Unicef, the global children's charity, has launched a pilot scheme that asks PC gamers to help mine cryptocurrency in aid of Syrian children.

The New York-headquartered UN programme, which provides assistance to children and mothers in developing nations, has appealed for the PC community to transform graphics cards into a humanitarian force by using their powerful computers to create Ethereum – a form of cryptocurrency designed for smart contracts.

The scheme is dubbed "Game Chaingers" - a play on the word blockchain which is the underlying technology of cryptocurrency. The scheme runs until the end of March.

At the time of writing, it had raised €1,150 (£1,022, $1,426) from more than 480 backers. Behind bitcoin, Ethereum is the second highest-valued virtual currency.

To participate, PC gamers install software known as "Claymore" to start generating digital coins which will be sent to Unicef's electronic wallet for storage.

"Today, a lot of different cryptocurrencies exist in the world and some of them are "mined" thanks to the power of the graphics cards of the computers," the organisation says on its website.

"Like any new technology, Ethereum and cryptocurrencies are subject to volatility," it continues. "But the debate is not there. What interests us is to use this cryptocurrency as a painless way to contribute. Through the use of mining we create an opportunity for those who cannot give or have never had the opportunity to do so."

According to Unicef statistics, 13.5 million people, one million of whom are children, need emergency help in Syria. The hope of the project is to give urgent support in the areas of water, hygiene, education, protection and health – especially to those living in hard-to-reach zones.

Blockchain technology, essentially an online ledger of transactions, can help to ensure that payments, donations and contracts – are recorded in a transparent manner.

Experts in the charity sector appear aware of crypto's bad reputation – links to cybercrime and money laundering, for example – but have stressed that there is much more to the idea than bitcoin. They say it is the blockchain that shows real promise.

"People in the aid and development world have seen business and technology firms becoming more interested, seeing more applicability to what they are doing, "Rhodri Davies, head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation, told the Guardian.

"The first thing to say is that blockchain is not just about bitcoin. Charities don't need to be holding cryptocurrencies but [can] focus on the underlying technology to solve problems.

"We won't see it really take off until one of the big agencies turns its pilot scheme into full-scale implementation. That's where you will start seeing a large difference."