This startup points to ways blockchain can help address the SDGs

Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of Everledger. Photo by: Sikarin Thanachaiary / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

NEW YORK — When Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO of Everledger, invested in a jewelry business a decade ago, she learned about the complexity of the supply chain and wondered how technology might bring more transparency to it.

Everledger is a technology company that combines emerging technologies to build a platform for provenance. It is best known for leveraging blockchain, a distributed ledger technology that can bring trust to transactions of all kinds, to address the trade of conflict and counterfeit diamonds.

Everledger was one of four organizations the World Economic Forum included in a session around blockchain solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York.

Kemp believes that Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies — emerging technologies including blockchain but also artificial intelligence, robotics, and the internet of things — have the potential to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Specifically, she said she is excited about the way blockchain is transforming global supply chains, by creating an effective traceability system, which can incentivize better practices by consumers and companies alike. Kemp also said SDGs could be presented in a way that makes them more accessible to technologists who want to leverage fourth industrial revolution technologies for global impact.

Leanne Kemp, founder and CEO, Everledger. Via YouTube.

In discussions about blockchain, a few key questions emerge — is blockchain the best solution to this problem? Are mechanisms in place to address the unintended consequences? And has the right ecosystem of stakeholders been built?

The World Economic Forum organized this blockchain session to develop a coalition of startups, such as Everledger, which can support one another in their paths to scale and have a greater impact on global goals. After the session, Devex asked Kemp about her view on the barriers to scale that can stand in the way of the potential blockchain may have in helping to achieve the SDGs.

“Is the barrier to scale a technology problem or is it an ecosystem and a platform problem?” she said. “This really swirled around and around and around in various different forms.”

The session looked at barriers to scale across four sectors — supply chains, energy, corruption, and bio-innovation, which focuses on an effort to unlock the value of nature for developing countries and indigenous communities, which do not always see the benefit of natural resources. The World Economic Forum pointed to these as pilots, demonstrating the potential of blockchain in achieving the SDGs. The session was one of a number of conversations on blockchain during Global Goals Week, including a meeting this Friday, when the United Nations Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development will host a convening called Blockchain for Impact.

Speaking with Devex, Kemp noted that she was past the pilot stage with her blockchain work on diamonds. Since 2015, Everledger has tracked 2.5 million diamonds, with diamonds in China, Hong Kong, the United States, Australia, and soon Canada. But she said that Everledger continues to pilot new platforms for provenance with global social impact potential and that learnings from her scaling journey are transferable across sectors.

“The barriers to scale for us were not necessarily about the technology,” she said. “We knew it was embryonic, it was nascent, it was going through a terrible two stage, and now it’s reaching that time where — it’s understanding the personality of the technology — it really has some disciplines about it. It’s even learned how to be polite.”

Kemp said Everledger was an example of how a human system where trust and consensus already exist could be transformed into a digital system. That human system was the Kimberley Process. In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting the creation of an international certification scheme to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the mainstream rough diamond market and participants meet twice yearly.

What made Everledger successful was building on a human system, “understanding the competitive natures within supply chain,” and determining the answer to a key question: “What’s the burning issue that everyone within that ecosystem is sharing in terms of risk or gaining in terms of value?”

It is the combination of these three factors — and timing — that have been key to the success of Everledger, she said.

NCDs. Climate change. Financing. Read more of Devex's coverage from the 73rd U.N. General Assembly here.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Catherine also works for the Solutions Journalism Network, a non profit that trains and connects reporters to cover responses to problems.