Last December, as the combined market cap for cryptocurrencies passed $0.5 trillion for the first time, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin cut through the surging crypto-enthusiasm with a series of tweets demanding more from himself and the community. “Have we earned it?” he asked, and among other questions, “How many unbanked people have we banked?

Heeding his own call, Buterin is now joining with OmiseGo, an Ethereum scaling network and decentralized exchange, to donate $1 million of OMG tokensdirectly to refugees living in extreme poverty”. The funds will be delivered by GiveDirectly, an organisation which facilitates electronic payments to poverty-stricken people in Kenya and Uganda.

Uganda is currently suffering an influx of refugees from neighbouring countries South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. When refugees arrive in a new country they frequently have “their skills intact but with no capital to start rebuilding their lives”. They may also not have all the necessary documents to enter, or re-enter, the financial system. For Buterin, OmiseGo and GiveDirectly, refugees are “a perfect population to serve through this effort”.

The use of cryptocurrencies allows for direct cash payments to refugees who can then spend the money as they choose. This puts “power in the hands of individual people” and “make(s) them the judges of what to prioritize”. It also cuts out the middlemen.

According to GiveDirectly, the “foreign aid sector has historically been dominated by intermediaries ”, who “collect money on behalf of the poor and then spend it on their behalf as well”. Though some intermediaries add value, there is “overwhelming evidence” that poor people will use money responsibly, and improve their lives themselves, if given the chance.    

For the people behind this initiative, the hope is that “fortunes made in the crypto space will lead not to extravagant lifestyles but to extravagant generosity.” Buterin said he was “excited to be part of this initiative”. The scheme is open to anyone else who would like to support it, and accepts donations in Bitcoin, XRP, ETH or ERC20.

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