Mention the word ‘blockchain’ to most folks and those familiar with it usually start thinking about cryptocurrencies.

But a recent hackathon in Cape Town has revealed that this technology can also be used to improve lives – and not just those in the finance sector.

How about a water saving solution that uses incentives to entice people to save water? Or a blockchain system that helps ensure better transparency and security for voters during elections? Or how about tech that allows farmers to use their cattle as collateral on a blockchain, that enables peer-to-peer lending?

Sounds bizarre right? Well these are just three of the ideas that boiled out of the Unlock The Block hackathon held recently in Cape Town. Hosted by Linum Labs and the African Institute of Financial Markets And Risk Management (AIFMRM), Unlock The Block was Cape Town’s first ever blockchain symposium, attracting around 80 participants from around the globe.

The idea behind the event was to unlock the potential of blockchain beyond cryptocurrencies and change “systems that already exist”.

 “The event has shown us two things, firstly that the applications of blockchain technology in improving people’s lives in Africa are immense and second, it is much easier to build those applications than many people think – we just need to work together,” said Paul Kohlhaas, Founder of Linum Labs.

The event’s special prize went to SudoTesla, a project designed to transfer water tokens via the Ethereum network to a smart meter, allowing users to be compensated for water that they save. The prize, which grants the team access to Absa’s Rise facilities at the Woodstock Exchange, will help the project be developed further.

First prize was split between two teams, BlackPoll and Proof Of Steak; the former developed a blockchain voting system allowing better governance in companies and transparency in election. Proof Of Steak for its part uses blockchain tech to allow farmers to use their cattle as collateral in a system of peer-to-peer lending.