Counting your Blessings Better: Applications for Blockchain in Finland Part 1 & 2
As Helsinki prepares to host a major European conference on blockchain on November 21-22, with a key speakers list including ShellPay CEO Jane Zhang, it is worth assessing how Distributed Ledger Technology could be of use to key sectors in the country. Finland’s natural resources, systems of care and education and inventiveness in design and technology have yielded many success stories –– not least the consistent placement of the country in lists of places with the highest quality of life. Where these sectors involve or could involve the need for reliable data records, nuanced systems of account, smart contracts and transfers of value online, opportunities may arise in a blockchain-friendly Finland.
Paper Industry and Forests – 1
It is hard to overstate the value of forestry and related industries to the Finnish economy. With much of the Finnish landmass (over 70%) covered in fir trees, forestry accounts for 20% of exports, employs over 150 thousand people and generates 20 billion euros a year. This is partly a natural result of the country’s geography. Most of Finland is situated between 60 and 70 degrees north. Places equally far north in Russia contain no trees due to the cold, whereas Finland’s forests take advantage of Gulf Stream currents as well as ample moisture and quality soil.
Keeping track of this resource can be a complex business. Some 60% of this forest is located on private land. Several overlapping government bodies are charged with monitoring and managing ownership and upkeep, with government owned forests managed directly by Metsähallitus. As one of the world’s largest producers of wood, the data created by the forests is also of value, and “precise monitoring and statistical recording” is applied to the vast terrain. In future, for recording data related to land ownership and forest resources, DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology, i.e. blockchain) may be a suitable addition to the system. Positive recent examples from India and Kenya have shown that blockchain can be useful as a means of recording land ownership. With the job of accounting such a large resource involving many complex statistical models, the use of permanent ledgers could also provide reliable records for the “Green Gold” that Finns value, and occasionally have disputes over. One debated issue of interest is the powerful “carbon sink” effect of these woodlands, and how this ought to be viewed in the context of global warming. It has previously been suggested that “carbon credits” recorded on the blockchain would be a way to incentivize propagation and care of forests. Finland would stand to benefit.
Financial Access – 2
A year ago the government in Helsinki partnered with a startup and Mastercard to begin a scheme to issue blockchain registered cards to newly arrived refugees. The idea here was to supplement existing supports for the refugees, particularly in light of the lack of official papers that prevent them opening bank accounts. The cards come ready with a prepaid amount and can be used to pay bills, receive deposits and pay for items. As well as this use value for refugees, the immigration service can consult the blockchain to keep track of how they are spending the money and using services. While the card was integrated with Mastercard, cryptocurrencies were incorporated and the startup handled the transfers back and forth from crypto to fiat. MONI CEO and founder Antti Pennanen stated that “financial inclusion” is a primary goal, echoing the voices of many in the blockchain world. One year on, the cards are now available for ordinary consumers around Europe.
As a tangible connection between the crypto economy and the Euro this project is an exception: a blockchain oriented project that intersected government, the private sector, social problems and consumer needs. The idea of helping refugees to verify their identities and gain access to services using blockchain is something that both the European Union and the United Nations have also been exploring. As the example shows, approaching the potential of DLT in finance via socially beneficial ventures is something that can open multiple doors and benefit ordinary citizens as well as the displaced or otherwise vulnerable. As the Finnish tax regulator has issued directives on cryptocurrency that many see as prohibitive and excessive, the example of a government supported venture using crypto and scaling successfully is worth studying.
It is hard to overstate the value of forestry and related industries to the Finnish economy.