Making the Swytch to Sustainability 0 7856

You might think a US President installing solar panels on the White House would signal a sea of change in renewable energy, but with Jimmy Carter’s loss in the 1980 election, the panels came down and haven’t been up since. It’s puzzling that an industry that has the potential to save the planet isn’t thriving, even after decades of development. Especially when one considers how much the technology has improved, with renewables set to be cheaper than fossil fuels in a few scant years.

The reasons behind this are numerous. Many governments remain suspicious of the technology, no doubt thanks to strident lobbying by the fossil fuel industry. When governments have taken action, as with the US under President Obama, the results fell short of admittedly lofty expectations. And the country’s CO2 emissions are set to increase 1 percent in 2018 after a brief period of decline.

However, even the most effective government in the world would find it hard to push the planet into a greener tomorrow. Governments only hold sway over the land within their borders, and even if a major player like China enacted sweeping reforms, it would do little to change matters in the rest of the world. Blockchain technology is uniquely poised to organize global governmental efforts, thanks to its inherent data security and decentralization.

“The main purpose of blockchain in governance, at least in its current guise, is data integrity,” says Jon Martindale in Digital Trends’ “Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin” series released this week. “If more government entities can rely on the integrity of data from partner agencies, then sharing information should make many facets of government more efficient, while also improving security,” Martindale continues.

If we’re going to see a fundamental shift in world energy production, a system that transcends local governments by democratizing data and adding efficiencies offers a significant step forward.

“It turns out that much of the world agrees that we need a reduction of carbon – that’s what cities, countries, and corporations like Microsoft want to achieve. But it’s a very tough objective function for the world to solve for, because if you think of the incentive structure – it’s local – it can’t be traded across geography, so it’s inefficient and temporal,” says Evan Caron, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Swytch, a blockchain platform that verifies and rewards the production of sustainable and renewable energy.

How Green is Our Valley?

Swytch solves one of the most significant factors in lagging renewable energy adoption – the lack of a global and easily tradable incentive mechanism.

The solution is four-fold. First, Swytch collects data from renewable energy producers using existing smart meter technology. This data is ‘stamped’ onto Swytch’s blockchain, then verified and evaluated by a collection of open-source algorithms. Once the algorithms determine the amount of clean energy produced (and by extension the amount of carbon displaced) a corresponding amount of crypto-tokens are minted and delivered to the energy producer.

The tokens are ERC20 compliant and can be converted into fiat currency, other cryptocurrencies, or invested into other renewable projects. In a way, Swytch is the opposite of Bitcoin. Instead of using proof of work, which generates an obscene amount of CO2, Swytch uses proof of production, rewarding reductions in carbon emissions.

The incentive model is scalable, too – everyone from homeowners with solar panels on their roofs to heavy industry leaders able to take part. Entire cities are on board, including six in South Korea, as well as parts of Austria and Germany.

Data is Power

Another issue plaguing renewables is the lack of comprehensive, trustworthy data. It’s currently difficult to gauge where the most energy is being produced and what types of energy is most efficient.

Swytch is seeking to change that through its data collection feature. Every bit of information gathered from energy producers will be made publicly available in order to provide a shared, objective system that anyone can learn from.

As Evan notes, “Anyone in the power business realizes that the more good data there is, the better the whole system is. The data that’s out there is not that great – it comes in slow increments. What we’re betting on is that people want to share the data and if they’re getting compensated for it, they want to do it even more.”

While Swytch’s data aggregation techniques have the potential to revolutionize how information is gathered and shared in the renewable energy market, it’s the platform’s ground-up incentivizing structure that has the most disruptive potential. Through tokenization and the blockchain, Swytch can do what others have not – transcend borders, local politics, and the lingering power of oil and gas conglomerates to bring the world closer to 100 percent sustainable energy.

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T.J. Mulqueen (PMP, MBA, CCP) is a mechanical engineer by trade, working as a commissioning professional for the built environment. With a focus on optimizing building function and performance, and an interest in green energy initiatives, T.J. is also a science and technology communicator. His writing has been featured in Huffington Post and Thrive Global.

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Baking Bread in a Refugee Camp Just Got Easier 0 53

When Zulfiqar Deo and Ondrej Dusilek first visited Jordan in 2016 to conduct interviews in the Zaatari UN refugee camp, they found a paradox. Nearly a hundred thousand refugees, displaced by the war in Syria, were living in a ‘camp’ that’s looking more and more like a permanent settlement every year. Many of these refugees were educated professionals or business people in Syria. But in Zaatari they’re not allowed to work. Though the Jordanian government provides $870 million in annual support, they have restrictions on refugee work permits in order to protect their own economy.

Nevertheless, businesses naturally pop up in a community of this size. Deo, who was detained at the airport, communicated with Dusilek and their support team in the camp, including advisors from PriceWaterhouse Cooper and SIX Group, a coach and mentor from the F10 fintech incubator, and a handful of volunteers. They estimated that three thousand microbusinesses helped circulate $11 million per month in the Zaatari community.

Invisible Businesses

Without access to capital, though, the refugee’s businesses were struggling. A wedding dress rental company couldn’t grow to meet the demands of the community. A baker wanted to scale up his shop but couldn’t afford the machine that would make it possible. “Refugee entrepreneurs are a significant global population not being served,” Deo told The Block Talk earlier this week. “They cannot access a business bank account. They have no formal record that their business even exists,” says Deo. “Even as successful entrepreneurs, they’re financially excluded.”

This ‘significant global population’ is growing fast. Over 68 million people worldwide have been displaced by violence, and that number is growing by 300 thousand people each year. If this unprecedented upsurge continues, we’re looking at a near future in which one out of every 100 people on earth is a refugee.

Part of the refugee experience is disconnection. But we have the technology to connect people. Can we introduce it to regions like Zaatari to engage refugees more directly with the global community? Can we use the blockchain to finance refugee entrepreneurs and stimulate micro-economies in camps and settlements?

Boosting the World’s Underserved Through Technology

That’s the thinking behind BizGees, the company Deo and Dusilek launched to bring microfinancing to refugees. They want to support refugee-owned small businesses with interest-free loans, inventory, six months of ongoing support, and access to amenities from partner companies, like WSV’s ‘business in a box’ toolkit. By Deo’s calculation, a support package like this lowers the risk of business failure from 90 percent (which is close to normal for first time entrepreneurs, although these numbers are tricky to nail down) to a mere 10 percent.

“Refugees naturally nurture the same skills entrepreneurs have just out of necessity,” Deo observes. He notes that the creativity, initiative and ownership necessary for their survival are also traits commonly associated with entrepreneurs. “So why not support them?”

With the support packages Deo designed, 3-5 refugees who typically live on $5 per day could launch a startup or expand an existing microbusiness. Within a year, the microbusiness could become a small business employing 10 more people, who circulate their pay in the local markets and stimulate the whole community. When the loan is repaid after a year and a half, it’s reinvested, providing loans to another business.

Eventually, because of the transparent, chronological way the blockchain stores data, refugee entrepreneurs will build a credit history acceptable to most local banks, better positioning them for traditional finance like they may have had access to back home.

Finding The Right Environment

But there was a problem. Although their model is tested, BizGees couldn’t launch it in Zaatari because of the government’s work restrictions. “We had to move away from Jordan,” Deo said a bit ruefully, “and look for a different environment that allows refugees to work.” That led his team to Uganda, where tens of thousands of refugees have been displaced over the past decade by violence from a Christian terrorist group called the The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), operating in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to Deo, some of the people in Uganda’s camps “didn’t take kindly to the service we were offering at first, asking ‘why is that person getting support and not us?’”

They had to work to re-educate the community on how the model brings long-term returns to everyone, by the money getting re-loaned and by financially stimulating local marketplaces. Now, Deo says, they’ve identified the refugees they can fund and the first microbusinesses should be up and running by the end of this month.

Working in Stressed Communities

Working in refugee camps isn’t easy. “It’s a very complex environment,” Deo says. “In addition to the financial issues they’re facing, there are social issues, psychological issues, most of them have post traumatic stress.” He notes that displacement alone causes mental health concerns, let alone the trauma of losing or being separated from loved ones. “You have to take into account the impact those traumas have as far as how they engage with the public and how they take control of their own lives.”

Consequently, the goal of BizGees isn’t just financial or technological. Their website asserts the importance of entrepreneurship as a way for people to take back ownership of their lives by building confidence and self-worth. Instead of just trying to make a buck, Deo, who has a background in international politics and NGOs as well as business, wants to meet a need.

How Crowdfunding Meets These Needs

BizGees is able to offer loans without interest or collateral because of the way they crowdfund them. Ninety percent of everything they raise goes to the refugees, while the other 10 percent supports BizGees’ operations, which are partially volunteer run.

The public participates through crowdfunding campaigns including art auctions, presales of products from post conflict zones, and cryptomining.

“The reason we’re using crowdfunding is to engage the global community more directly with the refugee experience,” says Deo. “The idea is to personalize it and help individuals to make a real social impact.”

Through blockchain’s ability to connect people directly without a third party, Deo sees a future where a group of individual financiers could get together to sponsor one refugee microbusiness and communicate with them directly. “They’re no longer reliant on third parties to know what’s going on in rural Uganda,” he says. “They have direct access.”

Getting People Socially Engaged

Direct communication is key because it creates the social engagement that is one of Deo’s overarching goals. Most people have no idea what a refugee camp is like, who’s in them, or what they’re facing on a day to day basis, he notes, citing that the average refugee stays on what’s supposed to be a temporary refugee status for 17 years (the U.S. State Department says 26 years on average for protracted refugees). “The support base for refugees is focused on disaster relief, for the first 6 months or so,” Deo says.

“There’s a big gap between the actual experience of refugee populations across the world and how we perceive their experiences,” he says. “We’re looking to use social engagement as a way to narrow that gap as much as possible.”

That’s also why he’s enlisting volunteers to participate in the work, both on the ground in the refugee camps and at BizGee’s headquarters in London. Deo mentioned an American volunteer who came to help with promotional material, website stuff, and office operations. “Her understanding of the refugee experience on day one was very different than it was on week seven,” he says. That in itself he considers a small success.

Goal: A Thousand Refugee Businesses Thriving

As for larger successes and longer term goals, Deo hopes to support 1,000 refugee businesses in the next three years, serving populations indefinitely in Latin America and Asia as well as Africa.

Blockchain technology can work for humanity. Models like Deo’s, which supports at least seven of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, identify something the blockchain can do that world badly needs. This is what we need to see more of from blockchain developers.

The refugee crisis is escalating, but hope can grow within the camps as long as people can live like people. As long as bakers can keep baking, and families can rent their wedding dresses.

Oxford Faculty are Building the World’s First Blockchain-Based University 2 119

The academic hive is abuzz with blockchain activity. Students looking to formally study blockchain technology can now do so at a number of prestigious universities, including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Duke, Georgetown and MIT. The blockchain bug has even made its way into the ivy league at Cornell and Princeton Universities.

“The courses are often jam-packed, and most have waiting lists,” CNBC says of blockchain classes at Berkeley, which also has a student club devoted to the block. The club is so popular it turns away 96 percent of applicants, according to CNBC. Most students, they say, are more motivated to improve the world than they are to make tons of money.

Across the pond, faculty from Oxford are going beyond just offering classes and developing what they hope will be the world’s first decentralized, borderless, blockchain-based university, called Woolf University.

The Borderless Blockchain University

Woolf University’s vision is a school where students can ‘show up’ to a class by checking in on the app. The app executes smart contracts that track the student’s academic history and financial aid, automatically pay the professor, and bypass innumerable bureaucratic hurdles usually relegated to lengthy paperwork processes.

For about half the cost of regular tuition, a student in Brooklyn could take a class in Yoruba from a professor in Nigeria and earn an EU degree.

‘The World’s First University ICO’

Woolf University’s founder Joshua Broggi, who also serves on Oxford’s Faculty of Philosophy, has just announced what he’s calling “the world’s first ‘university ICO’.”

“Woolf will use a blockchain to enforce regulatory compliance, eliminate bureaucratic processes, and manage the custodianship of sensitive financial and personal data,” the announcement says.

“Our ultimate aim is for this to be a driver of job opportunities and security for academics, as well as a low-cost alternative for students,” Broggi told Forbes.

Private sale of tokens is open now, and crowd sale will be August 30th through October 10th. Token sales are not available to citizens of China, the United States, or Iran.

Stanford is Taking Blockchain in a Different Direction

Oxford isn’t the only place expanding their blockchain vision beyond 202 classes.

Last month, Stanford announced their Center for Blockchain Research (CBR), which endeavors to develop new blockchain based technologies at one of the world’s top research institutions.

Led by professors Dan Boneh and David Mazières, the center’s first five years of research are backed through partnerships with some of crypto’s big names: the Ethereum Foundation, Protocol Labs, the Interchain Foundation, OmiseGO, DFINITY Stiftung, and PolyChain Capital.

The focus of the CBR will be blockchain as it relates to computer engineering, and its potential impacts on global business. “This is a fascinating area of research with deep scientific questions,” said Boneh. “Once you get into the details you quickly realize that this area will generate many PhD theses across all of computer science and beyond.”

A Global Watershed

Last fall the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts announced that they now accept tuition payments in Bitcoin. In April, the world’s first masters degree in cryptofinance was launched in Brazil. Universities in Moscow, Copenhagen, Cambridge and Cumbria are also researching blockchain’s now and future uses.

These developments, when taken together, could indicate a global watershed moment in the marriage of academia and blockchain tech.

Blockchain and Academia are Transforming Each Other

With the global academic world switching on to blockchain’s potential, and with projects like the CBR and Woolf University taking shape, the world of academia could be at a transformative threshold. Woolf students could conceivably find themselves learning about the blockchain through a blockchain supported infrastructure, while Stanford grads could be taking what they learn in blockchain courses and applying it to doctoral research in the CDR.

We can expect this to transform academia. It’ll transform the blockchain, too.

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