What if NFTs came out of the world of leisure and art?

NFTs are on the rise. Often associated with digital art, collectibles, songs, videos and designs, these virtual tokens are now absolutely everywhere, but not just a new art form. offers solutions, in any case partial, to certain problems in our society.

In a nutshell, an NFT (nonfungible token) is a unit of data stored on a blockchain – a database of transactions organized without the presence of a trusted central authority. Because they are based on blockchain technology, NFTs have specific assets to attract buyers: the origin of each token is identified on the blockchain, which provides proof of authenticity and ownership. In addition, blockchains make tokens available – their code is open source and the technology can be used by anyone.

In recent years, NFTs have become popular in art, music, gaming, sports and entertainment. An NFT depicting a digital work titled Everydays—the First 5000 Days, by artist Beeple, sold at Christie’s for a whopping $69 million last year.

But NFTs can also be used as representations of physical objects, such as gold or a watch, or documents, such as tickets, certificates or contracts. And it is in this digital representation of objects that do not belong to the world of art and leisure that NFTs have enormous potential.

In the education sector

Take training. Today, diplomas and certificates are issued by hand and often on paper. Storing, verifying and transferring these credentials is thus largely a manual process, making them easy to manipulate. Presenting a hard copy of your degree to potential employers can be difficult, and sending a university transcript usually involves requesting it from the institution in question, which sometimes costs a fee.

To simplify the process, education authorities could create NFTs linked to diplomas and certificates. NFTs could also be associated with detailed information about the course taken, as well as the student’s results, grades, reports and other achievements. With these new digital credentials, potential employers could effectively and securely verify the origin and authenticity of candidates’ qualifications, which would greatly improve the recruitment process.

This type of digital reference can have a huge effect on MOOCs, these distance and online courses. In recent years, the MOOC market has grown significantly. With the increase in the number of students, it has become more complex to identify and authenticate the certificates obtained. NFTs could make it easy to check which course a student has completed. Teachers could also use the digital tokens to secure their own credentials and provide proof of their qualifications and transparency to students about the content they offer.

In the medical field

The medical sector also offers potential for NFTs, particularly for medical records. Today, patient data is spread across multiple platforms and sometimes difficult to access. As a result, some Americans experience unnecessary or duplicative treatments as a result of misdiagnosis due to mishandling of their medical records. NFTs could be used to create a secure, accurate and verifiable reference that could identify the owner of the record and the data in question. This digital reference could be linked to a patient’s medical history and chart, which could be transferred to different healthcare providers.

There are certainly some technical issues and difficulties that should be resolved before using NFTs in education, healthcare, or any other application involving personal information. Knowing when and how to use NFTs or not is at the heart of these questions. One of the biggest difficulties concerns the respect for privacy – most blockchains are public. Where should confidential data be stored and how to protect privacy and ensure interoperability? Other challenges relate to the intellectual property and carbon footprint of blockchain technologies, and more specifically the amount of electricity needed to verify transactions. These choices about their implementation, and many others, will affect the usability of the final product.

Social impact

But let me highlight another possible use of NFTs that I believe has great potential: their use by associations, universities, and research organizations to fund missions and serve as drivers of societal change. Using NFTs, these entities were able to advance their research, create beautiful collectibles, as well as raise awareness and fundraise for various causes and initiatives. Producing NFTs can allow them to build a new donor base that is young, familiar with the digital world, motivated by certain causes and with deep pockets. In fact, the use of NFTs to build a community already exists and is an often underrated benefit of this technology.

For example, a scientist who has uncovered secrets about environmental degradation could create NFT from a print of his pioneering research and offer it to a donor who supports carbon mitigation efforts. Or researchers who have found the vaccine that fights an infectious disease could engrave the moment of their discovery forever in the NFT of a patent and sell it to raise funds for further exploration and analysis. A telling example of this practice: the sale last summer, for $5.4 million, of a 9,555-line NFT version of the original Internet source code by its inventor, Sir Tim Berners Lee, through Sotheby’s. The profit from the sale was donated to various charities.

Another example of NFT making a social impact is the philanthropic campaign led by NFT4Good as part of the #StopAsianHate trend. This campaign involved the creation of digital trading cards featuring 88 Asian and Pacific American personalities in entertainment, sports, business, new technology and community activism; like Kevin Lin, co-founder of Twitch, and Brandun Lee, professional boxer. Each NFT was associated with a real trading card so buyers could also own a physical representation of their NFT. The tokens were sold for a week and the funds donated to associations fighting racism as part of the #StopAsianHate and #HateIsAVirus initiatives.

The potential for blockchain and NFT technology to raise money and have a social impact is remarkable, enabling the scientist, inventor, professor, artist and even government official to make their mark on the world. While some complexities around NFTs need to be resolved and there is still much to learn, this innovation offers a unique opportunity to unlock value to support positive change.

Professor Hammer is Executive Director of the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, Senior Director of the Harris Alternative Investments Program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

(Translated from the original English version by Bérengère Viennot)

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