The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum that brings together world leaders was held at Davos, Switzerland, January 22-25, 2019. During this week, several prominent events not associated with the WEF are organized in Davos. IEEE Blockchain Initiative partnered with Emerging Technologies (EmTech) Investment Meeting to organize an “IEEE Panel: 2019 – Blockchain for social impact. Are we ready?”. The panel was held at the Intercontinental hotel in Davos on January 21st, 2019. This panel was sponsored by the IEEE Blockchain Initiative and IEEE Region 8. The panel was organized by Ramesh Ramadoss (Co-Chair, IEEE Blockchain Initiative; CEO, BitCasas Inc.), Alina Gratschner (IEEE Switzerland Blockchain; CEO, Xmind), and Mark Greenslade (Chair, IEEE Switzerland Blockchain and Decentralised Working Group).

The EmTech welcome reception started at 6 PM with a networking cocktail dinner and drinks. The IEEE panel started at 6:45 PM with an opening speech by Ramesh Ramadoss. He briefly discussed various activities of the IEEE Blockchain Initiative. As part of the community development, a dozen IEEE blockchain groups were launched all over the world in 2018 (Silicon Valley, South Korea, Shanghai, Bangalore, Beijing, Dallas, Waterloo, Latvia, Cleveland, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Ukraine). He mentioned that this panel was organized as part of the launch of the IEEE Switzerland Blockchain Group.

The panel was moderated by Aaron Stanley, Live Journalism Editor at CoinDesk. The panelists include Raphael Auer, Principal Economist, Bank for International Settlements; Sheila Warren, Project Head, Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology, World Economic Forum; Alina Gratschner, IEEE Switzerland Blockchain, Founder & CEO, Xmind; Prof. Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Director, MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program; and Vanessa Grellet, President, Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition and Executive Director, Consensys.

Aaron Stanley (Moderator) mentioned that just like any other new technology there were a lot of expectations from blockchain. The panel discussed the high-level take-aways from 2018 in the blockchain for social impact space. The panel also discussed about what worked and what did not work. The panel further discussed about re-calibrating expectations and what they would like to see in 2019. Some of the key points from the panel discussion are summarized here. Raphael Auer discussed about the status of the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) and a report published by the Central Bank Research Association (CEBRA), which is an association of central banks all over the world. Sheila Warren brought to our attention a whitepaper published by WEF on blockchain. She urged that we need to focus on problems affecting broader adoption and distribution network. Alina Gratschner pointed out that in the blockchain field we are at a time comparable to the dotcom burst when there was too much noise and only after the burst various players started to emerge. Prof. Alex “Sandy” Pentland mentioned that there has been confusion between cryptocurrency and blockchain. He clarified that blockchain is just a fault tolerant computer. He shared several use cases including filing tax returns on blockchain and identity on blockchain. Vanessa Grellet mentioned that many projects wanted to ride on the blockchain hype and in some projects, it is hard to justify the use of blockchain for the social impact use case. She is excited about the involvement of governments in the blockchain space. She mentioned the use of blockchain for land registry as an example. The audience (~100) included a mix of entrepreneurs, technology enthusiasts, and investors interested in emerging technologies.

In the closing round, Aaron Stanley (Moderator) asked the panelist to comment on the biggest challenge that need to be overcome in 2019 to gain traction on the blockchain for social impact space. Alina Gratschner mentioned about the challenges and opportunities enabled by blockchain for data management and she is excited about new models and solutions in the impact investment field and further ways to drive financial and social inclusion. Raphael Auer talked about the regulation challenges and he does not think CBDC will be widely available for the next 12 months. Sheila Warren pointed out some of the challenges associated with legal enforcement of smart contracts and is excited about micro-credit accounting and micropayments that could enable new economic models. Prof. Alex “Sandy” Pentland discussed about the challenges in digital identity and its effect on GDP. He is excited about projects on digital rights and integration of smart contracts into the legal system. Vanessa Grellet discussed about the challenges in blockchain education and lack of developers. She is excited about building sustainable local communities enabled by emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI and autonomous systems.

The closing speech was delivered by Mark Greenslade, Chair, IEEE Switzerland Blockchain and Decentralised Systems Group. He announced the official launch of the group.