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 pointedl