There’s no reason to fear open platforms

A frustrating reality is that the technology is already there to meet people’s needs, but fear and regulation are preventing progress

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Midjourney modified by Blockworks

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Innovation is more often than not borne out of unmet needs. Creative thinkers and problem solvers see the gaps in their communities and ask how they can solve them. 

In a recent op-ed, three African presidents highlighted just how important it is for these types of solutions to be found within. It’s the key to sustainable, long-term growth and development. Who knows better what’s not working than the ones experiencing it every day?

But that’s also where open technology and systems like blockchain can equip innovators with the tools to meet those needs. 

Unfortunately, open technology platforms have often come under scrutiny. There is a sense that no one is “responsible” for the platforms, or no one can “answer” for them if they break. 

But I’ve grown up with open technology platforms, sometimes using them, sometimes building them and sometimes arguing in favor of them. The truth is that you have to if you were born in the last several decades — as you’ve then clearly been using the world’s largest open network, the internet. 

What is it about using any newly-created open platforms that seems scary or out of bounds? Why the scrutiny? I’d posit that it’s because the technology itself is often used as a scapegoat, so that it can be slowed down to allow governments or industries to catch up.  

But rather than slowing the technology down, we should harness the power of it. Importantly, truly global public platforms are vehicles for accessibility that empower anyone to address unmet needs, especially in emerging markets. 

Last month, while on a 10-day trip to West and East Africa, I had the opportunity to meet a talented videographer in Ghana. He had done video work for global companies, produced his own films and commercials and had a portfolio that would impress any chief marketing officer in Silicon Valley. While he has incredible talent ready to be exported to the global economy, he faces a battle every time for how he’ll get paid for his work. Whether it’s the enormous fees to receive a wire transfer, slow send times or no access to an accepted bank account from hiring companies, the process of getting money into Africa is far from easy. 

Read more from our opinion section: Blockchain really is better than middlemen

He wasn’t the only person I met on my trip with this challenge. I sat down in rooms full of creators in Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria who echoed the same thing. How is it that Africa can be more than 18% of the world’s population but only make up less than 1% of the creative economy globally?

Part of the reason is just how complex the payments landscape, especially cross-border, is on the continent. I was struck as we drove around some of West Africa’s big cities how many billboards and signs there were advertising payment solutions. 

For me, it was a clear indicator that people’s needs are not being met. And a frustrating reality is that the technology was there to meet the needs, but fear and regulation stalled the progression.  

But during my trip, I also met a different but equally inspiring group of people trying to solve these challenges. 

I met a founder who had built a startup expressly focused on providing small and medium-sized businesses with loans. Many of these businesses and entrepreneurs would otherwise be priced out from local banks, who predominantly lend to governments. 

I met with another founder who noticed an overlap between smartphone ownership and the banked populations in her region. It prompted her to look at financial services for those operating on feature phones — a segment that dovetails with unbanked and underserved populations — to develop a new way to reach them with QR codes. 

I also met another CEO who found that businesses were struggling to send money across borders, even to neighboring countries, and set out to help businesses get paid from their regional vendors. 

The common thread from the many entrepreneurs I spoke with is that they see an unmet need in today’s financial system. They’re the ones figuring out a viable solution through a mix of disruption and collaboration of existing models. And, many of them are using open source platforms to do it — or another way to put it, using global tools to solve local problems. 

We accept risk in different ways in almost everything we do. And that is true for the use of both public and private networks. There are tradeoffs on both sides, weighing different risks and benefits. 

While controls of public networks or platforms look different than private ones, there are huge benefits to innovation being open, like the fact that open public networks are built by many with different ideas, perspectives and goals. Open networks grow over time (much like the underlying infrastructure of the internet), rather than remaining stuck, unchanged and eventually becoming archaic.   

And importantly, open systems don’t gatekeep opportunity. They give local problem solvers the tools to meet the needs of those most often ignored or priced out by private systems. Their engagement is how emerging economies can build long-term, sustainable growth at the grassroots level. 



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