Non-fungible tokens, better known as NFTs, took the world by storm in 2021. By late December, $2.1bn had been invested globally, representing a staggering 6,523% increase on 2020’s investment total, according to CB Insights. NFTs have drawn the attention of investors and collectors within the art, music and creative industries as well as real estate and sport. But now there is a nascent movement within the international development arena for NFT investment as the driver for social change.
This new frontier of international development impact investing through NFTs has not yet been fully explored, but interest in sustainable investing is not new and Bloomberg Intelligence estimates the value of sustainable investments globally will reach $50trn by 2025, up from an estimated $41trn in 2022. In a 2019 survey by Morgan Stanley, 85% of respondents expressed an interest in sustainable investing. The percentage of millennials interested in sustainable investing was even higher at 95%.
Given the reputation of Millennials and Generation Z for preferring values-driven investing, NFT impact investing ticks many boxes. Examples of such projects include Brazilian climate tech company Moss.earth's Moss Amazon NFT, which enables investors to preserve a small part of the Amazon rainforest. Others include Blazed Cats, which which donates 10% of every sale of a Blazed Cat NFT to Mental Health America, and the Gents Club, a philanthropic organisation based around an NFT collection of 6,666 unique digital crypto gentleman.
Further afield, Dr Noel Akpata is on a mission to lead social impact investing on the African continent through this unconventional route. Akpata’s project, Krowd Power NFTs draws on his experience of working with international development organisations, federal government and the private sector as the founder of an innovation strategy consultancy in his home country of Nigeria. It is this idea of using innovation to address Nigeria’s long-standing economic development goals that has prompted Akpata to pursue the NFT route.
Seeing the opportunity presented by a global community of NFT enthusiasts, Akpata first proposed his idea to the global steering committee of the World Social Innovation Forum – of which he is a member – to kick-start the project in Nigeria. “The organisation champions social innovation ideas on a global scale and I have a mandate for Africa,” he says.
Linking NFTs to social impact projects
Targeting NFT projects at global enthusiasts to fund socially impactful initiatives will create a virtuous circle in a closed loop scenario, according to Akpata. A subscription-based membership community with multiple revenue streams offering the opportunity to buy NFTs with a purpose is Akpata's vision. “This global community of NFT collectors can know they are supporting what we're doing in Africa,” he says.
Akpata is a medical doctor by training, so it made sense to start with health-based projects. Krowd Power NFTs' first project involves bringing world-class medical equipment to six selected hospitals across Nigeria, one for each geopolitical zone in the country. The project plans to make presentations to its NFT community showcasing the equipment needed and then crowdsourcing through the purchase of NFTs linked to the project.
“We will create an NFT project around the entire process – when the process starts, when the equipment is bought, where the equipment is installed and how people are benefiting from the usage of the equipment,” he says. All of which will give the NFT-buying community a sense of belonging in the project’s impact. “They can say to themselves that ‘I was part of those who made it happen’,” says Akpata.
Further social impact may be realised in the eventual development of a medical sector industry hub around the NFT project site. Once medical equipment is procured, hospitals can offer services to locals as well as developing the capacity for medical tourism. “For example, a medical procedure may cost $50,000 in the US but could now be available in Africa at $15,000, for [non-Africans]. And for Africans, we can charge $300 or $200,” says Akpata. In an ideal world, Akpata sees the NFT projects eventually covering many aspects of the medical sector from serving local nationals and medical tourists to creating an environment in which the medical devices can actually be designed and produced. “The project may eventually cover a whole gamut of operations and activities,” he says.
In Akpata’s mind, a global community of NFT collectors already exists, so why not collect with purpose? And though NFT impact investing is arguably altruistic, there is some financial upside, he insists. The value of an NFT depends on its impact over time and that is driven by what the digital asset is linked to. “The financial value of our NFTs will be tied directly to the level of social impact we're having in the field and the level of international branding that that gives them,” says Akpata .
Though Krowd Power NFTs is a first for Nigeria, Akpata believes that others will follow and that this novel way of fundraising will become a growing trend. The will of the international community to help is strong, he says, adding: “A prosperous Africa is a prosperous world, and everybody wants to Africa to succeed.” But talk is cheap, and action is costly, and Akpata believes the global NFT collective has the potential to follow through and make a difference in international development.