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India Covid fund doles out long awaited payment from Buterin’s $1b donation

At long last, the money is flowing again.

For eight months, Vitalik Buterin’s historic $1 billion donation of digital tokens to the Indian Covid Relief Fund had been stuck. Then on March 29, the fund donated $430,563 to India’s Give Foundation to fund boat clinics in northeast India, according to Nagakarthik MP, a member of the ICRF leadership team told DL News.

Buterin, the co-founder and chief scientist of Ethereum, donated a mountain of Shib Inu memecoins in May 2021 to provide relief during the pandemic. It was one of the biggest donations in cryptocurrency history.

Yet in January, a DL News investigation revealed that only $58 million had been deployed to Indian charities.

“Give Foundation is helping build a boat clinic and ship hospital ecosystem in north eastern India. It’s a project we started last year which is moving into it’s second phase,” Nagakarthik said. The rural river region is often hit by floods, making the boat clinics essential for the local community to access health care, according the the Government of Assam’s webpage.

Each ship is thought to cost approximately $750,000 and supports up to four clinics, which themselves cost roughly $10,000.

Next on the list for ICRF is the goal of funding fellowships that places medics on the ships and clinics. According to Nagakarthik, the Assam region has the highest maternal and infant mortality rate in India, and the hope is that it kickstarts a programme that could be replicated by the government and taken forward long term.

Fund wallet

The ICRF also transferred $10 million of fiat into the stablecoin USDC from its FV Bank account, which is based in Puerto Rico, a US territory that has long been a crypto hub. On-chain data shows the amount landed in the fund’s wallet from Circle on Wednesday. In comments to DL News, Nagakarthik clarified that this is part of the fund restructure and allows them to open a news bank account for more “flexibility”.

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The ICRF was founded by Sandeep Nailwal, the CEO of the blockchain platform Polygon, amid the desperation of India’s second wave of covid in April 2021. The group has raised nearly $500 million. During the worst of the pandemic, more than 4,000 people died in India daily.

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Earlier this year, DL News reported how a complex maze of transactions converted Buterin’s Shiba tokens into nearly $500 million to deploy to Indian non-profit organisations tackling the Covid crisis.

Despite the windfall, the fund faced a huge task in converting the Shiba coins, which had extremely low liquidity, into cash without crashing the market.

Strategic fund

In January, Nailwal said the fund’s mandate would focus on a healthcare donations in India.

In comments to DL News at the end of January, Nailwal said: “As we move to a more structured and long-term approach, we recognise the importance of maintaining that same level of transparency and accountability. We are working with a major audit firm to provide external auditing of our financials to ensure that we continue to operate with the highest level of integrity and accountability.”

The fund is still working on specific projects for 2023 and has not yet signed of on anything new, according to Nagakarthik.

Despite the windfall the fund faced a huge task in converting the Shiba Inu, which had extremely low liquidity, into cash without crashing the market.

Nailwal has yet to confirm which firm the fund is working with, or when fully audited financials will be released.

Give India is an “Indian philanthropy marketplace” and does not list individual projects. The vast majority of its funding in 2022 came from outside of India.

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Charitable giving in India is closely monitored when funds come from abroad and must be processed through an organisation that has the right paperwork in place, known as a FCRA licence.

The ICRFs website hosts a “transparency page” reporting data such as the bank balance in fiat currency, bank charges, and total funds held in cryptocurrencies. It now shows $10 million transferred to USDC from the fiat bank account.