Finance, Development and Digitalization

Smart contracts, digital identities and development without humans

We have become interested in the recent drive to the digitalisation of social policy interventions in the global South, mobilised around buzzwords such as digital identities, smart contracts and blockchain. Mainly driven by start-up entrepreneurs, coders and software developers, a range of initiatives have been emerging lately that experiment with such novel technologies to innovate already existing market-based approaches for societal and ecological challenges. The key motive behind these initiatives is to optimise the transparency and traceability around the financing and implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, collect high-quality impact data about projects’ performances and, in doing so, increase the market’s overall attractiveness for investors. At the same time, proponents propagate these innovations alongside a host of promises reminiscent of well-known development tropes such as financial inclusion, empowerment, democratisation and the visibilisation of the poor.

We aim to study tokenised impact economies as a phenomenon emerging at the crossroad of two trends in development policymaking: one, the recent shift towards the financialisation of development funding. Two, the marketisation of pro-poor development policy and the growing importance of behavioural and experimental economics. In particular, we are interested in the ways in which tokenised impact economies are assembled and realised on the ground. A particular emphasis lies on the role played by novel digital technologies and their interplay with human actors. On the level of individuals, we ask how do they address and affect involved individuals in concrete development projects and how do they enrol certain behaviours? This account will provide important insights for better understanding the complex links between finance, behavioural economics and the role of novel digital technology in making markets work for the poor.