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Blockchain in Action Blockchain is already being used in surprising ways, and more applications are coming down the pike.

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Kogod professors Bob Sicina and Ayman Omar sitting together and smiling.

What would you do if you were traveling in a different country and lost your passport?

Probably panic.

But what if you no longer had to worry about even carrying one?

In less than a year, blockchain may make it possible for travelers to cross borders with a digital passport instead. Right now, Canada and the Netherlands are testing virtual passports using a new initiative called Known Traveller Digital Identity, a “digital wallet” that allows users to control when and how their information is shared. The idea is that, over time, travelers would develop a “known traveler status,” making it easier for them to get through bottlenecks like airport security and customs—all verified by the tamper-proof transactions recorded in a blockchain.

A blockchain is a record of transactions spread across a peer-to-peer network of computers that verifies changes and progress to ensure that all information is accurate and transparent. While it’s most often associated with cryptocurrency, blockchain has uses far beyond verifying Bitcoin transactions—like making our pharmaceuticals safer, tracing the source of foodborne illness, and streamlining disaster relief. And at Kogod’s second annual Blockchain Forum, students, alumni, and professionals from a variety of fields will have the opportunity to learn even more about blockchain’s ability to make our lives better, safer, and easier.

Blockchain Hub founders Ayman Omar and Bob Sicina discuss why students and professionals of all backgrounds need to know about blockchain technology in the video below.

Hosted by the team behind Kogod’s Blockchain Hub, professor of information technology Ayman Omar and professor of international business Bob Sicina, the conference will take a deep dive into what’s happening in the field and introduce new ways blockchain can be implemented. “We are focusing on use cases, blockchain in action,” explains Omar. “What is currently happening? What are the challenges, and how do we move forward?”

“Blockchain can be used to address issues related to tracking and tracing, transparency, trust, and visibility,” Sicina adds. For people who think that blockchain is just cryptocurrency, he says, “They’re wrong.”

While the technology is gaining traction in use cases ranging from financing the under banked to trade finance, there are still plenty of untapped possibilities. Omar and Sicina are using the Blockchain Forum as a space to explore that potential. “Blockchain is an evolving technology,” Omar says. “It’s not just used in the business world. It can also be used for international development.”

“For example, land titling,” Sicina adds. “Seventy percent of the world’s inhabitants are squatters with no legal title, and blockchain can help establish an identity for individuals with no documentation.”

Currently, blockchain is being used to keep monetary and location records for Syrian refugees and their donors. Prior to blockchain’s adoption, 30 percent of donations ($40 billion) never reached the intended recipients due to the interference of corrupt middlemen. Now, donors can rest assured that their money is going to refugees, who have easier access to food and goods.

Omar and Sicina are, however, realistic about blockchain’s limitations. “We approach education about blockchain from a neutral stance,” says Sicina. “We aren’t trying to push the technology where it doesn’t make sense.”

But for many, it offers an improvement over existing processes. “Our students are reviewing the insurance industry and supply chain management to see how these can be made more efficient by applying blockchain solutions,” says Sicina.

“We’re also focused on advancing sustainability initiatives in the hospitality industry through blockchain and the potential benefits of blockchain in the circular economy,” adds Omar.

The most difficult part of expanding blockchain into more fields is the culture change it requires. For many, adopting a new technology can be intimidating, especially when they don’t know exactly how it works or in what ways it may be helpful. “People are more problematic than the technology,” Sicina explains, “but with education and awareness, we hope to change that.”

On November 5, Blockchain Forum attendees will have the opportunity to hear from experts in government, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations who are implementing blockchain in their fields and exploring its possibilities.  And once the forum ends, Omar and Sicina hope more students, faculty, alumni, and professionals engage with Kogod’s Blockchain Hub. “Our course offerings are expanding, and we expect to have a certificate program by next fall,” says Sicina. With this future program, students can be one of the new kids on the block(chain) and become the drivers of this emerging technology.

Get your tickets to “Blockchain in Action” at kogod.american.edu/blockchain.