graduated early period
Founded in 2020 by
Negar Ekrami, Iraj Habibzadeh, Ali Hamidian, Bahareh Tavakoli, Amir Habibzadeh & Ermia Saharkhiz
The UNICEF Venture Fund is proud to see portfolio member Treejer graduate. They’ve come a long way – from building a complicated web3.0 protocol receiving $100k in forest funding soon after its public launch to building a community of 1,800 contributors on Gitcoin and becoming a certified Digital Public Good.
Lack of transparency, open innovation and proper incentives in forest funding and conservation has brought new challenges to our climate goals. On the other hand, reaching out to remote and unbanked communities is costly and sometime impossible. A significant part of climate grants is spent on transfer fees whereas crypto transfers are cheap, fast, and bank-less. With the help of web 3.0, now we can invite unbanked communities to join our climate journey and unlock new opportunities together.
When talking about climate action, coordination is the key. Smart contracts are capable of building trust-less, transparent, and multi-stakeholder coordination environments. In addition, eco-friendly NFTs add new incentive structures to increase community engagement. They work well when it comes to fundraising and providing proof-of donation.
We learned about what Web3.0 offers to regenerative finance, forest conservation and rural development, and now we’re using it to build open tools to fund, protect and track forests in a fun and easy way.
Over the last 12 months, the team was able to launch the Treejer protocol on Polygon, a public and eco-friendly blockchain. This enables anyone to fund and plant forests using our apps. Donors use a web interface to fund trees and expand their forests online while rural planters use the mobile app to get onboarded, submit trees, and receive support for their impactful contributions. The process takes places through direct crypto payments enabled by Treejer’s smart contracts on the blockchain.
We connected with local communities in 10 low-income countries to expand user testing in different environments. When adding new planter communities, not only do we consider the environmental impact of reforestation in each community, but also, we prioritize less-privileged communities to increase the project’s social impact. This explains why most of the initial planters are in lower-income countries where rural population struggles with issues like unemployment, underdevelopment, poverty, and high inflation. This inclusive approach helped us maximize the positive externalities of forest conservation. Local tree planters now plant forests, maintain them, and get paid instantly after providing verified updates from the trees. We also educate local communities about the good aspects of crypto, so that they can better benefit from it.
Treejer’s smart contracts manage forest funding on a public blockchain. They receive, store and release donations based on predefined terms. In addition, planters have user-friendly and non-custodial crypto wallets to access their conservation rewards without bank accounts. This unlocks new opportunities to support unbanked local communities around the world.
Onboarding local communities to web 3.0 is a challenging job when it comes to user experience. Our design strategy in building for rural communities has a core principle: Build Web3 products that create Web2 experience for users.
To achieve this objective, we did several UX improvements such as:
Introducing user-friendly and non-custodial wallets that don’t require Seed Phrase (a security feature in crypto that turns into a security risk without enough knowledge)
Adding a USD-pegged and decentralized stable-coin (DAI) as the protocol’s medium of exchange. The decision removed planters’ exposure to volatility in crypto assets. A USD-pegged asset also helps planters maintain the value of their unreleased funds if their local economy suffers from currency devaluation.
Sponsoring all crypto transactions for planter communities who use our mobile app so that they’re not exposed to crypto transaction fees and its complex structure
In the last year, our rural ambassadors shared inspiring stories of impact with us. For instance, we also learned about a man who used to cut down trees for a living to sell illegal coal before joining Treejer as a tree planter. Or there was another local shepherd who entirely changed his sheep herding route to a less accessible one in the mountains, so the sheep don’t feed on the saplings planted by his community. High rate of woman’s engagement and family support in certain communities was another interesting observation. This is important because women are traditionally more excluded from employment opportunities in some regions and men are the only source of income for the family. However, in our case, we observed different patterns.
In addition, the protocol received more than $100k in the first days after its public launch in January. We also managed to build a community of contributors who actively follow the project and support its development in many ways. So far, we’ve received contributions from 1800 donors on Gitcoin, the emerging fundraising platform on Ethereum. This resulted in team expansion and faster product development.
Milestones from the past year
Launching the Treejer Protocol on Polygon mainnet (v1.0)
Launching Genesis Tree Collection (as NFTs)
Expanding to 10 countries in Latin America, Africa, and Middle East to test the first version of the protocol
Developing the mobile app for planters (released on app stores)
Developing the browser-based (PWA) version for the mobile app to help onboard older smart phones without the need for installing it from app stores
Adding more integration tools and APIs to make partnerships easier and more permission-less
Improving documentation portal for users, builders, and contributors
Releasing our code-base under GPLv3 open-source license (smart contracts, frontends, mobile app)
Releasing user interface (UI) design files under an open license on Figma
Growing our community to thousands of followers and members on Twitter, Instagram and Discord
Creating an active forum on “discuss.treejer.com”
Launching multiple successful grant rounds on Gitcoin with over 1800 contributions so far
Launching Crossroads project, a peer-to-peer onboarding platform to learn ReFi (Regenerative Finance)
Receiving the first open-source contributions on GitHub
Getting certified as a Digital Public Good
Translating the apps into new languages with the help of community
Getting featured by Inter-American Development Bank as a recommended open-source tool for public managers in LatAm and the Caribbean
Making numerous partnerships with other web3 projects to help them achieve their sustainability goals
Today Treejer is recognized as a certified Digital Public Good and international institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank are recommending public managers and developers to build on top of its open-source code.
UNICEF Venture Fund and the Way Forward
Finally, we’re using our learnings from the launch of Treejer v1.0 to reshape the future of forest finance and rural development through web3. In the next year, we aim to expand the use-cases of the Treejer protocol, boost adoption, incentivize permission-less integrations and work on developing Treejer v2.0. The next version will mainly focus on scalability, carbon MRV, and a better user experience for both donors and planters. We envision a greener world where everyone can transparently plant and track a tree with a few clicks.
We’re extremely happy to be part of UNICEF portfolio projects. With their support, not only were we able to keep building in the open, but also, we accessed countless opportunities through their unique network and knowledge. They have a unique position to help impactful web 3.0 projects. Here are a few examples of how UNICEF supported Treejer during the last year:
A $100k equity-free investment in our open-source product
Regular contribution from a network of internal and external mentors and experts
Partnership opportunities with UNICEF partners, country offices and third parties who’re willing to support impactful projects
Potential follow-on investment from UNICEF Innovation Fund or other impact investors
Partnership opportunities with other portfolio companies (e.g.we partnered with KotaniPay to enable crypto off-ramp for our planters in Africa)
For sure, UNICEF will have a long-lasting impact on Treejer and I recommend other founders to consider joining the Innovation Fund too. Let’s plant more trees together!