ST raises over $21k for charity in its first NFT auction

The illustration "The permanence of cats" was one of the items up for auction. ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times has raised $21,564 in its first-ever non-fungible token (NFT) auction held from last Wednesday to Tuesday (Dec 22 to 28) on the digital platform Blockchain For Good, a corporate social responsibility initiative of the Blockchain Association Singapore, in partnership with Drew & Napier.

The amount, before deducting any transaction costs, will be donated to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.

Each year, the fund supports 10,000 children and young people in their school-related expenses, such as buying meals during recess and paying for transport. Since it was started in 2000, it has disbursed more than $85 million and supported over 180,000 children and young people.

The auction was announced in the Dec 13 Opinion column "Own a piece of the metaverse", which dived into the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and blockchains. We asked what this means for how art is defined and valued, and whether the virtual world, with a digital economy powered by blockchain technology, will become as real as the physical world.

Bidders were given from Dec 13 to last Wednesday to set up their wallets, complete the know-your-customer (KYC) process, and receive their digital tokens. Fifty-nine potential bidders registered.

The process

The auction got off to a quiet start last Wednesday and stayed that way for the next few days. As those of us who organised the auction watched the bids inch upwards, we wondered: Was everyone away on staycation? Busy with Christmas preparations?

Would there be a late surge in activity, just like how Singaporeans like to do last-minute shopping?

Indeed, more bids were placed towards the end. Close to half of the total number of 28 bids, which were made by nine serious bidders, were placed on Tuesday, the last day of the auction.

There was a nail-biting flurry of bids in the closing hour before midnight. We ended up with four different winning bidders, one for each of the three art illustrations and one column.

Here are the final bid amounts and the time the winning bids were placed on Tuesday:

- The column "Own a piece of the metaverse": $10,000 at 11.09pm

- The illustration "Bullish Bitcoin": $4,088 at 11.58pm. Active bidding started in the last 1½ hours, which saw a total of four bids


- The illustration "The permanence of cats": $4,088 at 11.58pm. Active bidding started in the last one hour, with two competing bids just two and three minutes before the auction closing time


- The infographic "A guide to cryptocurrencies": $3,388 at 11.16pm

The bidders

I reached out to the winning bidders. Due to the pseudonymous nature of NFT bidding, I had to rely on their willingness to speak to me and also the information they had volunteered, such as their e-mail address used to register on the platform.

Mr Zack Yang, the co-founder of Singapore fintech company FOMO Pay, said the infographic "A guide to cryptocurrencies", which he successfully bid for, can help the firm's clients and partners better understand crypto and Web 3.0.

"It could significantly help on market education and wider adoption of digital currencies and digital assets. It also aligns with our goal as the gateway connecting fiat and crypto," he said.

"Besides, this auction is for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, and we want to contribute our efforts to support more children and young people who are born in the digital era. We hope that they will also benefit more from the upcoming Web 3.0 trend."

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In September, FOMO Pay obtained licences from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to operate three new regulated activities. One of them is facilitating transactions with digital payment tokens, including cryptocurrency and central bank digital currency.

On the user experience, Mr Yang said he liked how this is one of the first local NFT auction platforms to require KYC: "It helps people who are new to crypto, to build more trust to use digital currencies and digital assets in future."

Mr Andrew Fang, who put in the winning bid for the illustration "Bullish Bitcoin", said he liked the novel way in which the NFTs opened up access to a high-profile auction.

"The process was really simple and transparent," said Mr Fang, who works in the healthcare industry. "It was a great showcase of the use of blockchain technology for a good cause."

Another bidder, Mr Lim Peng Hun, who is currently in the United States and was visiting his son here when he read about the auction, said his family felt it was a meaningful initiative to take part in.

"It was a great learning opportunity on NFTs, while supporting a good cause. This was a timely project, as we had been discussing various topics on blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and how we can give back to the community as a family."

Mr Lim, who made the winning bid for the illustration "The permanence of cats", added that his family found the experience "educational and enlightening".

"With my son's help, we were able to navigate the process of setting up the wallet and participating in the auction. It was particularly exciting in the last hour of bidding, as we had to wake up in time and put in the final bid during breakfast (US time)!"

What's next

This year, there have been more than US$9 billion (S$12 billion) in NFT sales on the Ethereum blockchain so far. Total NFT sales are expected to hit at least US$17.7 billion by the end of the year, as new traders look to boost secondary market activity.

Some believe that NFTs and other blockchain-based technologies will reshape the media landscape, allowing creators to have greater ownership over how they create and monetise their works, while reaching out to a wider audience.

Overseas media companies have also joined the fray, releasing thousands of news photos and articles as digital collectibles backed by NFTs.

Will NFTs by media companies in Singapore expand beyond charity auctions into the realm of large-scale digital archival and finance? How will the cryptocurrency and blockchain scene here evolve?

We will have more to say on the promises and pitfalls of this new technology and its real-life applications. Meanwhile, have a look at our coverage on this topic so far, and continue with us on our journey into the metaverse.

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