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Can a crypto COVID-19 relief fund reshape philanthropy in Vietnam?

Written by Stephanie Pearl Li Published on     4 mins read

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Cryptocurrencies are not recognized as legal tender in Vietnam, but 21% of people in the country have owned or used blockchain-based assets.

The MaskOn Charity is a cryptocurrency charity fund founded by a group of blockchain industry professionals in Vietnam. It is raising funds to purchase medicine and equipment while the country contends with its deadly fourth wave of COVID-19. So far, donors have poured in USD 62,300 worth of cryptocurrency, based on KrASIA’s examination of transactions involving MaskOn’s Ethereum, Binance Smart Chain, and Solana wallets.

MaskOn is the first charity fund of its kind in Vietnam, where crypto is not recognized as legal tender. Nonetheless, Vietnam is among the top three countries in crypto adoption in terms of the percentage of people who have owned or used blockchain-based digital assets, according to data from Statista.

Vietnam is grappling with surging infections—867,221 cases and 21,269 deaths have been recorded in the country as of October 19, according to the Ministry of Health. Before September 28, many people were restricted from spending time in public areas, particularly in urban hubs.

“The lockdown meant that everything was done online, so we thought of a new movement, a new form of philanthropy—which is crypto fundraising,” the MaskOn Charity’s spokesperson told KrASIA.

It took “a few weeks” for the team to set up the initiative. The project consists of seven leading figures in the blockchain and crypto industry, including Trung Nguyen, CEO and co-founder of play-to-earn game Axie Infinity. Experts from the Kyber Network, Coin98, TomoChain, and Kyros Ventures are also involved.

The spokesperson said that charity foundations in the country often lack transparency, and it isn’t clear how donations are delegated. “For example, they use personal bank accounts [to mobilize the funds], but they do not disclose full bank statements, receipts, and so on. The public has become reluctant towards such fundraising methods,” the spokesperson said, adding that anyone with an internet connection could monitor the MaskOn Charity’s donation flow by accessing transactions recorded on blockchains.

The pandemic relief fund was organized by Mai Am Hanh Phuc, a licensed nonprofit that will be responsible for managing the donations and working with contractors to purchase medicines such as remdesivir and molnupiravir, as well as essential daily items like masks, food, and personal protective equipment.

Crypto-based philanthropy remains uncharted territory, with the high volatility of many digital assets being one of the biggest issues, but a recent case demonstrates success in this space. Sandeep Nailwal, the founder of blockchain scalability platform Polygon, created a crypto COVID-19 relief fund for India in April that has since raised more than USD 440 million in crypto, according to its website.

In May, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin donated 500 Ether and over 50 trillion Shiba Inu coins to Nailwal’s project, which were all together worth around USD 1 billion at the time. But the vast sum of Shiba Inu coins involved in the transaction brought its value down by 50%, Nailwal told Bloomberg in an interview in July.

The incident shows that where, when, and how cryptocurrencies are converted into fiat money are fundamentally important, as the value of cryptocurrencies may fluctuate quickly and by large magnitudes. The MaskOn Charity’s spokesperson told KrASIA that they are aware of the volatility issue. “We encourage the donation of stablecoins like USDT. We will withdraw via over-the-counter [trading platforms] when the fundraising period is over, then transfer all the money to Mai Am Hanh Phuc Fund,” the spokesperson explained.

MaskOn will close its fundraising in November. Besides USDT, it accepts many types of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on the Ethereum, Binance Smart Chain, Polygon, and Solana blockchains. So far, the project has attracted “less than 10 donors.” Polygon’s Nailwal said on Twitter that he chipped in USD 10,000 worth of crypto.

When asked whether MaskOn may expand to become a long-term charity fund, the project’s spokesperson said their team is focusing on raising money for COVID-19 relief for now.

“This is our first time organizing such an initiative, so we are not sure how people will respond. If we are lucky enough to have public support in the long term, we will look at more sustainable projects, such as building schools. However, we think that is a story of the future. Right now, COVID-19 relief is our urgent goal,” the spokesperson said.

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