As we prepare for the upcoming Ethereum Community Conference (EthCC) in Paris, France, I’m reminded of the anxieties that surrounded last year’s DevCon in Bogota, Colombia. In the weeks leading up to the conference last year, Twitter was awash with advice about safety precautions. High-profile industry figures, including one of the founders of Polygon, decided to sit out the event citing safety concerns.
The stark contrast between how people speak about conferences held in regions like Latin America and those in North America or Western Europe is difficult to ignore. Make no doubt, it is a good thing the global Ethereum community organizes conferences all over the world. But far too often when major events like EthCC are set up in supposedly dangerous places, the industry’s latent racism comes out.
Azeem Khan is the head of impact at Gitcoin and an advisor to Foresight Ventures. Follow him on Twitter @azeemk_.
EthCC is a tech-forward, community-run event where companies and developers frequently break news about new crypto developments. EthCC6 will be held July 17-20 in France.
With venture capital inflows dwindling, asset prices spiraling and user growth stagnating, we must reconsider our strategies if we are to survive and eventually thrive. Limiting ourselves to doing business and growing the industry in the U.S., U.K. and across Europe is not the way. In fact, many of the regions some industry participants seem scared of are the places where crypto would do best and do the most good.
France, currently in the grip of large-scale civil unrest, stands as the host for the next major Ethereum conference in 2023. There’s the threat of escalating police action looms, and even talk of limiting external social media access in the country in response to recent protests.
However, the lack of concern for safety and the lackadaisical attitude towards these serious issues surrounding the Paris conference simply because “it’s Paris” is an ironic hypocrisy. This isn’t moral policing, of which there’s enough everywhere we turn these days. I’m not suggesting anyone stay home from Paris anymore than they should stay away from Bogota.
As the cryptocurrency industry teeters on the precipice of an existential crisis, introspection is more important than ever.
Rethinking our approach to the Global South is part of the answer. These regions, home to massive potential user bases, are ripe for meaningful engagement. The type that will change lives and give our industry the kinds of headlines and human stories about real progress we need more than ever.
This perspective shift is not about token airdrops or superficial outreach programs. It’s about recognizing and acknowledging the power of blockchain technology to transform the lives of people across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia while still being able to tremendously profit in the meantime.
Consider the impact of M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service prevalent in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Mozambique. This pre-cryptocurrency “wallet” launched by Vodafone (Safaricom) has revolutionized financial transactions for millions of individuals without access to traditional bank accounts. But M-Pesa is not without limitations – high transaction costs and dependence on a centralized authority, to name a few.
Cryptocurrencies can take the M-Pesa blueprint and improve upon it. By introducing more advanced services such as decentralized lending or interest-bearing accounts through decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols, we could elevate the financial landscape to new heights the world over.
And a renewed focus on the developing world would benefit crypto, too.
For the average American, transitioning from a traditional bank to a cryptocurrency system is filled with significant switching costs and inconveniences. However, this same hurdle doesn’t exist for the unbanked or underbanked in the Global South. These individuals could leapfrog directly into the era of blockchain, bypassing traditional banking systems altogether.
By focusing our efforts outside of the U.S. and Europe, we massively increase the total addressable market.
The essence of cryptocurrency lies in transformation – a transformation of economies, societies and individuals’ lives. At least that’s why many of us originally got into this space. As we navigate this pivotal moment in our industry, the path forward lies not in isolation or elitist gatekeeping but in integration especially with the Global South.
See also: Global Institutional View of Crypto Rosier Outside the U.S.
We need to move away from arbitrary targets and divisive attitudes, and instead leverage the potential of blockchain technology to effect real, sustainable change. But that means doing the actual work and not just talking about it the way we do now.
Despite repeated industry declarations of valuing and prioritizing underserved communities, our actions have failed to rise to the occasion. It is high time we bridge this chasm between intention and implementation.
The mantra of “reaching a billion users” doesn’t have to be an industry joke. By daring to extend our vision beyond the traditional boundaries and embracing the Global South with open arms, we could turn this mantra into a testament of progress, inclusivity and shared success.
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