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UNICEF Uses NFTs to Fund Internet Connectivity

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) continues to champion children's rights and welfare worldwide. Recently, they spearheaded a novel initiative, 'Giga,' which aims to provide internet connectivity to schools globally. Launched in September 2019 in partnership with the International Communication Union, the project ties into the ITU's Partner2Connect Coalition, UNICEF’s Reimagine Education initiative, and the UN Secretary-General’s Common Agenda and Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Giga seeks to address the fact that about 2.9 billion people, including 1.3 billion children, lack internet access, thereby missing out on essential online resources and learning opportunities.

Impact and Scope of the Giga Initiative

Giga collaborates with 14 corporate and non-profit partners, utilizing machine learning to analyze satellite imagery and ascertain schools' connectivity status worldwide. As of 2023, Giga has successfully mapped over 1.1 million schools in 49 countries, providing connectivity data for a third of these institutions.

Once a school's connectivity is established, Giga's interventions range from deploying essential, low-cost software in native languages to developing new financing programs that enhance broadband connectivity. Giga also collaborates with digital financial services to bolster the efficiency of government programs disbursing payment.

The cost of connecting a single school averages around $30,000, with an estimated total of $428 billion required to connect all schools globally. Giga's impact has been felt significantly in countries like Kyrgyzstan, Niger, and Rwanda. For instance, Giga's efforts in Kyrgyzstan have reduced internet prices from $50/month to $28.5/month, nearly doubling its speed and saving the government $200k annually. In Niger, Giga successfully mapped 4,758 schools, providing data on internet and electricity access. In Rwanda, Giga's actions attracted a private internet service provider, enhancing internet access and reducing schools' price per Mbps by 55%.

The Patchwork Kingdoms NFT Collection

To commemorate UNICEF's 75th anniversary, Giga partnered with Snowcrash and artist Nadieh Bremer to launch the UN's largest-ever NFT art collection: the Patchwork Kingdoms. This fundraising initiative sought to create a global community that supports Giga's mission, aiming to bridge the digital divide and connect all schools to the internet by 2030.

The Patchwork Kingdoms comprise 1,000 NFTs, created over three months (October-December 2021) by Nadieh Bremer. Each NFT is a visual representation of real-world data on school connectivity gathered by the Giga project. They each depict two contrasting worlds - one representing internet-connected schools and another representing unconnected ones. The connected schools feature in a vivid upright city, while the unconnected ones appear as a muted, mirrored city.

The 1,000 Patchwork Kingdoms exist in 24 different color palettes. Each square building block in the Kingdoms symbolizes an actual school, with patterns becoming more intricate as corresponding school's internet speeds increase. The fastest schools are represented by flowers. Not all unconnected schools are portrayed equally: those with potential for internet connectivity are shown as filled shapes, while others appear as stroked shapes. Elements such as birds, clouds, and bats denote missing data.

On Giga's Project Connect map, each dot is a school: green (good connectivity), amber (moderate), red (none)

PWK #503 | Alumullus: in the Patchwork Kingdoms, blocks in the ‘above’ world are connected schools, those ‘below’ are still offline.

The NFTs cater to a new audience interested in supporting equal internet access. They function as digital badges for collectors, symbolizing their commitment to this cause. Inspired by Mary Blair's "It's a Small World," the Patchwork Kingdoms capture a sense of childlike wonder and interconnectedness.

The NFT collection, held by roughly 500 individuals, averages nearly two Kingdoms per person. Initially sold at .175 ETH (about $500) each, the NFTs quickly sold out within three hours, raising 175 ETH (roughly $550,000) for school connectivity. The project has consistently maintained a 20% royalty rate on secondary sales, enabling further fundraising as NFTs are resold. To date, the project has raised over $700,000.

The Journey of the NFT Project

The idea to create an NFT for the Giga project emerged in April 2021, leveraging global real-time data from the project and introducing UNICEF to new aspects of blockchain technology. The three-month artistic design and creation process concluded in December 2021.

A whitelist was established to assess initial demand, attracting over 8,000 interested individuals. However, only the first 999 were allowed to reserve a spot. The whitelist opened on December 23, 2021, via the project's website, with a random draw determining the recipients if sign-ups exceeded available tokens. Selected individuals were given three days to mint their tokens. Any unclaimed NFTs were subsequently made available to the public.

The project's launch took place in January 2022, with the actual sale occurring several weeks later. Despite initial oversights by some whitelist members, the collection sold out within a mere 15 minutes during the public sale. The project has thus far raised approximately 240 ETH (around $700k+), significantly contributing to UNICEF's Giga project's aim to connect more schools to the internet.

The Connectivity Quilt: A Collective Challenge and Aspiration

In addition to the 1,000 NFTs sold to the public, later a "Patchwork Quilt," a meta-version that amalgamated all 1,000 Kingdoms was also auctioned off. The Quilt underscored the shared, global nature of the connectivity challenge and represented the collective hope of improving internet connectivity for all children. Auctioned at the end of the initial minting process along with four other NFT artworks, the works sold for an impressive 40+ ETH, equivalent to approximately $140,000 at the time, stirring additional excitement around the campaign.

The Patchwork Quilt was sold at auction at CFC St Moritz. The Quilt and four other NFT artworks by Jani Leinonen, Robertson Käppeli and Philipp Schaerer raised over 40 ETH (approx. $140,000) for Giga.

Participant Rewards & Project Marketing

The Patchwork Kingdoms NFT project offered unique rewards to its owners, including special privileges on the project's Discord channel and direct access to the team. These owners became Giga ambassadors, raising awareness on social media. After the project's launch, a dashboard was introduced, enabling NFT owners to download high-resolution images of their NFTs and view related statistics.

The project's Discord channel has attracted nearly 900 current members and has had about 4,000 members join over the past year and a half, fostering vibrant discussions on various topics related to the project.

Marketing the project involved unique strategies, including requiring the initial 8,000+ whitelist members to tweet about the project to expand its reach. The artist Nadieh Bremer brought her considerable followership into play, while Giga and Unicef's established reputation also attracted donors.

Valuable lessons were learned for future NFT campaigns, including the importance of integrating a gaming element, minimizing the time between launch and public sale, and establishing a community management team early on. The importance of strategic advisors, communication specialists, PR relationships, Discord moderators, and tech volunteers was also recognized. Additionally, it was found that a roadmap should be established and set in motion before launching the collection to maintain momentum and community engagement.

The Patchwork Kingdoms project demonstrates the innovative application of technology for philanthropic work. Transforming real-world data into digital art, it has not only raised global awareness about internet access disparities but has also generated substantial funds for a noble cause. The NFT medium has proven effective in engaging a diverse community and fostering active participation. For non-profit organizations exploring new fundraising methods, the world of NFTs presents intriguing possibilities. By utilizing blockchain technology, they can create unique, impactful campaigns that bridge the gap between traditional philanthropy and digital innovation. We encourage all non-profits to venture into this domain and consider how NFT-based fundraisers could enhance their missions. We'd love to work with you. You can learn more about how we can help you launch your next NFT fundraising campaign here.


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