Benevolent Biocapitalism? Um, no.

This piece expands on my previous post about IXO Foundation’s development of the Amply DApp, a proof of concept for a social impact token on Blockchain developed in South Africa’s preschools. It is an open source protocol designed to leverage Internet of Things monitoring to “prove” impact for those investing in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of which “equitable education” is number four.

Tracking “impact” is central to the deployment of predatory “social impact bonds” or “development impact bonds.” See the screenshot below describing use of benchmark testing to assess the efficacy of SIBs in the Indian education system. I think you can see similarities to the roll out of interim benchmark testing here in the United States.

In the fall of 2017, the Texas Education Agency brought on Andrew Hodge, an alumus of Teach for America and KIPP and who had previously worked for Deloitte and Salesforce, to be the state’s Director of Social Impact Bonds and Math Innovations Zones. I imagine we will see more SIB coordinator positions being created in other states very soon.

IXO has other proofs of concept coming online to track carbon off-sets using Internet of Things cookstoves. In the minds of the global impact investment community, there is not much difference between the management of toddlers and appliances. In the end it is simply about turning life processes into data that can be aggregated and manipulated to improve their bottom lines. Below are images from Nextleaf Analytics, showing one of these stoves and the device used to capture and analyze the data. To me it embodies digital colonialism, the lives of the poor managed through devices imposed upon them by wealthy, often foreign, interests (funder list here).

On a dying planet where wealth is concentrated in the hands of an elite few, the economic value of humanity, especially the humanity of black and brown people, will be less in the products they consume (because their purchasing power will have become so limited) than in the data they generate. Most of this data will come from interactions with interventions designed to “fix” them. And now with predictive analytics, algorithms can make pronouncements of “future” problematic behaviors well in advance, setting up device-wielding non-profit partners to continually enforce behavioral and psychic compliance with the structures designed to oppress and contain them. The legacy of colonization and white supremacy will continue in digital form, magnified through the actions of social impact investors.

The data that defines the lives of the global poor will be gathered through Internet of Things connected devices: smart phones, apps, and wearable technologies. They will be managed via their DIDs, decentralized digital identities. When accessing healthcare, education, housing or transportation, data points will be generated that shape the “risk” profiles of those receiving services in real time. The process of collecting and evaluating this data to prove “impact” will largely be automated with limited opportunity to appeal an algorithmic ruling. These interventions will be sold as necessary steps to save the planet. Meanwhile corporate foundations will “manage” the death spiral of climate change in such a way as to extract the very last drops of profit, all the while pretending they are benevolent actors.

The images below depict funding dashboards for a variety of projects related to the UN Sustainability Goals. Because these impacts are designed to be captured via apps, there is little nuance or humanity in the metrics or how they are analyzed.

Below is a transcript (slightly edited for length) of a video interview with Anne Connelly, CEO of IXO Foundation, by Ameer Rosic, a self-described serial investor and Blockchain evangelist. Connelly previously worked with Doctors Without Borders in Africa and serves on the faculty of Singularity University in Silicon Valley. A native of Toronto, she earned an MBA from McMaster University with a certificate in Fin-Tech from MIT.

“Connelly: So, essentially our passion is helping solve some of the world’s grandest challenges, looking at issues like climate change and access to water and access to healthcare, a lot of the issues that the UN is trying to tackle through their Sustainable Development Goals. When we look at the problems that are tackling this space, one of the biggest ones is access to trusted data.

So when you’re looking at all these organizations, all these people around the world trying to solve these problems, they’re very much going into it blind. They don’t have information they need to make informed decisions about their work and to actually optimize their work. So, for us at IXO (Foundation) we’re creating a Blockchain-based protocol that enables organizations to make impact claims.

So you can claim that you taught a hundred kids or that you planted ten square kilometers of trees, whatever it is as long as it’s in the impact space. Then, that claim gets validated by an evaluator, either a human or a data source of some kind, and you have a validated impact claim that is essentially proof of impact, that what you say you’ve achieved has actually happened. This is really exciting, because the proof could open up access to social impact bonds, social impact investments, and a whole impact economy that we’ve never seen before. The data that is collected as a part of these claims becomes a part of an open data commons, a global impact ledger that organizations and researchers around the world can use to actually make the work they are doing more effective.

So, the main two issues are a lack of funding for sustainable development initiatives and then a lack of effectiveness of those initiatives. When you look at the sustainable development space there’s a lot of fraud, which I’m sure you’ve all seen it in the headlines and that kind of thing (“trust issues”).

For impact investors, for them to want to be switching from a traditional investment vehicle to the impact space, they have to have these evaluation mechanisms to prove that what they are investing in is legitimate, and the problem is that is very, very expensive. So one of the things that we’re tackling is how you can use data to drive down the cost of that evaluation and make impact investing a much more attractive investment vehicle for investors that are out there. So this is a massive market. I mean right now there is more than a trillion dollars that goes into the sustainable development space every year and if we can get more impact investment, it’s upwards of 25 trillion I’m looking at.

So we’re looking at it from a couple of different perspectives. We’re using data schemas to ensure the actual quality of the data is good. In terms of trying to determine whether the impact is quality or not, we leave that up to the users of the protocol. We’re very much an infrastructure operation, where if you as an organization say it’s good enough if someone says that they cleaned the beach and take a picture of it and that’s good for you then that’s great. For others they may want to have an IoT (Internet of Things) scale that connects the weight of all the garbage that was picked off the beach and you know subsequent levels of funding are given as a result. So we were really leave it up to the users who are building out on the protocol.

What you would be able to do would be to build out an application. So a really good example is actually the first one we built out called Amply. Amply is looking at the early childhood development space in South Africa. So, in South Africa preschool isn’t free. It costs a lot of money and most parents can’t afford it. So there’s incredible government subsidies for over 800,000 kids across the country, but in order for preschool teachers to actually access them they have to fill out attendance every day on paper and it’s an insanely inefficient process.

So what we’ve done is built out this application that allows them to take attendance through a mobile app. It’s very simple and very basic, but each attendance will essentially create an impact claim that a child was taught and down the road we hope these impact claims will enable them to access automatically these government subsidies. So the government knows their legitimate and it makes it a lot easier on the teachers. So we’re in 72 schools across the country, more than 55,000 attendance records taken so far. It’s very exciting.

We have a few exciting projects coming up in terms of proof of concepts on the protocol, but I can’t make any exciting announcements yet. But we’re looking very much at issues around climate change and one of the projects we’re very excited about is in the area of cook stoves. So, in the developing context will cook and heat their homes with fire, and this is bad from both an environmental perspective where they’re burning trees and cutting down forests, but also from a health perspective where they’re breathing in all of this particulate matter.

So there are a lot of projects out there that would provide with cook stoves, these little mini-stoves that they can use instead. That’s great. But say from the perspective of an impact investor who wants to know how many tons of carbon have I pulled out of the atmosphere because of these stoves, the only information they can really get is that the stove was delivered or that it wasn’t. And with applications like the IXO protocol what you can end up doing is say getting an IoT (Internet of Things) cook stove that can transmit data every time it’s being used, every time it’s turned on or off. Then the impact investors can know exactly how much carbon they’ve eliminated from the environment and they then have access to carbon credits and health credits as a result of this.

Rosic: So your major play is to try to evolve and integrate all these IoT with things…

Connelly: Yes, that’s the goal. We really want to try and take humans out of creation of the impact claims and evaluation of the claims as much as possible, and this is for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it enables you to get a higher quality and a higher volume of data. We call it high-resolution data, and it also helps eliminate fraud in this process. And so as much as you can try to incorporate data into things, and it becomes a great feedback loop, too. Where you get this amount of data that can come back and help with the evaluation of future impact claims.

Rosic: But you also mentioned when you and I were talking in Mexico that it’s a massive market for impact bonds. I think they have been in the UK; I think they had them in Canada, but like you said it is very difficult to track. So let’s say the target at the beginning is looking for investors for impact bonds, or can a regular person say like my father or my mother over there participate in this network?

Connelly: Yeah, at the end of the day anyone can participate. We want this to be a real community effort in terms of trying to solve some of these sustainable development goals. Now in the early stages we do want to target impact bonds, because of their scale. You can get one set up and the amount of money and the amount of impact you can have as a result is enormous. But as I said, this is infrastructure. We want everyone to build out on it and we want everyone to try and tackle some of the challenges they are most passionate about, whatever those are.

…We’re working with a lot of partners to bring in their data sets, particularly in the early stages to build up the volume of data we have. So again looking at UNICEF, they have access to some data from Google and form Telefonica and a few other sources. So being able to leverage what we already have to make as effective decisions as we possibly can while we build up a much larger decentralized database is what we want to do.”

The image below is from an earlier post I did on digital identity. They REALLY do want to connect trillions of devices to billions to humans. Impact investors will DEMAND the trillions of dollars in economic value to which they feel entitled.

The proof of concept has arrived in the form of Amply.

Where do we go from here?

2 thoughts on “Benevolent Biocapitalism? Um, no.

  1. leslieleigh – Philadelphia, PA, USA – I'm an educator at the oldest botanical garden in the US, Bartram's Garden.
    leslieleigh says:

    This is disenfranchisement pure and simple.

  2. Kermit O – Former teacher turned school abolitionist. Working at the intersection of land, food, and climate justice. Light brown. Unapologetically Black. Punches up.
    Kamitto says:

    There’s nothing *simple* about it. It’s downright arcane, which is what makes it so difficult to gain any inroads against it. I’m pretty “tech-savvy” and a sincere technoskeptic, yet I find it really hard to wrap my mind around all of this.

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