Linking Blockchain Technology and Social Impact

Blockchain technology—an encrypted and decentralized ledger that is used to anonymously record information and transactions—is often associated with cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin. By participating in Blockchain Learning Group’s (BLG) Hack 4 Change, eight of Havergal’s Senior School students had the opportunity to learn an alternate application of the technology: making a difference through positive social impact.

The six-day workshop comprised 50 students from the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario, who worked in teams to identify, design and present solutions to a selected UN Sustainable Development Goal, using blockchain technology. The activities were created to challenge the students’ design thinking with regards to the end-user’s empathy, ideation prototyping and pitching, while broadening their understanding of the technology. “The workshop helped students to understand that it isn’t just a platform for cryptocurrency, but rather a concept that will change the way we do business and interact with each other and the world,” says Havergal’s Vice Principal of Student Engagement & Experiential Learning, Garth Nichols, who lead the school’s involvement in Hack 4 Change.

Havergal’s team chose to focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, specifically, the global issue of fair trade, using a sportswear company as their example. “Since there have been a lot of ethical issues in factories, we thought it would be a good application of blockchain technology for our program to try to create transparency in the supply chain,” says Elena Neretlis, Grade 12.

The students took on various roles depending on their interests and skill set. The coders strengthened their developer and computer technology skills by learning a new programming language while the presenters sharpened their research, strategy and public speaking abilities. “Blockchain technology is very complicated, so it takes a lot of time to understand it. Not only did it increase my understanding of the technical side, but also the business side, which helped me to see the bigger picture,” says Fidan Sadig, Grade 10.

The opportunity also gave students a glimpse at what it would be like to work at a start-up company, which requires impeccable teamwork, time-management and problem-solving skills. “Working in a start-up environment and going through the ideation and development process, you learn a lot about yourself and how you work with other people,” says Antonia Knoth, Grade 11. “Participating in the workshop was incredibly valuable,” she says.

One obstacle to the progression of the technology is the lack of trained developers in the marketplace. Women are often underrepresented in STEM-related fields and the blockchain industry is no exception, as 95 per cent of the industry’s enthusiasts and investors are male1. “Diversity is the key to changing the way we solve problems as a society and the inclusion of women in this particular field is vital,” says Nichols.

The workshop that Havergal helped design and participate in was recently mentioned in an article in Forbes magazine, which highlights BLG’s vision to bridge the talent gap by creating more opportunities for high school students. BLG plans to partner with 1,000 schools throughout Canada and Australia to help familiarize both educators and students to the possibilities of blockchain2.

Havergal’s Limitless Campaign will create new spaces on campus—including a Makerspace and technology education classrooms at the Upper School, along with a STEM classroom in the Junior School—that will expand students’ knowledge of emerging technologies. “By building these new spaces, we are recognizing, validating, developing and celebrating STEM as an area that is highly valued,” says Nichols.

The students felt that the opportunity added to their value proposition as they look forward to post-secondary education and their careers. “More and more organizations continue to adopt blockchain technology and understanding it will give us an advantage as we enter the workforce,” says Knoth. Nichols hopes that Havergal’s new spaces and the opportunities available to students will further contribute to their confidence in STEM-related fields.

1. Why Aren’t There More Women in Blockchain? Science Friday. 2018.

2. R. Huang. The First Program to Train High School Girls with Blockchain Skills. Forbes. 2019.