Developed countries often take the ubiquity of the Internet for granted. However, the reality is that approximately 2.9 billion people still do not have a connection to the global network.
Figures provided by UNICEF highlight that the majority of this mass of people without internet live in underdeveloped countries and children continue to be disadvantaged by the lack of internet access in local schools.
The UNICEF-led initiative is tackling this dilemma in a new way through a joint venture with the International Telecommunication Union that led to the creation of Giga in 2019.
Gerben Kijne, Blockchain Product Manager at Giga, outlined the company’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.
The first step in this process was to map the schools and connect them through Project Connect. Giga uses machine learning to scan satellite images to identify schools on an open source map. To date, it has identified more than 1.1 million schools in 49 countries and connection data for a third of those schools.
After identifying a large number of schools in need of internet access, the next step in the process was to create a new fundraising initiative delving into the world of blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs.
In an interview with Cointelegraph after his keynote speech at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam, Kijne unpacked Giga’s Patchwork Kingdoms initiative. With the growing popularity of NFTs over the last couple of years, Giga sought to make the most of the craze with its own NFT-led fundraising experiment in March 2022.
Giga has partnered with Dutch artist Nadieh Bremer to launch a collection of 1,000 procedurally generated NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain. The NFTs were created using Giga’s school data to represent those with and without an internet connection.
The NFT public sale raised approximately 240 ether (ETH) totaling $700,000 that went directly to connecting schools to the Internet. Kijne admitted that the value gained was secondary to exploring another kind of philanthropic fundraising.
“I think NFTs also provide a really interesting use case. One of the things we’re starting to look at is what does philanthropy look like for the next generation of people? Because if you go to UNICEF now and donate, I don’t even know what you’ll get, probably like a ‘thank you email’ or something.”
Kijne believes that NFTs can provide a closer connection to donations, emphasizing their use to track the impact of donations through ownership of a specific school NFT and tracking when funds raised are “redeemed” to pay for internet access.
Many insights were taken from the NFT-based fundraising initiative. As Kijne reasoned, building a community before launch might have helped boost support. As seen in the NFT space, community members play a role, but opportunistic NFT investors are always present, looking for an opportunity to profit from new startups.
“I think quite a few people have joined us to form one of the two camps. We have the people we were targeting, the Giga supporters. Many bought their first NFT ever. Then the other group is people who think, “Oh, UNICEF NFT! Let me go.’
Despite this, the project was considered a success and provides an interesting use case for blockchain-based NFTs as a means of transparently raising funds for community building. The public sale in March 2022 sold out in three hours and raised $550,000. Another 20 percent of the funds raised came from secondary sales on OpenSea.