on the app’s website.
Since we get many requests about our project, I wanted to share five valuable lessons we learned so far which could make your blockchain for social impact project a success, too:
1. Keep it simple
Internet connectivity is very low and expensive in rural Uganda and many people have limited skills in reading and writing. We are using user-friendly, locally available phones and the hiveonline app which is simple, yet well designed. This way the system is easily understood and the app does not eat up too much expensive data. Training focuses on the important basics for the user instead of explaining every detail of the complicated blockchain technology. Additionally, we decided to focus on a limited number of our VSLA groups and not all to make sure we could accompany those well in our pilot.
2. Train regularly
Training is the key to making this project a success. In the beginning, we trained three people from each of our VSLA groups thoroughly to make sure that if one is absent, the others can still use the app.
The project has many new components for local participants, such as phone use, English vocabulary in the app etc. Thus, regular further communication and training is key to identify which learning gaps still have to be closed. This includes regular visits to the groups to learn about their challenges and to be able to respond to them.
3. Meet regularly with the management team
For this project, we are collaborating with the Danish blockchain company hiveonline. In order to ensure that the project is running well from all sides, we meet at least every 3 weeks online between Uganda, Switzerland and Denmark. It has been a fantastic exchange and learning opportunity for all: our partners in Uganda MYWE, for YESS Impact and hiveonline. During the meetings we have get to brainstorm about challenges experienced, solutions and medium and long term plans. It is an opportunity to make the app even better and for us to learn more about blockchain and its usability.
4. Be flexible and adapt constantly
Since the project started, we were hit with many challenges, especially the Covid-restrictions imposed by the 42-day lockdown. We had to navigate emergency food aid in our communities while still making sure the blockchain project could continue. Being alert, flexible and adapting to the new circumstances while regularly communicating is crucial in this regard and made sure our project could continue as planned.
5. Plan long term
The objective of this pilot is to scale it both within our project as well as to other organisations and places. We are getting many requests by organisations and international conferences to present about it. Thus, even though we are still in the initial stages, we have already developed a medium and long term plan. This will include expanding the project within our own realm, helping other organisations benefit from the blockchain technology as well and to further make it internationally known.
If you want to learn more, feel free to comment here directly or contact me: L.firstname.lastname@example.org