Drew Simon Interview

Drew Simon Interview

Photo: Drew Simon

Drew Simon’s Biography

Drew Simon is a social impact and technology enthusiast with ten years of leadership experience in the non-profit and higher education sectors.

Drew has served as a Senior Leader, Director, and Advisor for multiple non-profit organizations, and has helped charities around the world secure millions in funding to support their missions.

More recently, Drew was introduced to blockchain and cryptocurrency, and was amazed by its potential to transform the social impact sector.

This led to the launch of Crypto Altruism, a Blog and Community of Practice dedicated to advancing the social impact use cases of cryptocurrency and blockchain.

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Drew Simon Interview Transcript

B.L. and Drew Simon, CEO of Cryptoaltruism.org discussed how blockchain and crypto are changing fundraising: how UNICEF, American Cancer Society, Save the Children and hundreds of the world’s largest charities are using crypto for social impact projects; media disinformation about crypto; thousands of startups working with crypto for social impact and lots more.

B.L. Ochman: Hi, and welcome to the Beyond Social Media Show, I’m B.L Ochman. And the Beyond Social Media Show is the podcast for marketing, advertising and digital communication specialists. To find us just search Beyond Social Media Show, or tell your smart speaker play Beyond Social Media Show. And you’ll find us

I’m here today with Drew Simon, who is the founder of Crypto Altruism, and we’re going to discuss how crypto is being used and how it can be used for social impact.

So just to give you a little background on Drew, he’s a social impact and technology enthusiast. He’s got 10 years of leadership experience in nonprofit and higher education. He has served as a senior leader, director and advisor for multiple nonprofit organizations, and has helped charities around the world secure millions in funding to support their missions.

Most recently, with his interest in blockchain and crypto, he is focused on the impact that cryptocurrency can play in social impact. And that led to the launch of cryptoaltruism.org, which is a blog and a community of practice and is dedicated to communicating the social impact use cases of crypto and blockchain. Thank you so much for being here. I’m excited about our conversation Drew.

Drew Simon: Yeah, it’s such a pleasure. And thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

What is Crypto Altruism?

B.L. Ochman: So on your website, it says “we aim to bring attention to the great projects already making use of this technology for social good. And to envision the endless future use possibilities. We believe we barely scratched the surface of what this technology can do.” And so explain a little bit about your website and its goals and its mission.

Drew Simon: Absolutely. And thank you again, for having me really excited to be here. So yeah, what Crypto Altruism is really about: when it comes to cryptocurrency and blockchain, you usually see a lot of the negative stuff that’s going on in the space, there are certain perceptions about it.

Revolutionizing Charity Fundraising & Aid Distribution

Drew Simon: But I think what’s really exciting is that it really is a revolutionary technology that I think will completely disrupt the way that charities fundraise and NGOs distribute aid. And I think that there’s just so many potential positive use cases in this space to make the world a better place. And so my goal through Crypto Altruism is to highlight these amazing use cases, some of these projects that are already underway, and to to help bridge the gap between the charitable space, the social impact space, and cryptocurrency and blockchain. S

Crypto as a generational disrupter

Drew Simon: Whereas a lot of the blogs out there focus more on the investment stuff. I don’t do any financial advice or anything like that. I just focus on how this technology can be used to make the world a better place. And there are so many great charities that are already using it. There are so many amazing projects and startups that are coming up with innovative and novel ways to use this technology to support vulnerable populations and to address real world issues all over the globe. So that’s kind of what we do is we just shine a light on that share it and bring together a community around this vision that crypto and blockchain can be the next force and generational disrupter of the space.

I was reading your 100th blog post, which highlights 100 projects that use cryptocurrency for social impact. So tell us, what are some of those most impactful projects that you’re seeing?

Drew Simon: Yeah, so I think that there are like, literally hundreds or 1000s of amazing projects working on and I think that some are really in the infancy, some that are more established. Some of the more established kinds of projects, I guess you could say, or groups.

Some of the largest NGOs Use Crypto for Good

Drew Simon: One that surprised a lot of people is UNICEF, one of the largest NGOs in the world that is making use of cryptocurrency and blockchain for good. They have a crypto fund, where they distribute, I think somewhere close to 5.5 million US dollars to a number of different projects that are using Blockchain technology to create accessible financial services to create things like insurance platforms to deliver insurance to those that are under insured to help distribute aid. So there are a number of amazing organizations through that platform.

The Giving Block

Drew Simon: One of the leaders in the space when it comes to charitable giving from a crypto point of view is definitely The Giving Block. They are, I think, on track this year to distribute, but $100 million in crypto donations to charities so they’re one of the largest facilitators of cryptocurrency donations, and are looking at one billion of projected crypto to flow through their platform in 2022, which is exciting.

The Key Areas

Drew Simon: So those are a couple. Impact Market is one that comes to mind, which is a decentral decentralized poverty alleviation platform where communities can together decide how funds are allocated and distributed for projects such as unconditional basic income.

So it’s hard to kind of pick just a few up because there’s just so much good being done in this space. But really, I think when it comes to cryptocurrency, blockchain and social impact, you can kind of break it down into a few,key areas, and one of them is is fundraising and charitable giving, ,, so donating with cryptocurrency, it opens you up to a whole new base of donors, new generation of individuals that are interested in transparency, they’re interested in, ,, open source, and that are really donating a lot of money through crypto to different charitable organizations.

Huge Organizations Accept Crypto Donations

Drew Simon: There are hundreds of organizations that accept crypto donations. So not only UNICEF, like I mentioned, but no Save the Children, the American Cancer Society. United Way Worldwide. So there are so many great organizations that are accepting cryptocurrency donations. Sorry, go ahead.

What Marketers Need to Learn About Crypto

B.L. Ochman: No, I want to take a step back, because there’s um, how shall I put this politely a lack of understanding among marketers in what crypto is and how it may apply to marketing, and particularly how it might apply to this area? So how is crypto actually used? And what makes it good when you say donating crypto, what does that mean? How did they then use the crypto?

Drew Simon: Yeah, so in terms of cryptocurrency at its core, cryptocurrency is backed by what’s called blockchain, which is a distributed ledger of essentially transactions that are taking place that are verified by a peer to peer network to make sure that there’s no sort of no tampering or fraud that’s taking place.

And so then these individuals are verifying it. In the case of Bitcoin, the miners get given cryptocurrency as a reward. And so Bitcoin was originally developed as the first kind of peer to peer Cash System. But really cryptocurrencies, the word currency itself, often, is a funny one. Because it is a currency, right, it’s more kind of like an asset class, in a sense.

How Charities Use Crypto

Drew Simon: And so, charities are actually accepting cryptocurrency donations such as Bitcoin, or Ethereum, or any number of cryptocurrencies and there’s a couple things they can do with it, they can a store it in what would be called their wallet, and keep it as kind of an investment in a sense, right? Allow for it to grow. And then cash it out when they please, sell it on the open market, and then use that cash to support the mission. But a lot of charities to make sure that they can secure the value of the donation and avoid any sort of fluctuations in volatility, that will sign up for certain platforms, where as soon as they get the donation, they’ll automatically sell it for cash, and then the cash is deposited in their account, to make sure that they can secure the value of the donations so that they don’t, let’s say, ,, get a big donation. And then, ,, the next day, there’s something that happens, and it drops 10% in value, right.

So a lot of charities, which have their policies around accepting gifts, and certain risk management practices will just sell the cryptocurrency, right, a way to lock in that value. So it’s just another way of getting funds to your organization, for your mission. And a lot of folks will say, well, what’s the difference than just accepting money for by credit card or PayPal?

B.L. Ochman: That was my next question.

A new donor base embraces transparency

Drew Simon: Yeah, one, one of them is that there are high fees that come with traditional donation platforms, processing fees that come with credit card companies or payment processors, those sorts of things. So that’s one piece of it. But I think the bigger piece of accepting cryptocurrency donations versus just plain old cash, is that it opens you up to a new donor base, right? There’s millions of folks, it’s such a global space, when you look at the top cryptocurrency adopters, it includes countries all over the world in Latin America, Asia, Africa.

And it’s a new generation of donors that embraces transparency and wants to know where their funds are going. And one of the cool things about blockchain and cryptocurrency is that, depending on the type of cryptocurrency, it is largely transparent and auditable, and easy to see where the money is going. Right?

So by accepting cryptocurrency donations, you’re making that statement as a charity as well, that we believe in an embrace of transparency and technological innovation. And it brings you into this new space of potential donors. So there are many benefits to it, for sure. One of them being the potential cost savings from fees. But I think the bigger one for me is that ,, you demonstrate as a charity that you believe in transparency and that you believe in innovation. And so that’s why many charities are making the decision to accept cryptocurrency donations.

What’s the cost of using crypto?

B.L. Ochman: So the question I’m not understanding is if you trade, if you cash in your blockchain, Bitcoin or solar or whatever, there’s a gas fee, there’s a transaction fee, I guess it depends what wallet it’s in, maybe some have smaller fees?

Drew Simon: it could depend on what exchange you use. It could depend on the type of cryptocurrency for sure. So there are fees, of course, typically much lower than some of the larger giving platforms, which can when, with all things considered to be close to 15%. And you look at credit card processing fees, admin fees, all those sorts of things. Right. So, again, that’s one of the reasons but certainly a smaller reason that I think that it opens you up to a brand new donor base and new generation of donors.

What’s the role of NFTs

B.L. Ochman: What roles are NFTs playing?

Drew Simon: NFTs are really quite an interesting thing, when it comes to social impact, there’re many different ways that the NFTs are used through a social impact lens. So one of them is obviously fundraising, right? So NFT’s are non fungible tokens are essentially a proof of ownership of some sort of digital assets, whether it’s like a piece of digital artwork or something like that.

And so we’re seeing, there’s been charities or groups that have auctioned off NFTs for funds to raise them for their organization. We’ve also seen many cases of large, well known NFT artists selling their works, and then donating proceeds sometimes in the millions of dollars to charitable organizations.

NFTs for Good

Drew Simon: A cool one, that’s an example of a group that’s auctioned off NFTs for some sort of social impact cause is a group called NFTs For Good, which sold a bunch of NFT trading cards, of Asian celebrities with the proceeds, which were I think, around $80,000, going to a group called Hate Is A Virus, which is an Asian American and Pacific Islander oriented, anti racism nonprofit.

So we’re seeing things like that, that are really neat. We’re also seeing groups that are, ,, creating NFTs of maybe endangered species, and then auctioning them off, and then the funds going to support endangered species. So we’re seeing some really cool use cases in the NFT space.

Beyond just fundraising. What’s really neat about NFT, from a social impact point of view, is that it creates a way for typically underserved groups in the art space to have an accessible entry point to being a professional artist or professional musician; you no longer have to go through a big record label or art gallery. Yeah, it gives you a way to just kind of directly bring your works to the public, and to take ownership over yourself, as opposed to just getting a small cut of the funds. If some sort of record label was selling your music, for example, you can mint it yourself, create an NFT, sell it and keep the proceeds yourself. So it’s returning more of the funds to the artists as opposed to these intermediaries. So that’s the role that I see NFT is playing when it comes to the social impact space.

B.L. Ochman: I interviewed Tom Herman, who has gamified NFTs, and who auctions off the NFTs. And then those are involved in voluntary carbon offsets. And he’s using his site to educate kids about endangered species.

Media Plays Up the Negative

B.L. Ochman: So I have seen a few things, but reading on your site and looking at your blog, I’m astounded that this is so widespread, and I’m a little bit alarmed that there’s not more media coverage of this area. And I think the media has an agenda. And that agenda is to sort of downplay this whole thing, because it’s maybe a little hard to understand. I’m not sure. But so, so what are some of the top crypto charities and have, in other words, how groups have banded together in some cases to do good together?

Drew Simon: Yeah, for sure. And first about the media, I would say that, yeah, it’s definitely interesting. You definitely see more of the oh cryptocurrency is a scam, or it’s the currency of criminals or the environmental – the negative environmental impacts of some of them. But certainly there is a lot of really real good being done in this space. And we certainly haven’t seen that being covered to the level that it should be right. And I think that it is really in its infancy and although hundreds of charities are accepting cryptocurrency donations, it still is a very small percentage in the broader scheme of things.

Bitcoin’s Future in Fundraising

B.L. Ochman: We’re in Very early days.

Drew Simon: Yeah, exactly. And I read an interesting thing in a book called Bitcoin in the future of fundraising, which is really interesting. Definitely recommend reading it where it makes the kind of analogy to the early days of accepting credit card donations that many charities initially were very skeptical, didn’t feel good about it and didn’t do it. for quite some time until it got to a point where they had to because everyone was right. And I think that when it comes to charities you’re so often risk averse and making sure that you’re really handling your funds. Well, they are really, ,, everything’s closely monitored and audited and policies and procedures.

And then I think it sometimes takes a lot of time to make that shift to the, to new technologies. Right. And I think that we’re seeing that, for sure. But anyways, going back to your question around some of the top crypto charities.

Examples: How charities are using crypto donations

Drew Simon: So what I would say is if you’re looking for charities that are accepting cryptocurrencies there are a couple of different types of crypto charities, I guess you could say, there are those that ,, just accept cryptocurrency donations in which there are hundreds. And then there are those that actually have some sort of mission around that involves cryptocurrency or blockchain, right. So, an example of that is Code to Inspire – this amazing charity that’s based out of Afghanistan, that created a school for girls and women in Afghanistan to help them learn how to code.

But they also have a part of their curriculum, they teach about blockchain, cryptocurrency, those sorts of pieces to bring their students up to speed on that and help them become developers in that space, which is really exciting.

I mentioned UNICEF before, which is a big one, which is using cryptocurrency to fund many different projects. Save the Children formed a partnership with a large cryptocurrency called Cardano, to fund one of their hubs, which is developing solutions in support of children and families in Africa. So those are just a couple that come to mind. But I’d recommend checking out a site like The Giving Block, where they have literally hundreds of these charities listed. Any type of charity, you could think of whether it’s environmental, whether it’s poverty, reduction, homelessness, food security, there are charities that accept cryptocurrency donations, some that are very new to the space, some that have been doing it for years,

B.L. Ochman: Are there charities that are devoted entirely to using crypto for good, as well as the ones that accept it.

Buying groceries with crypto

Drew Simon: So I’d say it’s, um, maybe maybe charity isn’t the right word. There are a lot of startups and nonprofits that are using cryptocurrency and blockchain for good. An interesting example of this is the World Food Program, one of the world’s largest food security organizations that developed a program called building blocks, which was a blockchain based platform for delivering aid to individuals in refugee camps in Jordan.

So Syrian refugees, they, instead of having to line up in a big line, to get their cash payout, or their voucher or whatever it is, they instead go to a grocery store, scan their iris, and then it automatically based on the blockchain brings up the funds that they have available that they can use to purchase groceries. So there’s things like that, yeah, there are platforms that are directly providing aid from NGO to beneficiary, in some sort of maybe like a stable coin.

Benefits of using blockchain

Drew Simon: So that’d be a cryptocurrency that is pegged to maybe the US dollar, so it doesn’t have the same fluctuations that maybe a Bitcoin or something like that would, so that they don’t have to go through a bank and wait days to process it. And they can provide it directly to the beneficiary, in their mobile wallet. So we’re seeing things like that a lot of innovative startups that are making use of blockchain technology, to provide a to provide universal basic income to provide funding directly to beneficiaries that are, whether it’s refugees, or victims of natural disasters, as opposed to having to go through the typical bloated systems that would take much longer,

Preventing counterfeiting

B.L. Ochman: oh, they are bloated, and I saw a post on your blog that was talking about using crypto to prevent having counterfeit drugs, rather than the actual drugs and, so that by using the blockchain, you can verify that this is the real thing.

Drew Simon: Yeah. And I think that that’s part of a much bigger, I guess, sub-sector of blockchain and social impact, which is the supply chain side of things, right? There’s so many cool projects out there, they’re using Blockchain to enhance and make supply chains more efficient.

Promoting accountability and honesty

Drew Simon: So in theory, and let’s use the example of fishing tuna, let’s say, there’s no surprise that there’s a lot of issues with the large scale fishing operations, right, where there’s a lot of issues with bycatch, and catching other types of fish which then go to waste and stuff like that, and there’s no real way to effectively monitor it.

There’s been a lot of criticism around things like the dolphin safe labels and stuff like that, in theory, and there are groups that are working on these types of things. Basically, on the blockchain, which is an immutable and sensitive means that is tamper proof.

Helping the supply chain

Drew Simon: There are organizations that are at every step of the supply chain. So let’s use fishing for example. Where they’re fishing it gets uploaded to the blockchain. What did they catch? Was there any bycatch? Were there any unanticipated things that they caught? How is it transported? How is it processed? So in theory in the future, you could go and grab your canned tuna, scan the QR code and get a full record of everything that’s happened, from the moment that it was caught to the moment it was processed to being put on the grocery store shelf.

Tracking environmental cleanup

Drew Simon: And there are organizations that are working on these types of things today, a really cool one is an organization called ReSee, which I believe is out of Indonesia, if I’m correct, that is partnering with a cryptocurrency called V chain, the V chain foundation to track ocean plastic removal. And so essentially, there’s multiple steps along the chain of where they go to remove the plastic, where it’s processed, where it’s transported, where it’s recycled. And every step is saved on the blockchain, so that you can then go on and verify that it actually happened. So instead of an organization saying, we removed a million tons of plastic, you can actually go on and see every step of the plastic removal process to verify that it actually happened.

What DAOs Do

B.L. Ochman: I think that that’s a bold change. Right? Yeah, that allows you to become more socially responsible, because you are able to make sure you’re dealing with companies that are transparent, for starters, but that are actually doing what they say they’re doing, and you’re getting what you wanted to get. So can you just tell us what DAOs do and how it works with crypto and how it impacts social good?

Drew Simon: Yeah, so DAOs are what’s called decentralized autonomous organizations. So DAO. And there are organizations that are created by developers that have really no centralized leadership, they’re horizontal, in a sense, and they’re really driven by and governed by community members. And they are governed by a set of automated rules built into the protocol, the blockchain, which usually are called smart contracts, which enable these organizations to kind of run on their own without the need for that centralized leadership.

DAOs Have Specific Purpose

Drew Simon: So typically, you maybe have a board of directors that were overseeing organization here, individuals that were interested in the mission of a certain DAO could purchase the tokens that represent that DAO – the governance tokens, and by holding these tokens, they are now a member of this organization, and can vote and, and guide the future of that organization.

So an example of this, let’s say, there are DAOs for many sorts of things. So let’s say that there’s a DAO that wants to fund carbon removal projects, okay, they might sell some sort of token that carbon token or something like that. So to be a part of this DAO, you buy this carbon token, and you’re now a member, okay. And so then you can use your membership rights to vote on let’s say that each token you buy 10% goes into a pool, which is donated to a charity that removes carbon, you can then vote on which charities to support which projects to support those types of things.

Some DAOs raise funds. Some are VCs

Drew Simon: So it really puts the decision making in the hands of the community. And there’s no really central body that oversees, oversees it, per se. So we’re seeing different use cases for DAOs. We’re seeing ones that are fundraising for different charitable causes, we’re seeing ones that are kind of venture capital in the sense that will support startups where the members can vote on, ,, which startups they want to fund. We’re seeing DAOs that are kind of like think tanks, in a sense, where you get rewarded for publishing works around a certain social cause. So really, ,, in a nutshell, DAOs are an organization that is governed by those that hold the tokens to the organization, as opposed to being governed by a centralized body.

B.L. Ochman: How much can that be manipulated? By a lot of money, I guess.

DAOs are hard to manipulate

Drew Simon: Yeah, I mean, in a sense, it couldn’t, a lot of DAOs are quite large. And so it’d be quite difficult to do that, because you would need to obviously own like a large percentage of the coins. So there have been times in the past where certain blockchains have been the victims of what’s called a 51% attack, we’re 51% of the the miners are, or the validators are able to do something to to change the blockchain or to do some sort of fraudulent activity, but it’s usually extremely costly. And so it’s not something we’ve seen happen a lot in the past and especially with down so it is possible. Yeah, exactly. It is possible, but it is highly unlikely.

How to increase focus on crypto for good?

B.L. Ochman: So, what do you think has to happen to increase the focus on crypto for social impact? I mean, what will it take for more people to know about it to understand? I know that your mission is to get that information out there. But what do you think it’s going to take?

Media need to cover the positive aspects

Drew Simon: Yeah, I think really what it comes down to is that – and this is my mission – is just showing the good that’s being done. Most of the stuff in this space is around the investment side of things, right. Cryptocurrencies and investment is where a lot of the coverage from the media is, and the volatility, oh, that crypto crash or cryptos rallying those sorts of things, or the not so great things, right, that Bitcoin mining takes a lot of energy.

And so there’s those environmental impacts that yes sometimes ransomware attacks will use cryptocurrency. So there are those things that the media would like to cover? Because it’s something that will draw on the views, right? It’ll draw the readers, it’ll build their audience. But really, there’s so much good being done in this space that we need to shine a light on.

Benefits outweigh the negatives

Drew Simon: Like, there’s a reason that these massive charities are starting to accept cryptocurrency donations, that there’s billions of dollars flowing into social impact packed projects in this space to work on a number of important causes, that groups all over the world and some of the largest NGOs are getting on board and saying this is something we need to back.

Even the United Nations has stated that despite some of the challenges with the environmental side of things, that cryptocurrency and blockchain can play an essential role in combating climate change. So there needs to be more of an emphasis on those pieces. And it’s just about building, ,, an understanding in this space, right, it is something that a lot of people are turned off from when they hear cryptocurrency or blockchain, they think that they have to, ,, be a computer science major, who has years of experience coding to understand it.

B.L. Ochman: Or, that you have to be rich.

Intersection of tech & social impact is growing

Drew Simon: yeah, exactly. Well, I have no tech background, right. And I’m by no means an expert in the tech side of things, but I’m able to look at kind of the intersection between the tech and the social impact stuff. So there’s a lot of great resources out there to help educate people that are really accessible and easy to understand.

And I think one thing that’s really cool about this space is that given that there is a real emphasis on transparency and open source and community when it comes to blockchain and cryptocurrency is that there’s so many amazing free resources out there, courses, podcasts, ebooks, blogs, that will help educate people in a way that’s accessible.

Changing the narrative

Drew Simon: And so I’m trying to shine a light on that good. And there are many others that are as well to change the narrative from crypto, and blockchain is this scary thing. And that’s, ,, being driven by a bunch of shadowy people with nefarious motives to really something that is a technology that can revolutionize so many different aspects of our lives for the better.

B.L. Ochman: Well, I think that’s exciting. And you’re about to launch a podcast, right?

Drew Simon: Yes, yes, we’re working on launching a podcast in the near future, where we’re looking to bring on some of these developers that are working on really cool projects, to bring on some of the charities that are accepting cryptocurrency donations, and some of the groups that are working to use the technology to make the world a better place. So we are excited to launch that in the hopefully not so distant future. And to help, again, shine a different venue for bringing these stories to people. Beyond just the blog,

B.L. Ochman: I will put links to your site, your Twitter, there’s such a wealth of good information on your site. I mean, I know that your site is new, relatively speaking, but you’ve already populated it with quite a lot of wonderful information. And I think that if anybody really does want to learn more about the social impact of crypto, it’s a good place to start. Then it will also point you as it did me in the direction of other organizations that you might want to know about. So I really want to thank you, I I learned a lot today. And I think everyone who listens will have learned a lot as well. And so thanks so much for taking the time.

Dig in & learn

Drew Simon: Yeah, absolutely. And what I will say too, is that when it comes to this topic, it’s hard to cover everything and the technology behind it. So don’t be afraid to dig into it to read. There’s a lot of great people in this space that will help you out. There’s a lot of great content. So just get in there, start reading, start learning about it. And I think you’ll be surprised with all the great work being done in this space. And thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure. And I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you.