Breaking news! The most engaged online participant in TC116: Blockchain for International Development will receive 1000 Stellar Lumens (currently worth around $220 according to CoinMarketCap or possibly useless according to The Economist).

…but why?

With an online model of flipped classroom model for social learning, the value comes not only from the course content, but engagement with experts and other learners to co-create the course experience. When it works best, learners are creating positive experiences online, as well as offline such as when students in the former course had their own blockchain party in South Africa. But much as college athletes are not compensated for their contributions of value to the educational experience (Go Hoyas!), students are often left out of the consideration when it comes to assessing the online course experience.

And one of the first exercises in TC116 is an exercise to practice transferring Stellar Lumens to digital wallets to get the hang of what it means to exchange cryptocurrency and view on a shared ledger. One of the reasons we chose Stellar Lumens can be found from its roots in international development, as demonstrated by Joyce Kim during her PopTech presentation.

Of course, TC116 has typically been among the highest engagement courses, with the last session leader having 336 TechPoints on course close (with a mean around 94.3). And not all engagement is valuable, as moderators have to guard against high-activity but low value posts which are all too common in webinars and forums. In fact, paying students to learn is not a new idea and could even be counterproductive through creating extrinsic motivations — an outcome that’s entirely possible in this course environment. And given that we’re also partnering with Learning Machine Technologies to explore providing the course certificate on the blockchain, it’s probably not even the most interesting application of the blockchain in the course.

Our hope is that this will be a fun follow-on to our educational exercise, a chance to incentivize high-quality participation, and to return value to the students. But it could also be a disaster….which we’ll share in a follow-on blog post.

By Neil Blazevic, TC116 Student

(Also published on Medium)

At DefendersTech we have spent years training human rights defenders and journalists in the East and Horn of Africa on security tools including email encryption tools such as GPG. These tools were created so that parties to a communication could take their privacy into their own hands and not rely on companies like ISPs, email providers, and social media companies to safeguard their privacy for them. Most GPG tools remain cumbersome to use but once you master them you will better understand the parts and relationships of an encryption infrastructure: public keys, private keys, message encryption, message signing, and key verification.

As it turns out, these are the same concepts needed to understand Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: instead of sending and receiving messages, you send and receive money/value; instead of using public keys to identify yourself, you use it to identify your wallet (and private keys to spend from it); instead of using email infrastructure, you use blockchain infrastructure — a global network of parties reaching consensus on transactions and the balance of everybody’s wallet.

Cryptocurrency as Financial Human Rights?

Cryptocurrencies are arguable an evolution of human rights ideas in the domains of finances: financial self-determination, self-expression, and privacy. Bitcoin, the first working cryptocurrency, was created by the anonymous ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’, continues to be developed by volunteer programmers across the globe working by consensus and collaboration, and is operated by self-interested private citizens and companies. It is not backed by any nation state or central bank, and it bypasses centuries of banking regulation, international financial controls, and financial surveillance. It is smart, fast, cheap, programmable money. It breaks the stranglehold nation states, banks, and industry power players like Visa and Mastercard have on money.

When payment processors and banking institutions fell in line after being instructed by US authorities to cut off donation channels to Wikileaks, the controversial government leaks platform asked the public to use Bitcoin instead. In late 2017, when Bitcoin was in the midst of its stratospheric 2017 bull run, Wikileaks gloated on Twitter that those US instructions had turned modest donations into a significant war chest. The idea that donations to political and social causes are protected acts of free speech is one that has legal backing in many jurisdictions, and Bitcoin enabled the exercise of that right.

New cryptocurrencies, so-called ‘privacy coins’, have launched since Bitcoin which address these gaps in privacy. These coins include Monero, Zcash, Dash, and ZenCash.

Much more than money: What use for human rights defenders?

In addition to cryptocurrencies, which serve as a store of value, their underlying blockchain technology can also power a dizzying array of applications which benefit from having a decentralised, immutable, consensus-based ledger. These applications include file storage, communications, publishing, asset ownership, legal contracts, official interactions, voting, autonomous digital democracies, digital (and self-sovereign) identity, and much more.

Privacy features of cryptocurrencies can apply to decentralised blockchain applications as well. How will privacy features get baked in to blockchain applications? How will blockchain applications effect the human rights equation as they emerge both as decentralised anarchic entities as well as in use by existing centralised authorities as governments and industry contemplate adoption? What new human rights fights will need to be fought? What new tools will come into the hands of human rights defenders?

At the recently-concluded World Blockchain Forum in Dubai, I had the pleasure to talk with Robert Viglione, Co-founder and President of ZenCash. ZenCash is building exactly some of these applications on top of their privacy-focused blockchain network include private messaging, file storage, online publishing, and making access to the network censorship-resistant.

We talked ideal users, usage for human rights defenders, new tools, usability, and online democracy. Read on for the full interview, edited lightly for readability.

An Interview with Robert Viglione, Founder of ZenCash

Q: Why did you decide to create a privacy coin?

RV: The whole point of it was to create a censorship-resistant network so people could have privacy on their transactions, privacy on messaging, privacy on publishing. It was really designed to open the world up and tear down borders.

Q: Who do you expect to use ZenCash?

RV: The first group is people who care about privacy. People in the Bitcoin world who realised it isn’t very private — That was our first audience. Now we are trying to build out our audience and mainstream it. The core audience is people who need privacy around the world.

Q: Do you see any use case for activists, dissidents, human rights defenders?

RV: Of course that’s who we think about as the user. That’s where the censorship resistant aspect comes from, and why we have it. I think it’s a perfect tool for them.

Q: What are the new applications you’re building on ZenCash and how can they be used by human rights defenders?

RV: ZenChat is messaging which lets users communicate with each other without fear of repression or surveillance even for people who are in parts of the world which deny them access to parts of the internet. We’re developing a domain fronting application called ZenHide which hides your access to the network. It looks like you’re using a Google server or an Amazon server and it’s designed to get you into the network so you can use all of our tools.

Then ZenPub is for secure publishing — if you’re a journalist in a repressed part of the world or a whistleblower and want to publish something without fear you can do it with ZenPub.

Q: Security tools are often difficult to use, how usable are the Zen tools?

RV: The first generation was not very usable. The second generation will be very usable. Right now we have what we call “operation radical usability” which is a huge product push to redesign our products and make them super simple for new users. I’ll be honest, the first generation products were really designed for more technical users, just to have something out there already that they can use.

Q: What else in the blockchain space are you excited about?

RV: I’m looking at liquid democracies concepts like what we’re doing with our voting systems, because we want to empower people and this can be used for communities where you can have proof of fair elections, or figure out how you can do resource allocation together. I really like those applications because I think it’s an interesting governance domain — not just publishing and accessing networks, but once you’re a networked community, do you have a voice in that community?

I think our voting system within ZenCash is the most exciting — not just because I’m biased but because it actually comes from game theory research. We’re solving two big issues with voting systems and DAOs [decentralised autonomous organisations]. One is that you don’t want the voting system itself to influence the outcome, so we have secret balloting. We use our privacy technology where at the end of voting the votes are revealed, rather than having them revealed along the way which could tilt the vote. The other issue is voter apathy — we want to overcome it by actually paying the voters. So we use a bit of economics there. It’s cool because as a member of the community you can actually earn an income by being a good citizen.

Q: Thanks so much Rob!

RV: My pleasure Neil.


I do hope to contribute to a conversation about usage of blockchain for human rights promotion and by human rights defenders. How will cryptocurrency, privacy coins, blockchain applications especially with privacy features built-in be of use in their hands? Please share your thoughts in the comments, Twitter, new posts, etc!

Learn about Blockchain: What is blockchain? The most disruptive tech in decades (ComputerWorld) | Still don’t understand the blockchain? This explainer will help (World Economic Forum)

Learn about Bitcoin:

Learn about Zencash:

If you would like to donate cryptocurrency to the work of DefendDefenders, we would love to accept it. We are currently working on a policy to enable this within the formal structures of the organisation. Shoot us an email at to be notified when we begin accepting cryptocurrency donations.

Neil Blazevic is the DefendersTech program manager at DefendDefenders, an organisation committed to protecting and supporting human rights Defenders across East and Horn of Africa, and CTO at BlockchainAG, a Uganda-based blockchain service company. Tweets from @neilblazevic.


TechChange’s “Blockchain for International Development” course is back September 10! Sign up here!

Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t, but blockchain is the most disruptive technology in decades

So, what is “the blockchain”?


At its most basic level, blockchain is a decentralized distributed ledger technology (DLT) or store of information. The key difference between blockchain and other databases is that the data on a blockchain is stored on many different computers across a network, which are called nodes. All of these nodes update when a new piece of information is added to the database. This makes it extremely difficult to change or alter such information and is especially useful for storing data like financial transaction history.

Check out this short video from Axios & JP Morgan featuring TechChange Founder & CEO Nick Martin explaining the potential of using blockchain in humanitarian efforts.



So, why is this valuable? In our last Blockchain for International Development course, Ric Shreves from Mercy Corps shared different practical use cases of blockchain (and DLTs more broadly):

  • Tamper proof record: The system, aided by the use of cryptography, creates a chronological chain of transactional data that is extremely difficult to defraud.
  • Immutable and transparent: All transactions can be public, traceable, and permanent.
  • Removal of intermediaries: A DLT can remove the need for a third party actor, allowing participants in the network to transact directly.

From a humanitarian aid and international development perspective, blockchain can democratize the entire trust process between various donors, organizations, implementers, and beneficiaries. This increased transparency and openness reduces transactional friction. Since the ledger is owned and maintained by its users there is no need for a third party actor.

“To the extent that international NGOs function as guarantors of trust – trust that the funds donated will be used for an appropriate purpose, trust that the aid has been given to the right beneficiaries, trust that the development work that was contracted for was done on time and as specified – then NGOs too are poised for disruption.”

A Revolution in Trust, Ric Shreves (Mercy Corps)  

Still not sure what “the blockchain” is? You’re not alone. In our last cohort, we asked participants to describe their experience with blockchain… here’s how they answered:

Whether you’re just learning about DLTs for a particular project or if you consider yourself a  blockchain wiz, there’s still something to learn for everyone in this ever-changing space. Our Blockchain for International Development course is a great way to build your knowledge on this disruptive technology and build your network! With 10+ guest expert sessions, 15+ hands-on activities, and 200+ online participants, there’s something for everyone to gain.

Click here to enroll today! Class starts on Monday, September 10.

It has been two months since the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, went into full effect. The GDPR was passed by the European Union on May 25 and requires organizations to be accountable for protecting any personal information of anyone residing in the European Union—even if an organization is not physically located within the European Union.

The GDPR has already been enforced. In June, a regional court in Germany invoked the GDPR against a German company. In this first practical ruling of the GDPR, the German court decided that an internet domain register service needs to stop collecting data that can potentially be used to identify personal contact information—including addresses and phone numbers—of internet domain owners.

As organizations have continued to collect more sensitive personal data, it has become increasingly difficult for those providing their data—the users—to understand how their own personal information may be used to their benefit or detriment. Users may not even know how their personal data is connected to certain data footprints, as shown in the German court ruling in June.

A rights-based framework

To keep users instead of organizations at the center of the data privacy conversation, the European Union wrote the GDPR to ensure that personal data protection remains at the forefront of privacy policies and responsible data management.

Underpinning this hefty two-hundred-page data protection document is a new framework for digital communities and organizations to understand and uphold users’ rights to privacy, transparency, and security.

Organizations need to reflect this new framework. At TechChange, we are working to meet GDPR standards for our users and ensuring that our partners are learning how they can as well—be they in the international development sector or otherwise.

Responsibility to the user

Right now, the GDPR stands as an opportunity for organizations to rethink and improve how they are approaching data management in the wake of the regulation.

For example, the GDPR has stringent and specific requirements for highly-personalized data. A user’s biometric information—such as a fingerprint—is considered a special category of personal data under the regulation. This means that organizations using biometric data in their programs will need to follow a stricter set of requirements when managing that data over other indirect types of personal identifiable information, such as a user’s office address.

It ultimately falls to organizations who process personal data to make sure that they are doing so in a responsible, transparent, and compliant manner.

Outside of non-profit and public sectors, technology companies realize the need to change their priorities to promote users’ rights. Technology firms that worried more about security and compliance are adopting a more holistic approach to understanding data privacy of their users and customers. Companies are staffing up their cybersecurity divisions with data privacy officers, accountability officers, and digital risk analysts so that their teams and products can better meet the fundamental GDPR requirement of putting the user first.

It ultimately falls to organizations who process personal data to make sure that they are doing so in a responsible, transparent, and compliant manner. Minimizing data collection and cleaning up obsolete data is an excellent first step for improving an organization’s approach to handling personalized information.

On top of that, organizations need to be prepared to help users see and potentially delete their data should they request it. This process—also known as a subject access request in the regulation’s language—is critical to implement. It goes back to what the GDPR is all about: putting users in control of their personal data.

Organizations are continually learning from each other about how they can improve data management and comply with the GDPR. TechChange’s self-paced online course Introduction to GDPR provides a forum to learn about the regulation and share best practices and resources for data management.

The GDPR has evolved the global discussion about data privacy and it can certainly be leveraged to build better data practices while improving transparency between organizations and their users.

Going forward, TechChange will look at how the GDPR promotes the rights of users in digital communities and how the regulation will affect stakeholders outside of the international development sector—including education technology, open source software initiatives, and financial technologies.