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From Crypto to Community: How volunteers are using cryptos to aid the homeless

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If the cryptocurrency market or a digital asset is solving a problem, it’s going to drive some value

– Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple Labs

Nagaland has a penchant for music and culture, much like the other states in the North-East of India. Home to numerous tribes, the state has a plethora of unique dance forms and music. And, if you were to bump into a random person on the streets and happen to strike a conversation, chances are high that they would introduce themselves as musicians.

Tuden Jamir is one among many music aficionados in this small, but beautiful state. A resident of Nagaland’s largest city, Dimapur, Tuden is a singer and a songwriter. He also has his own YouTube channel with around 1.43k subscribers, one which he uses to stylishly shoot music videos featuring himself.

“I like to make music, but that’s not my profession. It’s something bigger than a hobby. You can say it’s my passion,” Tuden told me, trying very hard to hide a smile.

That’s not all that keeps Tuden occupied though.

Back in January, Nagaland was hit by a punishing cold wave. At the time, night temperatures plummeted sharply and as is the case most of the time, it was the poor and the homeless who bore the brunt of it. Thanks to a new generation, however, one including Tuden, the underprivileged in the region finally have some much-needed help. In fact, Tuden is now part of an army of charitable volunteers who routinely help the poor by handing out essential supplies like food and blankets to them.

“Most of the time, it was only food. But earlier this year, I did distribute blankets. A bunch of blankets because it was getting really cold here.”

Charity, when looked at from the lens of donations, comes in many shapes and forms. For some, the easiest way to do it is by making a contribution to an organization like Oxfam or Amnesty International. Others rely on a more personal touch, by personally volunteering to distribute essential items to those in need. Tuden is one of the latter.

Now, one can be forgiven to think that since this act falls under the bracket of a social service, Tuden foots the entire bill of these essentials from his own pocket. Well, not really!

Here’s what actually happens – Tuden purchases the essentials, gets a receipt prepared for everything, distributes it among people, presents his proof-of-work, and then he gets reimbursed immediately. Sounds interesting, right? Well, that’s not even the best part.

He gets the reimbursements not in Indian Rupee or U.S Dollar, but in cryptocurrencies.

Social welfare has a new ally – Crypto

Tuden is associated with a non-profit organization called Crypto For The Homeless (CFTHL) which uses cryptocurrencies to reimburse volunteers who deliver supplies and food to the homeless around the world. The organization relies on donations, available in over 20 cryptocurrencies, to fund the project.

Tuden, like many who populate the crypto-space today, once had just a mere passing interest in cryptos. Even then, he used to shy away from investing owing to the seemingly complicated nature of these digital assets. An asset class that has a history of overwhelming and even, intimidating people.

The last three years have been different, however. Soon enough, he started to read up on and research different coins and projects. Slowly and surely, he got hooked to the to the enigmatic world of cryptos.

Ergo, the question – How does one make the leap from a curious interest in cryptos to something personal and philanthropic like CFTHL? According to the volunteer,

“I used to visit Reddit often. I think it was the cryptocurrency subreddit where someone posted about it. And after that, I got curious. And the thing is, I’ve never distributed food and things like that before. But then, I love cryptos at the same time. So it felt like a perfect time to try it out.”

Crypto-donations are not something out of the blue though. During the peak of the second COVID-19 wave in India, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin transferred cryptos worth millions to several non-profit organizations in the country. In fact, this was one of the largest individual philanthropic efforts in history.

In 2022 too, in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, crypto-donations surged across the board. In fact, according to reports, over $70M in cryptos was raised for the same.

Even so, organized setups which leverage the utility of cryptos in solving day-to-day problems of the needy and resourceless are frankly, too few and far between.

Tuden during a distribution drive; Source: Crypto For The Homeless

Enter CFTHL

CFTHL is the brainchild of Kenneth Kim (Ken), a pharmacist based in Pennsylvania, USA. Like Tuden, Ken’s motivations behind launching CFTHL were grounded in the need to help and support the homeless and the poor. When asked about the same, Ken told AMBCrypto,

I would drive to my pharmacy school in Philadelphia from my home. I had to walk a couple of blocks to go to school after I parked my car. And every single day, I would see a lot of homeless people. I thought maybe I could do something for them.”

Now, it’s one thing to start a charity. Integrating the same effort with something as novel and technical like cryptocurrencies, however, is a whole another ball game. Why then was Ken so keen on marrying the two?

Well, as unusual as it may sound, it was 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 that did the trick. According to the exec, the dystopian film birthed in Ken the idea of digital currencies – A dark future where even the poor can hold something like a barcode so that people can donate credits.

“The image of the homeless people in the movie, it’s controversial and quite sad to see that happen. But it struck me that there was a way for people to donate money to them by utilizing the strength of the Internet.”

Needless to say, despite what audiences or critics might think, Denis Villeneuve’s film might have had a greater impact than was previously predicted.

Are cryptos the right bet?

The volatility of cryptocurrencies has been one of the most-discussed topics over the past decade. Bitcoin, and by extension the market’s other cryptos, have often associated with unanticipated rallies and crashes. In the mainstream, this has fueled the notion that BTC and other crypto-assets cannot be relied on thanks to such volatility. However, this take lacks nuance and tact and perspective.

Even so, that’s not the point being made here. The point is these wild swings have enticed risk-taking traders to its fold, traders who bet on an ever-increasing price in anticipation of riches. Result – Bitcoin and the crypto-market have been reduced to being speculative assets rather than utility-driven currencies being used for daily transactions.

Ergo, the question – Do they then qualify as reliable assets for a social initiative?

According to CFTHL’s Kenneth Kim, what matters most for him is the convenience of sending funds internationally without the hassles of traditional banking transfers like wiring fees.

“People don’t have to convert their currency to USD, rather just send cryptos and then we record the value at the time of donation irrespective of the fluctuation which may occur after.”

Here, it’s worth noting that to its credit, CFTHL maintains a public ledger which tracks all reimbursements, donations, and receipts associated with the project.

Additionally, 99% of the organization’s donations have been in cryptos, despite there being an option of paying in fiat currencies. Moreover, most of the volunteers have also asked to be reimbursed in cryptocurrencies.

Over the last few years, these findings have only validated Ken’s assertion that crypto-fueled donations fill a significant void in the market. In fact, when speaking to AMBCrypto, Ken confidently claimed that he expected this to happen as people who will show interest in the project are more likely to be crypto-enthusiasts.

At the time of writing, CFTHL seemed to be accepting 24 different cryptos as donations. Since its launch, the organization has received donations worth more than $75,000. This, as per the latest data on their public ledger.

Soldiers on the ground

CFTHL has built a sizeable network of volunteers internationally, cutting across continents and countries. Right now, the biggest volunteer group is in New Zealand, while the organization has a significant presence in Paraguay, Australia, Canada, South Korea and India too.

Managing volunteers who are spread out across different parts of the globe could thus be a daunting task. The problem gets compounded due to the virtual nature of the work and there is a possibility of bluff in the name of social service. Hence, the question – How does the organization ascertain the veracity of the volunteering work?

Ken credited this to the stringent volunteer onboarding process where a detailed page of information is sent immediately when anyone inquires about volunteering. He then personally gets in touch with the concerned volunteers to explain what the organization is looking for as proof.

“This is an Internet-based organization and internet is very, very skeptical. So the images that are provided to us which will be used on our social media have to pass a certain level, like an eye test.”

After volunteers are done handing out food and goods, they are required to click a photo of themselves holding a CFTHL flyer. The flyer is nothing but a paper having the barcodes of the different crypto-wallets of the organization.

The flyer was developed to make the project more discoverable. It allows people on the Internet to locate CFTHL’s website, social handles, and even donate cryptos to the wallets.

Source: Crypto For The Homeless

According to Ken, the project is fortunate enough to attract a lot of people as unlike many not-for-profit organizations, CFTHL neither pays salary to its volunteers nor covers their miscellaneous expenses like gas, parking, etc. This has worked out well among the charitable crowd of volunteers working with CFTHL.

For example – Tuden, sitting almost 7000 miles away in Nagaland, is quite satisfied with the state of affairs at CFTHL. In fact, as far as his personal experience is concerned, the reimbursement process has been painless.

“They would reimburse the amount within 24 hours of showing the evidence, sometimes it’s even less than that. And the thing is, even if they’re going to take a bit of time, they”ll let me know ahead of time.”

Does CFTHL unlock the true potential of cryptos?

According to the United Nations’ 2022 Report on World Population Prospects, the global population is now well above 8 billion. However, just about 420 million of them, roughly 5%, hold a crypto-asset, as per fresh estimates by Singapore-based blockchain analytics firm TripleA.

Even so, the low penetration numbers could easily conceal the meteoric rise in crypto-adoption over the last 4-5 years. For instance – A recent Chainalysis report revealed the global adoption of cryptos increased 4x since mid-2019 to hit its all-time high in Q2 2021. Since then, adoption has moved directly proportional to the price declines and rebounds in the crypto-market.

However, what clearly stood out in the report was the country-wise adoption figures. Vietnam held the top spot in adoption followed by Philippines, while India was ranked 4th. A lot of lower middle income and upper middle income countries featured on the list too. People from countries in Africa, Asia, and South America were found to be most likely to own cryptos as they would prefer these assets to send remittances and preserve their savings in times of fiat currency volatility.

This is where initiatives like CFTHL come into the picture. While it’s a global problem, a bulk of the world’s homeless also reside in the aforementioned countries.

Consider the case of India – Though policies by successive governments have managed to stem the tide, the country still has more than 1.8 million homeless people, according to the World Population Review.

On the other hand, the country has adopted a hawkish stance as far as the crypto-space is concerned. In fact, the Reserve Bank of India prohibited banks from providing support to entities or persons dealing with cryptocurrencies until March 2020 – When the country’s apex court reversed this decision. Over the years, the Indian government has tried to formulate a crypto-policy but nothing concrete has come out yet.

This is an issue for the country’s thousands-strong crypto-holders. It’s also a major concern for people like Tuden who are using cryptos to affect a change at the grassroots level, many of whom feel the government is still not realizing the true potential of cryptos.

“It’s basically a technology. And I do feel that initiatives like CFTHL which are utilizing cryptos can have a huge impact in not just the North-East but some of the other larger states where probably the homelessness rate is higher.”

Experts share this opinion too. For example – Kortney Zeigler, CEO of Well-Money.com, told AMBCrypto that cryptocurrencies can make a genuine social impact simply because they offer an opportunity to access a myriad of financial resources to people who are marginalized or do not have access to traditional banking services.

“The use of cryptocurrencies can change how people interact with money by opening up new possibilities for multiple use cases. The more people that start to decide to use the technology, will encourage other people to embrace crypto.”

What’s the road ahead?

Though it was impulsive, Tuden is pleased with his volunteering stint at CFTHL and wants to make a bigger contribution by helping it expand to other areas. He believes the project can spread to Assam, the largest state in India’s Northeast, a state which shares a border with Nagaland.

Does he feel like a stakeholder now that he is ready to take more responsibilities?

Tuden paused for a moment when I asked him that question, before breaking out into a smile and responding, 

I won’t say stakeholder, but I do feel part of the crypto-community.”

Well, the expansion, especially the growth in the network of volunteers is imperative for CFTHL’s success. In fact, Founder Ken admitted to AMBCrypto that the project does face a slight asymmetry between the donations and the number of people willing to take up the volunteering work. 

We were very fortunate to have received massive donations quite early on in the project. The volunteers were slower to build up. I guess it’s got to do with the difficulty of the work. So, it can be better for sure. Like, we can definitely have a lot more workers.”

Evidently, Crypto For The Homeless serves as the middle ground for crypto-enthusiasts. They are probably looking to add up to their portfolios and traditional philanthropy, the aim of which is to promote the welfare of the marginalized.

To its credit, the organization is also honest about admitting that not all people who come onboard are 100% driven by the idea of social cause. 

“The money that they spend on food and stuff is just being given back to them in cryptos. So it’s almost like a way for them to invest in crypto, but not for free. They just have to do a little work. Some good work.

As for Tuden, whose love for cryptos played a huge role in him associating with the initiative, he summed up the whole idea in the most candid way possible –

It’s kind of selfish because it’s making me feel good, but as long as it makes others feel good as well, it’s a win-win situation. It’s a very good side effect of cryptos.

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Aniket Verma works as a journalist at AMBCrypto. Contrary to most who are primarily interested in merely tracking price movements of cryptos, his focus is on examining the niche intersection between cryptocurrencies and traditional finance. A so-so Bitcoin maximalist, Aniket has a strong disdain for memecoins and the unfounded frenzy they seem to generate every market season. Coming from a strong engineering background, Aniket previously worked as a Content Manager for TV9 Network. Before his stint over there, he was an Associate Multimedia News Producer at Reuters.
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