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!

Kyriacos M. Koupparis, a USAID professional and a recent TechChange alum, completed our four week course “Blockchain for International Development” this past February.

He was able to use what he learned from the course to organize a three-day blockchain workshop for his fellow USAID staff and implementing partners in Bangkok, Thailand.

We recently reached out to Kyriacos to talk about his course experience and his inspiration for developing the blockchain workshop.

What inspired you to take the TechChange blockchain course?

Given the fervor surrounding blockchain, mostly due to the BitCoin frenzy in late 2017, I wanted to learn more about the topic. While there were many resources explaining the basics of blockchain and its potential impact, most of the resources I could find focused on cryptocurrencies and the financial industry. The TechChange blockchain course was very appealing because it tailored the content for blockchain novices as well as professionals from the international development sector. More importantly, I also wanted the opportunity to discuss and hear from others in the international development sector regarding their own doubts, expectations, or actual experiences with blockchain applications.

What were your biggest takeaways from the course?

Blockchain technology may have the potential to help us tackle existing development challenges and prepare governments for changes that are underway. Many use cases were discussed, including financial inclusion, agriculture, land tenure, health, trade, and transparency in governance. While this technology holds possibilities for helping tackle inequality and narrow the wealth gap, it also faces barriers to large-scale adoption and scale.

What impact did the course have on your work?

The course inspired me to develop and implement a 3-day training and workshop in order to  provide an opportunity for USAID staff and implementing partners to gain a deeper understanding of how blockchain technology works, understand the basic steps required to implement blockchain in a development project, discuss potential challenges and limitations, and examine case studies on the various potential use-cases in the international development sector including: financial inclusion, agriculture, supply chain tractability, land tenure,  remittances, identity,and other areas. The first 2-days were designed as a more “traditional” classroom style training, although we did have many guest speakers from tech companies that also participated in much of the group work embedded in the training agenda. The third day was an open workshop which was attended by representatives from the U.S. government, private sector tech companies, and international organizations to discuss applications of blockchain technology in the development sector. The workshop participants reviewed the latest in blockchain technology and discussed its current and potential applications in a wide array of development sectors. The sessions resulted in increased knowledge and awareness among donors and USG staff, as well as the formation of several nascent partnerships between private sector and NGOs that will be exploring the use of blockchain technology in energy trading and supply chain traceability.

You can learn more about the “Blockchain for International Development” course here. If you’re eager to try one of our courses right now, our “Tech for M&E” course starts July 30. Apply now to secure a spot.

Mitch recently joined the TechChange team as our GDPR Research Fellow! Mitch just graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada with a Masters in Public Policy, where he focused on digital development, data privacy, and technology policy.

We recently sat down with Mitch to learn more about his background and experience. Welcome to the team!

Q: Could you share a bit about your background before joining the TechChange team?

I started working in digital development at Cisco Systems, where I worked on improving telecommunications policy and connectivity in emerging markets. More recently, I completed a Fellowship with the UN Foundation’s Digital Impact Alliance, or DIAL, where I worked on the Principles for Digital Development.

Q: What originally interested you to join TechChange?

Training and evaluation is so important in this sector and I saw how TechChange is filling a unique gap that a lot of organizations face in learning from success and failure in digital development programs. Being involved in digital training for practitioners in this space is really interesting to meespecially when it comes to understanding how organizations are using data in increasingly different ways to solve challenges.

Q: What exactly are you going to be working on at TechChange over the next few months?

So, the General Data Protection Regulation (a bit long to write, so we can just say GDPR), is a regulation that came into effect on May 25 that really changes the way that technology-oriented organizations are dealing with personal and consumer data.

Last month, TechChange facilitated a course on how the GDPR is affectingand going to affectdonors and implementers in the international development sector. I will be working to better understand the implications behind this new regulation so that TechChange and its partners can offer timely, accurate, and constructive information as everyone tries to understand how the GDPR will affect them and how their relationship with personal data will shift.

Q: What interests you the most about this kind of work?

I’m really interested in understanding how NGOs working in the field are using data in different ways in their programs and in being a part of that training first-hand through TechChange’s learning platform. As more organizations continue to use technology and leverage mobile connectivity, questions around data privacy will continue to be asked. Going forward, finding out how to anticipate and answer those questions for development practitioners is crucial.

Q: Anything you look forward to working on or learning at TechChange in the next few months?

Outside of data privacy research, I am really looking forward to brushing up on my design skills and learning more about how TechChange’s instructional platform works as an online learning tool.

It’s really neat to see how TechChange has developed and used its online learning platform to inform and train both individuals and organizations on so many different aspects of international development. So, it will be exciting to see the platform in action over the next few months!

Q: Lastly, what’s something that not a lot of people know about you?

I competed in the provincial bobsled championships in Whistler, British Columbia, this spring. We went pretty fast down the ice142 kilometers an hourbut it wasn’t fast enough…We came in second place!

For the sixth year in a row, TechChange was honored to host three brilliant girls from the TechGirls State Program.

The program encourages Middle Eastern and North African teenage girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. In the next few weeks, they are traveling throughout the U.S. for the first time to visit technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Instagram.

This year we had Tatiana Kassem of Lebanon, Lara Saket of Jordan, and Meriam Boutaa of Algeria come to the our office and shadow our staff for the day.

They began their day by working with our creative team to create their own animated assets. Watch the animated asset they created below!



Next, we showed them the TechChange platform and helped them create two of their own custom courses, one on gene therapy and one highlighting the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa.

Finally, they learned how to use Articulate 360 by working with our instructional design team.

At the end of the day, we took some time to sit down with the girls and learn more about the program and their passions.

Q: What drew you to the TechGirls Program?

Tatiana: They take girls from the Middle East and encourage them to go in to the STEM field because in the Middle East girls usually go into teaching or liberal arts. But if a girl is passionate about going into the STEM field, she should be able to. Our gender should not be a factor when deciding future occupations or finding our passion. Even as kids, girl get barbies and boys get legos. TechGirls has been important in shifting that dialogue. It also encourages us to be leaders and change our communities. It has helped me build confidence and learn the importance of building relationships.

Lara: TechGirls encourages community service, getting involved in our communities, incorporating technology to make positive changes, and build projects in our home countries.

Meriam: TechGirls has helped me improve my confidence and leadership.

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

Meriam: When I go back to Algeria, I want to teach my friends, ages 14-17, about the TechGirls program to develop their personalities, be more open-minded, and have support in their communities. You have to start within your own community.

Tatiana: I want to teach younger generations and tackle the issue of illiteracy. I want to open them to new fields and build a curriculum with an internally motivated mindset. I want the youth to regain their passion and confidence. I want to do that through a blog. I also want to use my tech skills to innovate within the medical field in the future.

Lara: There is a lack of therapists in Jordan. I really want work with the refugees in Syria who are dealing with depression. I would like build a project around that. I also want to make a difference in public education in Jordan.

Q: What was your favorite part of the job shadow day at TechChange?

Tatiana: I enjoyed being familiar with the work for the future and gaining the knowledge and meeting everyone at TechChange!

Meriem: I was always curious about how animations worked and today I learned how to make one. I thought it would be hard but you guys made it fun and easy.

Lara: Today, I felt like I saw my future. I enjoyed working with the creative team and I know that is what I would like to do.

Always a pleasure to have you here TechGirls, thanks for joining us!

This article was written and contributed by Kate McAlpine , Director of CCR Tanzania.

Community for Children’s Rights [CCR] is a Tanzanian social enterprise that is building and mobilizing a community of civically minded citizens across Eastern and Southern Africa who will act to prevent and protect children from violence. At our core is a commitment to enabling people to tell their story, and to manifesting new realities of solidarity and collective action.

We want to shift a critical mass of citizens from a perspective of saying “It’s none of my business” when they see a child suffer to one where they take the first protective action.

Once we have identified and mapped the location of people who have a predisposition to protect children, we offer them the opportunity to build their toolbox, so that they can take decisions that are in children’s best interests. We assume that it is possible to offer these citizens a transformative experience in a digital and mobile space.


This is where our relationship with TechChange comes in. It provides an opportunity to ally with a like-minded, entrepreneurial partner who is keen to experiment. The online learning platform provided by TechChange helps us to reach protectors at scale; and in this way, amplify our impact.



We have traditionally facilitated learning with our child protectors through face-to-face dialogues and courses that create a space to build relationships. Facilitators and learners connect in the spirit of empathy and mutual curiosity. Now our partnership with TechChange presents us with a challenge: “Is it possible to build these deep connections in an online space?”

Our initial sense from prototyping our first course on the TechChange platform is that the platform allows us to mimic the face-to-face learning environment to an extent. Through the Members page and active forum interactions on the platform, we have designed  journeys that start with learners’ experience and reality and scaffolds off that.



Learners and facilitators are able to connect on their own terms, meaning that they can engage at a time of day that suits them; and at the same time courses need sufficient structure so that participants can log-in at the same time and experience real-time conversation with their peers. The TechChange platform admin dashboard further provides real-time analytics of how our participants are engaging with the platform. The platform also has the capacity to design courses that tap into multiple ways of learning.



The keys to effective learning do not only lie in the design of the course and platform on which it is delivered. It is also critical to target learners who are committed to their own development; and to provide a space and incentive for learners to pursue their own development once the course is complete. With this in mind; CCR is targeting citizens who already demonstrate a track record of taking actions to protect children.



We incentivise their involvement in our community of citizens for change by offering them access to the online courses on a freemium basis. The TechChange platform model further  supports our freemium model, in addition to the flexibility of supporting payments if we decide to use other non-freemium models in the future. Finally, once the course is over we continue to involve them in community conversations with other protectors; via social media, community meet-ups, information sharing.

Skeptics tend to argue that Africans will not adapt to online learning environments; because of the unfamiliarity of the medium and the costs associated with access to data. Our experience so far contests this. As the unfolding enthusiasm for e-commerce in Africa reveals, there is a huge latent demand that is ready to be tapped.

We believe that the high-quality online learning opportunities at TechChange are a huge opportunity for actors such as CCR who are concerned with identifying, equipping and mobilizing citizens for change across the Continent.


Despite abruptly having to stop his university studies, Benjamin Flomo was able to find a career as an M&E professional after completing TechChange’s Technology for Monitoring and Evaluating Diploma Track in June 2017. Benjamin shared his experience with us below.

Q: How did you find out about TechChange?

I was studying Mining Engineering at the University of Liberia for about four years. Unfortunately things got difficult and I had to drop out of the college with no skill, degree, or experience.

I started to look for jobs to support myself and family, but it was difficult due to not having a degree. At the end of 2015 after the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, I decided to travel to the countryside to look for opportunities.

Fortunately, I got an Internship with IBIS Liberia as an Administrative Intern, and I started a newsletter for the Institution covering the program’s activities each month. Suddenly, their Monitoring and Evaluation Officer resigned in a very tight time and I was offered the post of Monitoring, Evaluation, and Communication Assistant. Due to my lack of technical experience in Monitoring and Evaluation, I looked for online courses that would build my experience and skill for the new profession.

I took almost three months searching for some good online courses until I found the Diploma for Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation with the Institute for Technology and Social Change (TechChange). I took a week or so to study the website and the content of materials (modules) that were designed for the entire Diploma Track Package. The modules were quite impressive, and I found that the lessons offered were what I needed to become a full Monitoring and Evaluation professional and more.

I got even more motivated from the blog and I made the decision to enroll after I contacted TechChange’s CEO Nick Martin and other TechChange staff. I started the Diploma Track in March 2017 and completed it in July 2017.

Thanks to TechChange, I am having to decide between two different opportunities presently. My present employer has decided to increase my salary and extend my contract because of a competing offer from Handicap International.

Q: How have you been able to use what you learned at TechChange in your work?

After completing the course, I got my first contract in August 2017 with Handicap International to conduct an assessment for an emergency project called RASP (Rehabilitation and Social Protection) as a data officer.

In December 2017, I worked as an M&E Consultant for a local NGO, WYCF (Wi Yone Child Foundation) to set up their M&E framework and database.

In February 2018, I started working with SOLTHIS (Therapeutic Solidarity and Initiatives for Health) as a data officer to conduct the baseline survey for the TB Speed Project and to develop a database for the ITPC (International Treatment Preparedness Coalition) – CTO (Community Treatment Observatory) Project for NETHIPS (Network of HIV Positives) Sierra Leone.

Thanks to TechChange, I am having to decide between two different opportunities presently. My present employer has decided to increase my salary and extend my contract because of a competing offer from Handicap International.

Q: How would you describe your TechChange journey?

I completed my secondary education in 2007 with the St. Christopher Catholic High School in Kakata City, Margibi County – Liberia with 6 credits, enrolled in 2010 into the University of Liberia becoming an Honor Student for two years but unfortunately left because of some financial issues. This left me without a degree, money, experience, and skill after four years of studies. On the other hand; I spent just five months with TechChange in a Diploma Program called Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation and I got everything and even more than what I expected. Today with the help of TechChange, I have built a career that I cannot even imagine. Presently, I am attending an international University; BlueCrest College of Technology – Sierra Leone studying up on software engineering while jobs are available to me. I am proud to say, “I am a M&E Professional with strong database development skills”. What are you waiting for… find yourself a career within international development today by joining the TechChange community.


TechChange’s M&E Diploma Track is back this July. Find out more here. Register now to reserve your seat in our fall cohort and be one step closer to taking your M&E career to the next level.

Nancy recently joined the TechChange team as an Instructional Design fellow! She is a rising junior from Swarthmore College, where she studies Political Science and Peace and Conflict Studies.

We recently sat down with Nancy to learn more about her background and experience. Welcome to the team!

Q: So… how are your first weeks at TechChange going?

I am wrapping up my first two weeks at TechChange and they have been spectacular! I am learning how to use Articulate Storyline 360 to create online courses and I think I’m getting the hang of it! I look forward to the upcoming weeks ahead and to all the knowledge, skills, and experiences that I will gain here at TechChange.

Q: Could you share a bit about your background before joining the TechChange team?

My background mostly stems from being a teacher in other parts of the globe. Last summer, I worked at the Collateral Repair Project (CRP), an American NGO that provides aid services to urban refugees in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Amman, Jordan. At CRP, I taught English to adult refugees and facilitated the children’s summer camp. My job included creating a well-paced curriculum for the beginner’s English class that I taught independently, as well as designing lesson plans for the children’s camp activities. Along with teaching classes, I facilitated conversations, proctored/graded tests, and corrected everyday homework. It was an immensely rewarding experience overall because I got to work with students who were genuinely eager to learn, and I was supporting a largely overlooked community in Amman. I also volunteered at an underprivileged community center during my time in Morocco, where I helped facilitate an after-school program for children. In most of these contexts, I have had to teach in environments where there is a lack of resources and materials. For example, there was never enough books for all the students in Amman so I would have to photocopy papers for everyone, and I constantly imagine how different the situation could have been if the information was digitized and the technological resources were more widely available. I think online learning is such a promising complement to traditional styles of learning in places all over the world, and it is why I am at TechChange!

Q: What originally interested you in joining TechChange?

Much of what the team does at TechChange aligns with the work I am trying to do next summer in southern Egypt as a Swarthmore Lang Scholar. My Lang Opportunity Scholarship (LOS) project, Agents of Resilience, aims to address the lack of educational/employment opportunities available to young orphaned women of the Coptic community (ethno-religious minority) as result of institutionalized religious persecution, societal stigma, lack of opportunities due to underdevelopment, and sexism. This project is meant to start a basic computer literacy mentoring program and certification process in the underdeveloped southern region of Egypt. In the hopes of keeping my project sustainable, I was assessing the feasibility of implementing online learning as a solution. When discussing my project and summer plans with some Swarthmore professors, one of them recommended that I look into TechChange for a fellowship. After talking with the CEO and connecting with some Swarthmore students who were already working there, I knew that this was where I wanted to be!

Q: How does Instructional Design fit into your interests?

As someone who is very interested in international development, I see huge potential in online learning as a method to help empower people all over the globe. I believe that once online learning is widely accessible, easy to navigate, and engaging to the learner, the possibilities for change are endless. I am interested in improving the education system in southern Egypt (starting with my project Agents of Resilience), and I think that eLearning is a good way to enhance and complement the system already in place.

Q: What is one thing that you’d love to learn or do this summer?

Along with decrypting all the secrets behind instructional design and curriculum building, I would love to spend time and learn from the other teams in the office as well. Everyone at TechChange has such a diverse skill set, and I think this is such a unique opportunity to learn from the people around me since TechChange makes it so easy for me to do so. At some point during my summer, I would love to learn from the creative and tech teams or delve deeper into fields that I know very little about like film/photography. Being at TechChange also means that I am constantly learning no matter what, even if it is from the courses that I am building, and I think that in itself is truly spectacular.

Q: Lastly, what’s something that not a lot of people know about you?

The birthday stated on all my official documents and forms of ID including my birth certificate is not my real birthday. I was actually born on March 22nd in the middle of the day but my mother really wanted me to be born on Egyptian Mother’s Day which is March 21st so she made it happen. Every year, I celebrate my birthday on the 21st (the date my mother fabricated), which is to say, I have fully embraced this scam.

Learning Machine Technologies, architect of the Blockcerts open standard with the MIT Media Lab, is the world leader in blockchain-based digital credentials. With a standards-based, in-market Issuing System for multi-chain issuing and self-sovereign digital identity, their offering is revolutionizing the way businesses in all sectors issue and verify claims and the way individuals understand and use their digital identities.

This September, we will be issuing our course certificates for our next Blockchain for International Development course on the blockchain with Learning Machine! Natalie Smolenski, Learning Machine’s VP of Business Development, walked us through the process (which you can learn more about below) and will be featured in the course as one of our guest experts!

Q: In a few sentences, what is Learning Machine and what is the problem you’re trying to solve?

Learning Machine is a global firm that deploys best-in-class credentialing systems for governments, corporations, and educational institutions using the blockchain as a secure anchor of trust. Today, people don’t own their official records–instead they rely on a cumbersome human verification process which collapses the moment a software provider or issuing institution ceases to operate or loses the records. This not only holds back economic development–making it more difficult for people to get jobs, sell property, or start businesses, for example–but leaves entire populations vulnerable to losing all record of their achievements in the event of catastrophes like war or natural disasters. With Blockcerts, individuals cryptographically own their digital records forever and can independently verify them anywhere in the world, instantly and for free. No ongoing dependency on Learning Machine or any other vendor.  

Q: How are decentralized credentials different from what I might get from my university registrar?

Any credential you currently receive from your registrar–digital or paper–must be verified in some way by that registrar in order to serve as a gateway to opportunity. This means that it’s not enough for you to have a copy of your credential–you generally can’t use it, because only “official” versions of the credential, verified directly by the issuer every time, can be used. So you can’t, for example, Snapchat your transcript to an admissions committee, because they can’t verify it that way. Decentralized credentials, on the other hand, are digital credentials that you directly own. They are tamper-evident–meaning that if anyone tries to edit them, verification will immediately fail. You can send them to anyone you want and they can verify them instantly and for free–without ever needing to check with the issuing institution. Decentralized credentials mean that even if your school goes out of business or you have to flee your country, you can still keep your records and have them verified.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you face in gaining adoption and traction?

The blockchain is still pretty new, and people are on a learning curve to understand what it is and why it’s better than a traditional database for some things (like decentralized verification). There is also a lot of FUD out there about blockchains–a lot of misinformation that people have to battle against to find their real value. But the world is already well on its way to making blockchain mainstream. Like the internet, it’s just a matter of time before everyone starts using it for some things–without needing to know what it is or how it works.

Q: What are some compelling examples and case studies of Learning Machine in action?

Every day there are new announcements about company x, y or z intending to do this or that with the blockchain, but Learning Machine actually delivers. Our software has been used to issue Blockcerts since Summer 2017, when MIT launched its Digital Diplomas project. Since then, many other universities have joined and issued their own credentials. Countries like Malta have rolled out Blockcerts certification nationwide, issuing blockchain credentials to students in both K-12 and Higher Education. The Bahamas is now following suit, using Blockcerts to certify graduates of their National Apprenticeship Programme. There is no shortage of countries and companies wanting to start their own blockchain certification projects next.

Q: What else should people know about Learning Machine?

Think of Learning Machine as the blockchain A-Team: we can do things few others can do. In addition to world-class engineers (we co-chair the W3C Credentials Community Group building the next generation of blockchain-based identity), we’re a team of philosophers, artists, and social scientists out to tip the balance of power toward the individual in a world where that seems increasingly impossible. Verifiable credentials are just the first step toward maximizing human potential through groundbreaking technology. Every human being is, after all, a Learning Machine.

To enroll in our next offering of Blockchain for International Development, click here!

Techchange Alumnus Zach Tilton reflects on why he enrolled in our M&E Diploma program and what he gained from the experience.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I am a 13th-generation Floridian, a Returned Mormon Missionary (Las Vegas, 07-09) a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Morocco, 13-15), a Rotary Peace Fellow (Class XV, Bradford, UK, 16-17), a surfer, a skateboarder, a husband, and a father. My educational background and professional experience lie at the intersection of peacebuilding, evaluation, and technology. I am currently a Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow with the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) at the United Nations Foundation, where I support the generation of evidence for what works in ICT4D initiatives by implementing organizational M&E systems, facilitating internal learning exercises, and conducting landscape research on the impact technology has in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Q: How did you hear about TechChange?

A:Taking cues from what I learned in the Tech for M&E Diploma, I decided to turn to my personal data to answer this question through some crude process tracing using my emails and journals. The first instance of TechChange appearing in my inbox was 2013, and since that time there have been 10 emails, 4 years, 1 happy hour, and Skype 1 consultation that contributed to me ‘hearing’ about and ultimately enrolling with TechChange for the Tech for M&E Diploma in early 2017.

Q: Why did you decide to enroll in the Tech for M&E Diploma?

A: Throughout all the nudges mentioned in the previous answer, I was doing evaluative work in the development and peacebuilding sectors and participating in PeaceTech community, but found myself struggling to keep up with all the developments in the ICT4D/PeaceTech spaces. I knew I needed to get serious about investing time in coming up to speed with the role technology was playing this these spaces, so when I returned to school for my graduate work I made the decision to supplement my master’s with the Tech for M&E Diploma.

“The diploma grounded my graduate studies, enlarged my body of knowledge and technical proficiency, and not only exposed me to the work of my current employer, but gave me the confidence to submit my job application with an assurance that I was a competitive candidate. “

Q: How has the diploma impacted your work?

A: The Tech for M&E Diploma provided me a vantage point to develop a working proficiency with the concepts, tools, and resources practitioners use to enhance efforts for accountability and learning in the development and peacebuilding sectors. I was provided the space to explore, experiment, and in some cases, fail with new and emerging tools for data collection, analysis, and reporting. I had access to thought leaders and made connections with other professionals who brought their real-world M&E challenges to the diploma track for all of us to benefit from as developing case studies. The diploma grounded my graduate studies, enlarged my body of knowledge and technical proficiency, and not only exposed me to the work of my current employer, but gave me the confidence to submit my job application with an assurance that I was a competitive candidate.

Q: What would be an advice to other participants taking a TechChange Diploma program? How can they get the most out of it?

A: Enrolling in the TechChange Diploma program is just the first step. Make sure to set aside time each week to spend with the material, the webcasts, and doing the exercises. Take advantage of the great opportunity to network with other professionals among your fellow students. Finally, regardless of your status, student, employee, contractor, hobbyist, full-time or part-time, make the material applicable to a current project you are working on, or one you have wanted to work on. It made all the difference for me.


TechChange’s M&E Diploma Track is back this July. Find out more here. Register now to reserve your seat in our fall cohort and be one step closer to taking your M&E knowledge and project to the next level.