Sixth in a series of in-depth interviews with innovators and leaders in the fields of Risk, Compliance and Information Governance across the globe.
Ashish Gadnis is CEO of BanQu, Inc. and a recognized thought leader in the blockchain community. He chairs the Financial Inclusion Working Committee for the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance and travels the world explaining how this revolutionary new technology is transforming the way we think about 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. I spoke with him this July about blockchain, business administration and professional development.
Ashish, you recently spoke at the MER conference where the theme was “Records for Humanity,” how data governance impacts the human condition. And your company, BanQu, offers a unique solution to the challenge of extreme poverty by leveraging blockchain. With BanQu, people ensure their economic identity with an immutable record of their transactions in a system benefiting the entire supply chain. But how exactly do you, your clients and big brands set about prioritizing and realizing these goals?
Over the last two and a half years we’ve realized that 2.7 billion people, that includes refugees displaced and those in extreme poverty zones, participate in some sort of a supply chain. That can mean you’re the poorest farmer in Congo growing coffee, cacao or shea butter, you know, the ingredients that go into cosmetics, and your contributions show up in brands like eight dollar lattes and expensive body lotions. And in examining this, we realized that that current models for getting people out of poverty have failed. Those models have failed because they look at the ability to help people out of poverty separate from enabling people in poverty to participate in the supply chain. And so we actually took the other route. And nobody had ever done it. We said, “What if the people who are absolutely in that last mile, if they get to equally participate?” Then the value for the brand is suddenly more relevant.
Let’s use a simple example. If you’re buying cacao in Ghana and you’re a large chocolate company, there’s a good chance today that your last mile farmers are extremely poor and also invisible. No matter much traceability, transparency or fair trade you implement, until and unless that farmer can participate in his data, to know for example “I’m selling 40 kilos every other week to this big brand,” then that farmer will continue to live in poverty. And this is kind of a long answer, but the detail is important because that poor farmer today has everything stacked against him or her, especially if conditions are so rough. I was just in Zambia a week and a half ago and I saw firsthand some of this problem, which was that women farmers have to borrow at a higher price point.
Women farmers are always at the short end of the stick because they’re not allowed in many cases to prove their history. So what happens if you happen to be selling 40 kilos upstream and there are seven middlemen… after I sell my coffee… somebody picks it up, then brings it to somebody else, the next one goes to the warehouse and eventually you’ve lost the ability to track. And while the internet has come to people in poverty it hasn’t pulled people out of extreme poverty permanently. There’s mobile money, there’s big data, AI, etc., but none of those models actually have ever allowed that mother, that farmer, to participate equally.
When I say participate equally, it’s very basic. To me participate equally means that one, she has a physical (stored digitally) copy of that transaction that nobody can ever steal or manipulate. Two, she has the ability to prove her transaction history which legitimizes her existence in that supply chain. And three, it allows her to now leverage that data in a way that reduces her cost of borrowing. It allows her to be portable. That’s how we decided to look at blockchain and nobody in the world has ever done this. People keep talking about how they’re going to use blockchain for good and we’re the only ones doing it everyday, taking a commercial approach while being simultaneously deeply purpose driven. We started a for profit, for purpose software company and now the largest brands are coming to us because it solves two sides of the problem for them. One side is that the supply chain now becomes more cost effective and efficient. They get better visibility into the supply chain in terms of quality, market access and forecasting which enables an ecosystem for crop insurance, climate protection, education. And the other side of the coin is now they can start addressing issues like gender equality, labor rights and other important issues.