The following excerpt about blockchain is based on the book Tomorrow’s Jobs Today, 2nd Edition, available at fine booksellers from JIA Publishing.
Most people associate blockchain with cryptocurrency, and the buzz around distributed ledger technology continues to make news. Presently, Samuel Bankman-Fried of FTX Trading is being prosecuted for allegedly using the tool, or at least exploiting its allure, to defraud investors around the world out of billions of dollars. But fortunately, entrepreneurs and computer scientists like Ashish Gadnis have demonstrated that you can also use blockchain for the common good.
Ashish was born and raised in a slum in India fifty years ago. And he grew up hating being poor. When he moved to the United States and started building his career and first company, he always asked himself, “If somebody buys this thing, and if it all works out, could I walk away and try to help address the extreme poverty situation in the world?” Well, he did end up selling his service offering and later spent time in the Congo, where he volunteered until some traumatic events and experiences prompted him to reflect even further. And that’s when he decided to start something that would “make a dent in the universe.”
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is a decentralized, distributed, and public digital ledger that records transactions across many computers so that they cannot be altered retroactively. The mysterious “Satoshi Nakamoto” introduced blockchain in 2008 to facilitate bitcoin cryptocurrency transactions, and it has become the leading distributed ledger technology (DLT). However, this modern software innovation has various other uses, from contract management to supply chain logistics.
Ashish is now the CEO at BanQu, a blockchain-based, traceability solution that provides real-time data and reporting throughout the supply chain. He was the chair of the Financial Inclusion Working Committee for the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance. He now travels the world explaining how this revolutionary new technology transforms how we contemplate supply chain economics.He holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and graduated from the Global Leadership and Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
BLOCKCHAIN AND SUPPLY CHAINS
When we sat down to talk to Ashish, he pointed out that 1.2 billion people, including displaced refugees and those in extreme poverty zones, actively participate in the world’s supply chains. That includes the most impoverished farmers in Congo or Guatemala, or Indonesia, who grow the ingredients you find in cosmetics and overpriced vanilla lattes. Yet, current models for getting those farmers their fair share of the profits and out of the poverty they face have largely failed.
Upon studying this problem, his solution was to enable farmers in the supply chain’s last mile to participate equally using blockchain.
Today he’s working across Africa and Asia with his blockchain platform to address similar problems.
It’s been almost five years since he launched one of the first projects in Zambia, where he met a woman farmer named Ida with five children, none of whom were in school. The woman had no running water or a permanent home.
However, Ida could farm, and she worked hard. The problem was that people in her position often found themselves on the short end of the stick because they were not able, in many cases, to prove their financial transaction history. Ashish asked himself, “What happens if Ida sells 40 kilos upstream, and there are seven middlemen?”
The answer was that after she sold her cassava crop, somebody picked it up, brought it to somebody else, then to somebody else, then to the warehouse. And eventually, she lost the ability to track her product, and by that, Ashish explains, her product’s actual value in the supply chain.
“You see, while the internet has come to people in poverty, it hasn’t actually pulled people out of extreme poverty, let alone permanently,” Ashish says. “There’s mobile money, big data, and AI, but none of those models have ever allowed that mother, who is also a farmer, to participate [in the economy] equally.” To Ashish, participating equally means that the woman farmer has a physical, digitally stored copy of her transactions that nobody can ever steal or manipulate. She can prove her transaction history, legitimizing her existence in that supply chain. That allows her to leverage that data in a way that reduces her cost of borrowing. It will enable her to be portable. It gives her identity.
Fast forward to today, and BanQu is used throughout Zambia. Ida has been using their product for five years. She uses mobile money. She has a bank account, all her children are in school, and her farming operations have expanded! The use of blockchain for the common good can be revolutionary. Yet Ashish is still one of the only entrepreneurs taking a commercial approach to the technology while simultaneously being purpose-driven and purpose-driven.
And it’s paying off!
His for-profit, for-purpose software company has the largest brands in the world rushing to BanQu because it makes the supply chain now more cost-effective and efficient. Farmers get better visibility into the supply chain regarding quality, market access, and forecasting, enabling an ecosystem for crop insurance, climate protection, and education. And the other side of the coin is that companies can start addressing issues like carbon credits, regenerative agriculture, gender equality, and labor rights with data.
Blockchain also changes dynamics in the supply chain. If a farmer has been selling beans to a coffee company, but the coffee company says, “Hey, I don’t want to buy your coffee from now on,” in today’s world, that coffee company is just going to walk away with all this valuable data on the farmer. But with blockchain, Ashish says that the relationship between the farmer and the coffee company fundamentally changes. The company may still walk away with data, but the farmer now has a copy of that data that he can use to support his business, and nobody can ever take it away.
Read more about BanQu and exciting jobs in Tomorrow’s Jobs Today: Wisdom & Career Advice from Thought Leaders in AI, Big Data, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, Privacy, and More.