You have probably heard or read about a new technology called blockchain. If this buzzword leaves you scratching your head, you’re not alone: in fact, the most frequent Google search related to the much-touted innovation is "What is blockchain?"
In essence, blockchain is a digital database for information about transactions that does not live in one place, but in many spots across the internet. When someone wants to make a transaction, the details are encrypted and validated independently by a series of users who update the database and leave a permanent record. The technology is most frequency used in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency market.
In Costa Rica, IDB Lab – the IDB Group's innovation laboratory – is now taking advantage of blockchain for a different use: to ensure that young people find the best possible work for their skills and experience. The new platform, developed with the BanQu blockchain services company, allows each participant to create a digital “economic identity” that stores school and work records securely and permanently.
The project is part of a training and job-placement program led by the Monge Foundation that the IDB has supported since 2017. It focuses on three groups of young Costa Ricans from disadvantaged communities: those who have a secondary education and are pursuing a technical career; those who have just finished high school; and those who finished high school, but do not work or study – the group often referred to as “ninis.”
The program lasts two to three years and provides training in technical and social skills, from English to CV-writing to anger-management. It also offers financial assistance, mentoring, business visits and internship placements. To date, the program has supported some 800 young people, and 90% of graduates have found jobs – including at Fortune 500 companies.
“We were surprised by how, in just two or three years of working with them, with clear objectives, these boys and girls have achieved an incredible level,” says Lourdes Brizuela Gutiérrez, executive director of the Monge Foundation. “Before this program, many were not working or studying, and many were very unmotivated. Now, several are in companies like Amazon, Procter & Gamble and IBM.”
However, in the course of the program, administrators identified a critical problem that many of the participants faced in looking for employment: companies usually request a verifiable record of educational qualifications and work experience – something that many of the young people did not have. As a result, many promising individuals were excluded from consideration, while companies were deprived of potential new talent.
The blockchain platform seeks to fix the problem by virtually collecting academic and professional certificates – which have been validated and certified – no matter where the physical copies exist. The Monge Foundation, for example, certifies the courses that students have completed during the program.
The 665 young people who have registered to date are the sole owners of the information and can share it in a secure and confidential manner with companies that request it. In the coming months, companies will be able to upload records of students who have completed internships. In short, the platform creates a safe, private, certified and distributed ecosystem for applicants.
All stakeholders – students, employers and government agencies – were consulted in building the platform, which was first piloted in mid-2018.
“An important lesson was to organize a hackathon to involve the kids, because if you’re going to do something for young people, it’s important to include them in the design. That’s something that few projects achieve, but it’s fundamental,” says Martiza Vela, a specialist at IDB Lab who leads the project.
Graduates of the Monge Foundation program also helped develop a series of tools and activities, including virtual reality and gamification, to teach new generations of participants how to make effective use of the blockchain platform.
“When we ask the young people who have participated in this project what their greatest goal is, they all tell us that it’s to help their family and their community,” says Lourdes Brizuela Gutiérrez, the Foundation’s director. “They are so talented, and the multiplier effect of supporting them is enormous, because they are thinking of their parents, their brothers, their block and their community.”
Interested in using blockchain for social impact? Download our guide here.