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Richard Boase and his Kenya Experiance

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adam

On episode 133 Stephanie interviewed Richard Boase, who traveled to Kenya on a mission of bitcoin evangelism and ran into a starkly different reality on the ground than the one he expected.

What was your take-away? Did it change your viewpoints or opinion?

Is it possible for western bitcoin users to help solve this problem, or is it better just to focus on developing the technology to its logical conclusion so eventually non-users in situations like kenya can leap-frog to very good tech in much the same way they went from no phones to mobile phones.

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  • Goefells

    @kerneloops @adam

    I found it interesting Richard Boase downplaying Bitcoin's potential for the remittance market, as this has been one of the rallying points of Andreas Antonopoulos, to bring fair money transfer to the "other 6 billion". Maybe we have been completely blind to the realities of developing countries? Why educate about the brilliance of blockchain, security, or the low transaction fees of Bitcoin, when the end-user is more in need of a clock?

    But then again, the developers and users of Bitcoin shouldn't get bogged down with obstacles and issues that exist in developing countries right now. Just because there may be a lack of infrastructure, knowledge, education etc involving a particular technology at this moment, in a few years time those obstacles will most likely have been diminished, if not completely disappeared. The "digital divide" between Western industrialized countries and developing countries is not much different than the digital divide between a few decades within let's say the E.U. or the U.S. Just because the divide is/was there, doesn't mean that the divide will prevent adoption of a particular technology, just delay it by some years. But without the push from industrialized countries for the bleeding edge tech, the trickle down of said tech to developing nations would not exist (take current high-end phone devel resulting in quite capable phones on the low end, marketed to developing nations).

    I remember a story from middle-school, told by an aid worker who had just come back from a mission in Africa. The mission was to provide equipment for local villagers, including outboard motors for the fishing boats. What did the fishermen end up doing with the brand new outboard motors? They used them as boat anchors. Now, do you think they are still using them as anchors? Of course not. So, while the adoption of current bleeding edge tech like Bitcoin may fall in to deaf ears in developing countries, and seem like a waste, we must keep the ball rolling. Eventually it will find its way to where its most needed, even if it'll take years to make the trek.

    I definitely see what you are saying, but I must ask that Time by itself cannot be seen a lubricant for acceptance- the Diffusion of Innovations adoption curve cannot be simply applied to an African context for one reason: Advancement in Developing countries is not as quick as developed countries. The bonus of being developed means that as a country you can develop faster and faster, essentially leaving the developing countries further and further behind. Trickle down technology has the nasty affect of putting obsolescent technology(because it is cheaper) in the hands of a developing county's people. Just look at the generic android tab mentioned in the podcast- this is, although massive leap for people who have never used one, quite simply not even considered by those in developed countries to be able to use and spend bitcoin. As much as we can throw technological bones at developing countries, I can assume that the business of technology development wont wait for the society, culture, politics, trade, wars and any other issues relating to a 3rd worlds technological adoption of a technology; they will simply advance at a much faster rate than the developing countries can, because they can. Time, and a regular adoption curve, wont solve this issue I'm afraid.

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  • bcohen

    @adam I'm confused as to why they tried to roll this program out on tablets rather than smart (or even dumb) phones.

    https://www.37coins.com/en/

    Wouldn't it make sense for Kenyans to access their Bitcoin the same way they access their M-Pesa?

    http://letstalkbitcoin.com/cgap-bitcoin-not-helping-the-poor/

    They went about this the wrong way.

    also this interview was before BitPay went free.....

    Food for thought:

    "Back in  1995 then-Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested giving laptops to homeless people as a way of lifting them out of poverty. For this, he was widely derided by all wise-thinking people as a lunatic."

    http://www.nationalreview.com/campaign-spot/261274/newts-crazy-ideas-sometimes-turn-out-be-not-so-crazy

    It was visionary --- but not appropriate for 1995

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  • rotalumis

    I think Bitcoin adoption in countries like Kenya will start with better-off people and trickle down like other technologies do. As Richard Boase found out, it probably won't start with the poorest of the poor because they have other priorities.

    One way to get people started could to help them export the things they produce to other countries in exchange for BTC, which they then sell off to cover their needs. More than the money as such, the focus has to be on the new opportunities available. When there are enough people using Bitcoin, they will start using it among themselves.

    I know it's easy to comment in hindsight, but the investment idea struck me as an odd thing to expect of people who are living from hand to mouth. When we were giving out free coffee plants to Guatemalan farmers to replace their less lucrative corn crops, they only accepted them because they could plant corn in between the spaces during the three years it took for the first coffee crop.

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  • therealtwig

    @adam I can't be the only one here who listened to the interview and just felt a little bit depressed. I would like to think most in this community in their heart of hearts would like to see Bitcoin succeed, but not just for personal gain. It is absolutely heartbreaking the scale of poverty Richard Boase described, and you could almost feel his pain through his words.

    The last time I felt this way was when I heard Jimmy Wales speak here on our local campus a few months back about the efforts Wikipedia has been undertaking with cellular providers in places like Africa with Wikipedia Zero to make access to Wikipedia completely free. To hear the hoops Wikipedia has had to jump through just to get even a few cellular providers to agree to do this was completely eye opening. And, even though they have accomplished a lot, it is still very hard for anyone to even own, let alone keep, a device to access this information in many places for the same reasons Richard outlined in his interview.

    It is very unreasonable at this stage in the game to expect those who might need this burgeoning digital economy the most to get educated about its values, especially if we cannot even reasonably expect any free and easy access to information about it. Very sobering indeed.

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  • dpc

    I agree with a lot of what was said here. I was also a bit depressed listening to his experience. I felt bad that he and others put so much effort into something that didn't work out as he had hoped. But then I realized maybe we were all a little naive to believe that such big problems could be solved by simply introducing bitcoin.

    First off, I have a ton of respect for Richard Boase. He dragged himself over there and actually tried to deal with the problem first hand. He brought back a ton of information and knowledge even though everything didn't go his way.

    One of the problems bitcoiners have, myself included, is to answer every problem we see with "bitcoin could solve that." An yes bitcoin can help solve a good number of issues but the world is a complicated place with lots of interdependencies. Bitcoin like all great tools is great to have in your toolbox, but for most jobs you need more than one great tool. You need many tools and a level of expertise in the relevant fields. We now know that it will take a bit more than a working understanding of bitcoin to solve poverty in Africa. The depth and scope of the problems and how they need to be addressed have been advanced dramatically thanks to Richard and his teams work.

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  • rotalumis

    @therealtwig

    It is depressing until you realize that change takes time and until you come to terms with the fact that, for all your great ideas and best intentions, you're lucky if you make a tiny dent of an improvement in the lives of people in whatever time you spend there. I think this feeling is typical when you go into a region for the first time without quite knowing what to expect.

    When I was in Guatemala, I eventually accepted that I was probably going to benefit more from the experience than the people I was working with. At that point, you just decide to forge ahead and do your thing without great expectations, and learn to be happy with whatever you achieve.

    Money is an enabler, but money without education serves for little. I've seen friends risk their lives to cross over through the Mexican desert to the US, work hard there, return home, spend their earnings on building a house or buying a pick-up truck (the dream) and then repeat the whole process. This, rather than try to set up a little shop, buy a few cows, or do something with the money that would give them a comfortable income in return for all that risk.

    Another thing you learn out there is that there's much more to life than poverty or riches. People in these countries often have a happiness and joy of life, despite all their troubles, that is very rare in the developed world. No matter how poor, they welcome you into their homes and share what little they have in a way we would probably never do with a total stranger, let alone one from the other side of the world. My big concern is that just dropping money on people can have the same ruining effect that winning the lottery has on westerners.

    On another occasion, a backpacking trip to Morocco, we ran into a large group of children inside a poor kasbah who crowded around us, jumping up and down, asking for pages out of my daughter's copy book and some crayons. When you see the delight in their eyes at receiving a single sheet of paper and a crayon each, you begin to wonder if these people are not actually richer than us in some way because of their ability to fully enjoy what little they have. Again, it makes you worry that you could be causing more harm than good by interfering drastically.

    Progress has to be gradual, because people need time to assimilate and adjust. We're used to waving our magic wallets and having things happen just like that, and so it can be depressing at first when it doesn't work out that way.

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  • CrimsonRoze

    @adam On episode 133 Stephanie interviewed Richard Boase, who traveled to Kenya on a mission of bitcoin evangelism and ran into a starkly different reality on the ground than the one he expected.

    What was your take-away? Did it change your viewpoints or opinion?

    It seemed to me like all issues he faced were of a practical nature. There didn't seem to be any strong political issues that would require alot of political changes. If he would travel there again, with the very same purpose, and using his knowledge and experience gained from earlier I am fairly sure he would take different decisions and not have as many issues.

    Work with what is on the ground if you can, change only when you must. If they have featurephones, make your idea work with feature phones. When the time comes and they move over to smartphones then they can upgrade along the way.

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  • Cryptonaut

    It didnt seem depressing at all to me IMO actually. It just really seemed like the guy went about it in a completely terrible way doomed for failure. From what I understand, he basically went around africa trying to donate BTC to various people, spending several hours at a time trying to explain what its all about, getting them to treat it like an "investment" but telling them to "be careful" and "dont gamble" but "it could be worth a lot more next year so hold on to it" etc. etc... and also using expensive tablets instead of cheap smartphones that people can already get easily. Terrible idea

    These people dont give a damn about potential investments and are probably more concerned with just keeping themselves and their families alive by next year instead of hoping the bitcoin price skyrockets...

    The real power of bitcoin for developing countries comes from the fact that a) no corrupt government control over money and money supply (zimbabwe hyper inflation for example), b) you can hide it, store it and move it around anywhere you want much easier, secretly and with no restrictions (as opposed to cash and bank accounts), c) actual unrestricted access to the global internet economy and finally d) the potential major savings in remittances (more local exchanges needed for this to happen though)

    I got the impression that Richard mostly sees the deflationary aspect of bitcoin as its primary advantage, and that the potential huge future price jumps is whats going to help out all these poor people, which seems to be totally missing the point..

    great episode though, interesting stuff

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  • Rob

    I barely skimmed through everyone else's answers, so I apologize if my response is a rehash of other's.

    My sense was that this particular person's "experiment" failed, but I didn't think it spelled doom for cyprtocurrencies to thrive in developing regions in the near future. In my opinion, it's not easy and secure for 1st world non-technical people to hold Bitcoin on the devices they already own and can use. Most people I know (outside of tech and crypto) are totally clueless about security (and even those of us with a clue can still be compromised). But I think time will bring advances to ease the secure use of Bitcoin, and it will also increase the availability of devices and internet access to people in less-developed countries. Seems it's all just a matter of time (as long as nothing throws us off track).

    There will also be those whose living conditions are so difficult (for a variety of reasons), that most will never have the luxury to care about anything to do with technology and digital payment systems.

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  • btc_revel

    @crimsonroze

    @adam On episode 133 Stephanie interviewed Richard Boase, who traveled to Kenya on a mission of bitcoin evangelism and ran into a starkly different reality on the ground than the one he expected.

    What was your take-away? Did it change your viewpoints or opinion?

    It seemed to me like all issues he faced were of a practical nature. There didn't seem to be any strong political issues that would require alot of political changes. If he would travel there again, with the very same purpose, and using his knowledge and experience gained from earlier I am fairly sure he would take different decisions and not have as many issues.

    Work with what is on the ground if you can, change only when you must. If they have featurephones, make your idea work with feature phones. When the time comes and they move over to smartphones then they can upgrade along the way.

    Yes, that's right. The issues seem solvable over time. Lessons got learned, experience done and shared (thanks), and solutions will be found when needed. The remittance marktet is still interesting, but might not come as quick as some have thought. It is true that saving is more a concern we have. Then again solutions (like intenet connectivity) comes sometimes exponentially fast at some point... we'll see.

    Like always, as I am noticing more and more, the key is EDUCATION. So if we want to do them some good: we should donate towards longterm EDUCATION. Thanks to the organizations that focus on that!!!

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