Bitcoin vs. Malaria: A New Paradigm for Development Economics and Foreign Aid Emerges (Op-Ed)

Philip Agyei Asare, founder of Dream Bitcoin Foundation (DBF) in Kumasi, Ghana, recently contracted malaria. He is out of the hospital now and recovering at home

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Bitcoin vs. Malaria: A New Paradigm for Development Economics and Foreign Aid Emerges (Op-Ed)

Philip Agyei Asare, founder of Dream Bitcoin Foundation (DBF) in Kumasi, Ghana, recently contracted malaria. He is out of the hospital now and recovering at home. But if not for Bitcoin, he might be dead. His story illustrates a new paradigm for development economics and foreign aid that was impractical, if not impossible, before Bitcoin.

Pan-African Bitcoin Movement

Philip first contacted me on Facebook in May 2014, about four months after the creation of the Conscious Entrepreneurship Foundation (CEF) page to promote CEF's mission to promote the use of Bitcoin in small-scale, cross-border trade with the 5.5 billion individuals who live in Emerging Middle-Income Regions of the world.

I do not recall how he became aware of CEF, but I will never forget his tenacity and persistence in those early days. For longer than I liked, it seemed as though I could not look in the general direction of my computer, even from across the room, without Facebook's little Private Messenger window bleeping at me to let me know that Philip demanded my attention. (It was because of him that I figured out how to turn off the notification sound.)

Pretty much every day, whether it was first thing in the morning or late in the evening my time in South Florida, he would reach out using his mobile phone from four times zones ahead of me in Kumasi, Ghana.

In our earliest exchanges, I made it clear that my presence on the Internet did not create an obligation on my part to give money—and even if it did, I do not have enough to contribute to every worthy cause—but I was, and am, more than willing to brainstorm, make introductions, and help find grant and investment sources.

Over the course of our first year, we discussed Bitcoin, cultural issues, business ideas, and the like. The transformation that I witnessed was breathtaking. Within months, our exchanges became less about my mentoring and offering fatherly advice and more about Philip's pursuit of the Bono Declaration of 2013 that serves as CEF's motto: “Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.”

During this time, Philip founded Dream Bitcoin Foundation (DBF)—he wanted to call it Dream Foundation, but the company registrar in Kumasi insisted on the inclusion of “Bitcoin” in the name—and began expanding his reach beyond Bitcoin supporters in Ghana to working with Alakanani “Bitcoin Lady” Itireleng in Botswana, Mustapha Cole in Sierra Leone, and others in Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe on a pan-African Bitcoin association.

Through DBF, he has organized two major Bitcoin seminars and built a network of Ghanaian tailors and craftsmen who have begun selling their wares internationally in exchange for bitcoins.

This entrepreneurial activity very well could be why he is alive today.

Contracting malaria

Some months ago, and I did not notice it at the time, Philip began to surpass my ability to offer him any kind of broad-brush advice. He had mastered the art of raising money without asking for it, and he had built a globe-spanning network of business contacts, with whom he is helping build the social infrastructure that is alleviating poverty in West Africa.

Recently, Philip delivered a load to hand-crafted dress shirts and wristbands to his American partners to sell on his behalf ... and then the other shoe dropped. Philip had contracted malaria, and he did not have enough money for hospital treatment, an all-too-common occurrence in the tropical parts of Africa.

Philip informed me of his condition on a Friday, and I told him to let me know on the following Monday how much money he was able to scrape together for his treatment. I pointedly stood by my policy of not giving handouts, knowing full well that my resolve would melt by the end of the weekend if he had not raised the necessary funds.

Monday morning, expecting to be hit up for emergency aid, I contacted Philip and asked how he was doing. To my dumbfounded surprise, he had raised the necessary money over the weekend by arranging for an advance on the shirt and wristband sales. This might seem like a very small thing to anyone who lives in an OECD member state, what with our easy access to credit, banking services, and capital markets, but this was a young man in West Africa, home of the infamous 'Nigerian Prince', negotiating with commercial partners an ocean away—whom he had met on Facebook!—for an emergency loan.

Before Bitcoin, this probably would not have happened, most obviously because Bitcoin's transaction costs and ease of access run past status quo banking and money transmittal networks like a cheetah past a hippo. Less obviously, because many Bitcoin supporters worldwide share a kind of camaraderie that one rarely sees in other trans-cultural movements.

We are drawn together by our desire to trade and many of us in the Global 1%—remember that only 4% of the world's population lives in the USA —see an opportunity to offer a hand up, rather than a handout.

It was this that drew Philip and dozens of others of us together, regardless of ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic class. Although this might be premature, it is not hyperbolic to note that with this one incident we were witnessing a new paradigm in Development Economics and Foreign Aid emerging spontaneously before our eyes. Bono is right: Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.

A global marketplace

If Philip had staggered into the hospital carrying a box full of African motif shirts with garish Bitcoin logos them befitting a superhero's costume, and asked the administrators to accept them in payment for treatment, it is not unreasonable to expect that they would not have been as receptive as they were, when he showed up with cash that he acquired by sending the shirts almost halfway around the world, negotiating an advance on their sales, receiving payment on his phone in Bitcoin that he had no trouble selling to some of the individuals in Kumasi who clamor for bitcoins.

Imagine my delight, when Philip contacted me from his hospital bed to tell me that, while he was recuperating, he had engaged programmers in South America to develop software for a remittance network to be focused initially on the Ghanaian Diaspora in London and New York, and later on other West African Diasporas.

If we could get 5 billion more individuals worldwide to embrace Bitcoin and follow Philip's example, we could end poverty tomorrow.

THAT is the miracle of Bitcoin. Not the swoopy apps. Not the Crypto 2.0—Moneypunk 3.0, to those of us who have been doing this for two decades—hovercraft and jetpacks. Not the frat parties with celebrities at Caribbean resorts. Not the multi-million-dollar funding rounds.

The miracle of Bitcoin is being able to reach across borders, across cultures, and across classes, as equals in the increasingly integrated global marketplace.

About the author

Charles W. Evans is Associate Professor of Economics and Finance at Barry University Miami FL USA, whose research focuses on Bitcoin; Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Conscious Entrepreneurship Foundation, which promotes Bitcoin among the unbanked worldwide, particularly in small-scale cross-border trade; and a veteran of the 1990s Moneypunk movement. 


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