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Land rights and blockchain are a natural pairing in Africa

Saidah Nash Carter  SVP, Innovation – Africa

Saidah Nash Carter  SVP, Innovation – Africa

How can disruptive technologies like distributed ledgers transform land administration and management for the modern age?

On July 1-2, our Cape Town team held a hackathon, joining forces with a wide range of stakeholders – including developers, designers, activists and technology specialists – to develop creative tech solutions to land rights issues.

Over 100 people participated in the two-day event held at the Bandwidth Barn. The shared work and innovation space is where we will base the Cape Town Lab launching this October! During the hackathon, participants worked in small cross-functional teams guided by mentors from Thomson Reuters, Deloitte, Rand Merchant Bank, Linum Labs, and Consent. Teams used design thinking techniques to explore our hackathon themes:

  • Women’s issues
  • Land as a tool for wealth creation
  • Blockchain applications

Land rights in Africa

The 2-day event began with a series of insightful talks from our customers, startups and local thought leaders to get the creative juices flowing. Gasant Jacobs, a leading Africa land administration expert, kicked it all off by reminding us of the pivotal role of land rights:

Land rights drive both social empowerment and economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa

We also called in two individuals to give us a human perspective, the keystone to design thinking. Our presenters used powerful multimedia storytelling to illustrate the human and community challenges that come with a lack of transparency and access in the area.

Johnny Miller of Unequal Scenes shared powerful aerial imagery of inequality in South Africa. In some areas, the only thing separating golf courses and swimming pools from crowded informal settlements is a concrete wall.

Koteso Moeti provided an on-the-ground perspective with her work in, a non-profit that empowers and connects local communities. Members of the online group use their cell phones to participate in the democratic process and make their voices heard.

This is just one example of how a young and interconnected Africa is full of innovators ready to create and use technology to instigate change.

Disruptive technology solutions in Africa are higher now than they have been in the last 20 years put together.

How land rights technology drives development

The strong links between government, buyer and bank in the mortgage system present incredible opportunities according to Farzam Ehsani, leader of the Rand Merchant Bank Blockchain Initiative. Ehsani gave an engaging talk on how distributed ledger technologies like Blockchain can add accessibility, efficiency and transparency to mortgages.

But applications for blockchain aren’t limited to finance. At the hackathon, BenBen – a recent graduate of the Barclays RISE accelerator – shared their startup journey. The group developed leading-edge blockchain based land solutions in partnership with the Ghana Lands Commission. By pulling data from the Lands Commission and other accredited sources, BenBen can generate a searchable land map, cut costs and enable trust in financial transactions.

Governments and taxpayers benefit directly from effective land management, too. Louise Muller, valuations director for the City of Cape Town (and customer of Thomson Reuters Aumentum) shared efficient government naturally follows efficient land administration; innovative tech and accessible processes enable the delivery of better services at a lower cost.

Disruptive technologies meet human needs

Armed with human stories and technical know-how, participants joined forces to tackle land rights issues during the second day of the hackathon. Here are a few of the ideas:


An app focused on property development through stokvels (savings and investment societies) in the rapidly growing township of Khayelitsha.

Property to People (P2P)

An app aimed at democratizing financial access by leveraging property titles for peer-to-peer loans on a publicly accessible blockchain exchange.

Master Map

The winning idea, Master Map tackles the lack of transparency, accuracy and accessibility of maps by using blockchain technology to disrupt this paper-based system.

Master Map walked away with a grand prize of R10 000 cash and a bitcoin and developer training course courtesy of Blockchain Academy worth over R13 000.

Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town

Thomson Reuters Labs Cape Town future team of data scientists
Posing with my awesome team at Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town, launching in October.

Cape Town Labs’ mission is to innovate at the intersection of Thomson Reuters domain expertise and where Africa has a need. Thomson Reuters enables governments from Nigeria to Uganda to South Africa to unlock the true potential of their land assets. The Lab aims to combine customer understanding with emerging technologies to push boundaries and build even better, more relevant solutions for our African customers.

Thomson Reuters Labs – Cape Town will open its doors officially in October. This is just the first of many exciting hackathons, innovation challenges and maker events that will harness the minds of Cape Town’s growing innovation center to turn challenges into opportunities.

Learn more

Want to get involved with Thomson Reuters Labs in Cape Town? Visit for more information.

View the RISE Financial Inclusion in Africa Hackathon report.

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