UNICEF Giga NFTs to connect schools in developing countries to internet


Developed countries often take the ubiquity of the internet for granted. But the reality is that about 2.9 billion people are still disconnected from the World Wide Web.

Data provided by UNICEF shows that the majority of this internetless mass of people live in underdeveloped countries and children continue to be disadvantaged by the lack of internet connectivity in local schools.

A UNICEF-led initiative is tackling this dilemma in novel ways through a joint venture with the International Telecommunication Union that led to the creation of Giga in 2019.

Gerben Kijne, Blockchain Product Manager at Giga, introduced the company’s Project Connect initiative at the Blockchain Expo in Amsterdam. Giga has made strides in connecting schools to the internet in developing countries around the world.

Gerben Kijne talks about Giga’s Project Connect and his fundraising experiment Patchwork Kingdoms NFT at the Blockchain Expo in Amsterdam.

The first step in this process was mapping schools and their connectivity through Project Connect. Giga uses machine learning to scan satellite imagery to identify schools on an open-source map. To date, it has located over 1.1 million schools in 49 countries and connectivity data for a third of those schools.

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Having identified a large number of schools in need of internet access, the next step in this process was to create a novel fundraising initiative that taps into the world of blockchain, cryptocurrencies and NFTs.

Following his keynote speech at the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam, Kijne spoke to Cointelegraph about Giga’s Patchwork Kingdoms initiative. With NFTs growing in popularity over the past few years, in March 2022, Giga set out to make the most of the craze through its own NFT-led fundraising experiment.

Giga has partnered with Dutch artist Nadieh Bremer to launch a collection of 1000 procedurally generated NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain. The NFTs were created using Giga’s school data to represent those with and without an internet connection.

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The public sale of NFT raised a total of around $700,000 worth of around 240 Ether (ETH), which was used directly to connect schools to the internet. Kijne acknowledged that the value generated was secondary to exploring another type of philanthropic fundraising.

“I think NFTs also offer a really interesting use case. One of the things we’re starting to examine is what philanthropy looks like for the next generation of people. Because now if you go to UNICEF and donate, I don’t even know what you’ll get, probably a thank you email or something.”

Kijne believes NFTs can create a closer connection to donations by highlighting their use to track the impact of donations through ownership of a specific school’s NFT and to monitor when the funds raised are “cashed in” to support the Internet connection to pay.

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Many lessons were learned from the NFT-based fundraising initiative. As Kijne reflected, building a community before launch might have helped increase support. As seen in the NFT space, community members play a role, but opportunistic NFT investors are always present, looking for a chance to capitalize on new launches.

“I think some people who have joined us have formed one of two camps. We have the people we targeted, Giga followers. Many bought their first NFT ever. Then the other group are people who think, “Oh, a UNICEF NFT! Let me address that.’”

Despite this, the project was deemed a success and offers an intriguing use case for blockchain-based NFTs as a means of transparent, community-building fundraising. The March 2022 public auction sold out in three hours and fetched $550,000. The additional 20 percent of the funds raised came from second-hand sales on OpenSea.