Consensus 2016: Making Blockchain Real

A 3 day mega conference complete with startups, world renowned executives, and people from all over the world working on new and better blockchain uses cases convened in New York City from May 2-4. I had the amazing opportunity to attend Consensus through MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative Scholarship. In collaboration with CoinDesk, the DCI selected 50 Consensus Scholars to attend the event free of charge. I was delighted to be apart of an initiative that supports diversity and young professionals in this new, disruptive space.

To see the full schedule, see here. As much as I wanted to attend every event, I had to choose wisely. Here are my highlights and takeaways from the events I attended:

  • Favorite Person: There are some badass women doing some unreal work with blockchain and Bitcoin technology. For example, Elizabeth Rossiello, Co-Founder & CEO of BitPesa, has built a successful, low-cost platform for Africa that enables international transfers and payments. It uses Bitcoin for settlement with its global partners. Not to mention she speaks 5 languages and has 2 kids.
  • Favorite Session: Solutions for Financial inclusions 
    • Bitcoin is not the be all end all solution, most of the reasons for financial exclusion are barriers like cost and identity, not technology gaps.
    • Why don’t people have financial services? Trust, distance, cost, identity 
    • Cultural and/or religious barriers are misunderstood or ill applied. 
    • Access to microcredit alone is not the solution.
  • Favorite Product/Service: – Identity registration on the blockchain
    • Millions of people around the world don’t have the identification needed to open a bank account, take out a loan, etc which is often one of the biggest barriers to financial inclusion. Onename offers a solution with immutable records on identity.
  • Favorite Takeaway: The Future of Blockchains
    • On the problem with private blockchains:
      • Trust breaks down: For example – Alibaba (America and China). More transparency needs to be integrated for high levels of trust.
      • Doesn’t have the social or tech trust like a public blockchain
    • On the positives of public blockchains: Trust is embedded in the legal and regulatory side.

  • Most Potential: Simplifying the Global Supply Chain
    • Think of a global trade transaction (anything being shipped). The instrument used is a letter of credit etc, which are like trust based promises with multiple parties including entities like governments. LOCs are too complex, not 100% reliable, and in need of realtime recording. At the end of the day, people need quality and accuracy- blockchain can help streamline this.
  • Favorite Panel: Digital Currencies in Emerging Markets
    • Ola Doudin (Dubai), bitoasis 
      • 80% of adults don’t have access to financial services in the Middle East
      • In the Middle East, there is no regular framework, each municipality has it’s own framework so there’s a need to be more vigilant in compliance and regulations. 
    • Pablo Gonzalez (Mexico), Bitso 
      • Mexico has one of the best interbanking systems in the world leaving leaving so much room for opportunity. 
    • Ben Gorlick, Blockstream
      • Blockstream is focusing on solving the gap problem between interoperable blockchains.
    • Sunny Ray (India), Unocoin
      • Indian women own more gold than the United States government. 
      • Banking the unbanked would mean providing services for 200 million in India.
      • India is the largest remitter in the world while having a large pop of developers which makes me feel like we’re on the verge of something huge here.  
  • Favorite Quote:Don’t sell technology, sell a solution” – Ripple

As you can tell, there were many exciting ideas, opinions, and possible solutions buzzing about. For me, this opportunity meant having access to early blockchain tech discussions and feeling confident to follow up on my ideas. I’m looking forward to expanding these discussions in Washington, DC with a larger network than I had before.