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UNHCR’s exec on partnering S’pore blockchain firm Mars Panda to launch a charity NFT auction

unhcr marspanda

Over the past year, NFTs and cryptocurrencies have become an immensely popular vehicle for fundraising and helped kickstart ventures in a variety of fields, from gaming to finance.

Some projects have also taken it upon themselves to support charitable causes. In October 2021, the Dogs of Elon NFT project donated over US$100,000 to #TeamSeas, a campaign designed to clean up the oceans. It’s a remarkable juxtaposition — a project inspired by internet memes contributing to real-world change.

Donations such as these have played a role in bringing legitimacy to crypto and NFT communities. As a result, charities and non-profit organisations have begun leveraging on the trend as well.

There’s a significant amount of money being spent on .jpegs on a daily basis, so why not put it to good use?

Singapore’s first charity NFT auction

Last year, Singaporean blockchain company Mars Panda created one of the first NFT marketplaces with a built-in know-your-customer (KYC) system. The platform announced its launch with a charity auction event called Blockchain For Good.

Blockchain For Good was hosted in partnership with Blockchain Association Singapore (BAS) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), with an aim to raise funds for the NTUC-U Care Fund. It featured works by renowned personalities such as Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin.

The auction was an immense success, far exceeding its initial fundraising goals. In total, over S$400,000 were generated to support assistance programs, which defray the cost of living for those in need and provide care for the elderly.

Fast forward to today, Mars Panda is now hosting its second charity auction. This time, it’s in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

How did the Mars Panda x UNHCR collaboration come about?

In recent years, UNHCR has been exploring innovative ways to raise much-needed funds to help the millions of displaced people whom we are mandated to protect and assist. UNHCR has had numerous discussions with blockchain companies in Singapore to identify a partner to collaborate with us on an NFT project.

– Ann Moey, Partnerships Lead (Singapore), UNHCR

After finding out about Mars Panda’s work on Blockchain For Good, UNHCR saw them as a fitting partner for their journey into the NFT space. The agency reached out to a number of celebrities and artists, asking them to pledge unique pieces for the auction.

Among those featured are Dan Williams, illustrator of Sea Prayer authored by Khaled Hosseini, and Phra Medhivajirodom, a prominent Buddhist monk, scholar, writer and social worker from Thailand. Medhivajirodom is a UNHCR patron who donated a one stroke painting titled Bodhi Yan to the auction.

valencia cf carlos soler nft
A jersey signed by Valencia CF captain Carlos Soler is up for auction as part of the campaign by UNHCR and Mars Panda / Image Credits: Mars Panda

The NFT auction also features jerseys from football club Valencia, signed by their respective players. The physical jerseys will be sent to the winning bidders along with their NFT counterparts.

“The auction features a diverse group of artists,” adds Moey. “Some are traditional artists that specialise in acrylic and watercolour paintings, while others create digital art. Quite a number of them have also participated in similar NFT auctions and were keen to continue to give back to society.”

Why NFTs, and what will the proceeds be used for?

UNHCR has taken a phygital approach to their auction, where the NFTs on sale represent real-world possessions. This might lead some to wonder why NFTs were brought into the equation at all.

NFTs have proven to be very successful fundraising medium recently, with many charities harnessing the power of NFTs to launch their own fundraising initiatives. Our action is targeted at everyone, but more specifically the crypto community — those familiar with the space, as well as those looking to make an entry.

– Ann Moey, Partnerships Lead (Singapore), UNHCR

By using NFTs for their auction, there’s also the potential to continue raising funds through resale.

“Traditional fundraising currently revolves around one-off donations. The continued income from secondary sales of our NFTs will allow us to raise more funds for the cause, which in turn enable us to have more impact on the ground.”

Moey believes that NFTs can be a useful tool in the push for social change as they allow artists and collectors alike to raise awareness and funds through their passion for the arts.

For this particular charity NFT auction, it aims to raise much-needed funds and awareness for Afghan refugees and displaced persons in Afghanistan.

afghan refugees
Over nine million Afghan people have been displaced from their homes / Image Credits: UNHCR / Edris Lutfi

“The Afghan people face one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises,” Moey explains. Almost half the country’s population faces acute hunger while a quarter of them are displaced.

“Millions of children are out of school, fundamental rights of women and girls are under attack, farmers and herders are struggling amidst the worst drought in decades, and the economy is in free fall.”

In order to fulfil its commitment to protect the people of Afghanistan, UNHCR requires US$609.9 million in funding this year. They’re expecting to raise over US$250,000 with this auction.

Singaporean residents can’t currently participate in the charity auction as Mars Panda is still seeking approval to conduct campaign activities in the country. However, chances are, there will be plenty of other opportunities in the future.

“This NFT auction is the first of its kind for UNHCR in Asia, and it is only the beginning,” says Moey. “We will certainly continue to look out for other crypto initiatives to engage in, with the objective of providing much needed aid to vulnerable displaced communities worldwide.”


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Featured Image Credit: UNHCR / Mars Panda

Also Read: IreneDAO co-creator on reality of the S$7.5M NFT collection: “We didn’t make any money from it”

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