'Tackling Real World Issues': Hackers at ETH New York Build Apps Geared Towards Social Change

A New York Blockchain Week ended last Friday we spent time at an ethereum hackathon where developers came together to build blockchain tools with social impact.

AccessTimeIconMay 19, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 9:13 a.m. UTC
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If building decentralized financial applications was the motto topic of Ethereal, the ethereum hackathon ETH New York was all about discussing the social impact of such applications.

Speaking to a group of high school students at ETH New York, Mariano Conti – head of smart contracts at the MakerDAO Foundation – asked foundational questions surrounding decentralized financial applications like, "How do you protect your money?" and "What if banks decided you do not own your money?"

"This whole movement is called decentralized finance," said Conti. "We're going to see a lot of projects being created around that. It'll hopefully be what my kids are going to use."

Specifically targeted towards a younger generation, Conti and the MakerDAO teamed up with children's non-profit UNICEF and ethereum startup Bounties Network to create the Surge track at ETH New York.

The Surge track features talks and bounties geared towards educating high-school students about the basic of blockchain. The program runs through topics like "What is a smart contract?" and "How to set up a [crypto] wallet."

What's more the bounties associated with these sessions were not primarily of a technical nature but rather a creative one. The Surge session hosted by MakerDAO awarded students 5 DAI or about $5 for creating a MakerDAO or DAI internet meme, writing a "short rap verse about using DAI," or making a fun hashtag about the application.


The teams and sponsors

Creating conversations about decentralized finance and blockchain more generally was not only the focus of programming at ETH New York but also the primary focus of several hacking teams this year.

Will Shahda – a self-employed consultant in dapps and smart contracts – along with four other developers hacked together a decentralized application (dapp) to support life insurance on the ethereum blockchain.

Their application, while leveraging blockchain technology, was really about highlighting what Shahda called the present "dystopian level of capitalism where there's an insane invasion of privacy."

"The best use case for blockchain is privacy. What we're building calls attention to the permanent immutability of a blockchain and the storage of sensitive and private data on it," said Shahda. "It's about creating a conversation."

Freelance developer Tal Zisckind put together an ethereum wallet application for the visually impaired in order to spark conversation around application accessibility.

"My dad, he can't use a wallet. He's cut off from those services," said Zisckind. "He's not a stupid person. It's about building applications to be inclusive for everyone."


ETH New York sponsors awarded those teams that had a strong focus on social impact and the greater good.

"I hope to see applications tackling real world issues," said Oskar Paolini at blockchain startup TORUS. TORUS sponsored a total of seven different bounties at ETH New York collectively totaling $8,000.

Paolini told CoinDesk:

"I'm sick of your bots, kitties, zombies, your 'gotcha' games...There's a lot of games but now it's about industrial application. That's where market demand is right now."

To Paolini's point, UNICEF France posted a 10 ETH bounty equivalent to roughly $2,300 for hacking teams that built an application to support the accountability and transparency of a real world project called Project Connect.

"We're testing the rails of how this would work in the real world and understanding conceptually what way we should approach [blockchain for it,]" said Christina Lomazzo, blockchain lead at UNICEF Innovations. "This is the first bounties hackathon for Project Connect. It's the first time we're putting the project out to the broader blockchain world."

Lomazzo said:

"We're very much in the mentality that the more ideas, the better, especially in the beginning. There's so many different ways to construct [Project Connect]...I think we're really excited to hear from people and get their contributions."

UNICEF image by Christine Kim 


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