On the cusp of remaking the world: unlearning everything you learnt at school
Or: throwing down the digital gauntlet
Global Nomad – ‘Glomad’ - Jane Thomason has been working in international development most of her life, helping developing nations cope with enormous problems - poverty, inequality, and healthcare.
In 2010, her son told her someone had invented this digital currency, Bitcoin, and she needed to invest in it. And she laughed at him, and ‘passed’. One of her abiding regrets! He came back a few years later and said, “Mum, you know I told you to buy Bitcoin? Have you got any idea how much it’s worth now?” At that stage it was probably about $7,000, while it was about $10 when he first told her.
But on the back of it she started reading up about blockchain even though it was difficult at first - confusing, a bit counter-intuitive.
Her moment of realisation came one day when she was thinking about the Banda Aceh Boxing Day Tsunami when 200,000 lives were lost, and where she’d worked on the reconstruction. In the aftermath, all the identities got washed away, and no one knew who was lost and who was found. All the bank records were gone. All the medical reports were gone. And then donors came in trying to help people, and no one knew whether the money was actually getting to the people who needed it. And then came the people-traffickers.
Jane suddenly had this moment of realisation. If all of this had been stored on the blockchain it would’ve been so very much easier to do the reconstruction. It wouldn’t have taken away the pain and the suffering and the loss. But it would have made the whole reconstruction so much quicker and simpler.
And she realised she needed to start making connections, explaining to people why this was so terribly important.
There was some push-back. Some people still say blockchain is a solution that she’s trying to fit to a problem. But Jane has been working with exactly these problems for 30 years, and is perfectly positioned to see how this can really change people’s lives in emerging economies for the better.
And she’s become a total blockchain evangelist!
Blockchain’s transformational technology can help the bottom billion worldwide in economic terms change their lives in the way we’ve never even imagined – until now.
Jane is passionate about getting the message out, making people move faster, getting international institutions and governments to understand how blockchain can change the lives of citizens in their own countries, and asking them to lean in, and help shape the technology in a way that’s going to be effective in lifting the bottom billion out of poverty and make their lives better.
According to Jane, there already over 500 blockchain use cases on projects in emerging economies - so we need to look at those, see what they’re doing right (and wrong) – work out which are doing something that could be replicable - and then rolling that out for others. This is no good unless it has a scaleable effect around the world.
And we need to make a connection between the start-ups unable to access VC funding because they’re working with the poorest people and don’t fit a traditional commercial model, with what Jane calls the ‘money galore’ in the system, using the framework that ICOs offer.
As she says, start-ups generally don’t get into conversations with governments and international institutions; and even if they could get in there, they don’t always have the right language to connect with people who are currently the old world order.
We need to understand that the innovation, the ideas, the building of the future is from the young people. And we need to take their ideas and think about how you can actually make that work in a way that is executable and, especially in the emerging world, culturally-appropriate.
And, finally, Jane is wary of an us-against-them women/men focus, but says we should look to Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, where they automatically have plenty of women scientists, coders, and engineers – far more than in the US, or the UK. We need to look at ourselves and see how these biases are getting into the education system, we need to put coding into the primary school prospectus.
Jane recently visited Nigeria for the first time, where they have implemented ‘Code Lagos’ – an initiative to train one million coders within five years. And again, an equal mix of men and women. They have realised their future will be digital. They are throwing away their old education system. It’s a model for almost every other country – they have thrown down the gauntlet.
Jane’s thought for the future:
Blockchain and other frontier technology will be the way to change the world for those living in poverty in emerging economies. But it can also help address problems in the global commons – climate change, oceans - that’s the new frontier, irrespective of sovereign nations and politics. If we can build this around one issue, everyone will get it.
As she says, this is going to change our world. We need to unlearn a whole lot of things we’ve been taught throughout the education system, and throughout our lives. We must open our minds to the possibilities of distributed systems that will allow people to engage and connect right across this planet.
Our children’s future is digital, and we all need to be part of it