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When the dominant political party of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the T.P.L.F, defied President Abiy’s orders and prematurely held parliamentary elections in September, Ethiopian lawmakers swiftly cut funding to the region. Conflict ensued.
The result is a nation besieged with sectarian violence and famine, with Tigray’s hardest hit areas receiving little to no aid. John Toomey, COO of SaveTigray, wanted to do something both edifying and effective.
“We thought, why not use an NFT model to raise awareness, and also funding, for victims of the Tigray crisis?”
SaveTigray prevailed as an NFT-based charity, the first of its kind.
“The impetus behind SaveTigray goes as follows: the world has a habit of ignoring famines and genocides until they are well along,” says Toomey. “The Tigray crisis is a good example. In the article or press release you must have read, it’s mentioned that 400,000 people are experiencing a famine, and 1.8 million are on the verge.”
In the last three days, armies from three regions who were previously uninvolved joined the conflict. “This latest war news,” he adds, “probably makes those numbers worse.”
How could a small team of people bring enduring attention to a growing crisis? For SaveTigray, this meant taking advantage of patterns within the digital realm.
“Photos that become ‘memes’ can often impel citizens to action… and NFTs have become popular as a way of confirming digital identity for artworks.”
Initially, the team planned to digitize artwork created by Tigrayan women. The war halted those plans, so they transitioned to selling interpreted photos of the tragedy in a digital marketplace. Their foremost photo shows a group of women grieving massacre victims.
“[The photo] really spoke to us in the way it captured the grief of these women mourning a massacre. It had the power that Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ had, in the way that it brings home the brutality of war,” Tomey added.
Poignant, the photo aids SaveTigray’s purpose.
“As we know, the internet and social media love stories, and a photo like that almost demands that viewers learn the story. And if many people see it and spread it around via social media, there will be more attention to Tigray.”
The novel format also lends the donor agency in their charity, says Toomey.
“The idea is that it’s more powerful for someone to say to their friends ‘I bought this image as a way to tell the world about Tigray, and if you want you can also get one, digitally tied to your identity’ than it is if they just say ‘I donated money to a charity that helps victims.’”
SaveTigray is not only an NFT-based initiative, but a crisis-based one. “We originally planned to do this with climate change, and probably still will,” Toomey says. “But the Tigray disaster just happened, and we realized that it might be a better launching point for this type of digital identity.” The initiative acts as a template for further crises to come.
The team even solved one of blockchain’s most discussed issues: energy usage.
“Our platform uses 10 million times less energy than the standard Ethereum-based ones,” says Savannah Partridge in a press release. “Like any NFT, the provenance of each work can be easily traced through the blockchain. And buyers can continue to use each image to raise more for the cause, if they so choose. NFTs earn royalties every time they are sold, so they can keep fundraising forever.”
Although gaining traction, the initiative hopes to grow a great deal more.
“Press releases and social media are the main ways,” says Toomey, when asked about how to reach a wider public audience. “As a nonprofit we don’t really have a budget for this, so we promote when individual members are able to spend.”
At the very least, the team hopes to set off a chain-reaction of charitable innovation. “We want to find ways to increase public awareness, and to refine the process so we can do this with future crises.”
To view SaveTigray’s NFT marketplace, click here.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Olivia Baker is a tech editor and journalist at Identity Review, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.
Contact Olivia Baker at email@example.com.
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