Bitcoin: Applications for Social Innovation | iNFINITE 8 INSTITUTE / by Ean Garrett

The role of Bitcoin and digital currency will serve as a catalyst, driving change and 21st Century innovation. At the heart of a new global economy is the digital revolution, and there are few things in the digital-age that are more revolutionary than Bitcoin. There’s an age-old business adage, which says, “You win in the turns”. And if you know anything about Nascar racing, then you’d know that while driving a 3,000 pound car around a corner at 200 mph, pushing your body to 4 or 5 G’s, such moments of intensity determine the outcome of the race. In the midst of chaos victory belongs to those who can focus, adapt, and deliver in spite of the pandemonium all around them. In the midst of our unpredictable world, opportunities for using Bitcoin to achieve widespread social innovation currently lie in the fields of education, philanthropy, and immigration. Today, those organizations and individuals who will be among those in the winner’s circle, will be those who pioneered new ways to utilize Bitcoin to address modern societal issues.

What is Bitcoin? Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer digital monetary system. Instead of fiat or traditional paper currency, Bitcoin may be digitally traded from one source to another, without a third party intermediary such as Visa or Wells Fargo Bank. One need only download a free encrypted digital wallet to her/his smart-phone, similar to the downloading of any application, storing the currency in the digital likeness of a physical wallet. But how can Bitcoin benefit any organization, more or less one that is philanthropic in nature?

Bitcoin allows for numerous applications toward helping streamline the process of making donations, as well as providing philanthropic services. The philanthropic community is already finding creative ways to embrace Bitcoin. The online philanthropic fund-raising platform Coinbase, allows for free transactions for the first $1-million dollars raised. Thereafter, there is a 1% charge, which still beats out much of the transaction fees from debit and credit cards. The Women’s Annex Foundation, which promotes digital literacy among young women in Afghanistan and provides a platform where they earn money as bloggers, began paying bloggers in Bitcoin earlier this year. The digital currency is more efficient in parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, where stable and accessible monetary structures are not readily available. In November, over $1-million dollars were raised last year for over 30 charities during Bitcoin Black Friday, a spin-off of the commonly known retail holiday. Even United Way Worldwide is now accepting Bitcoin donations for its Innovation Fund. According to the non-profit’s CEO, Brian A. Gallagher, the fund will support new approaches to efforts in education, health, and other areas. Bitcoin also allows for donors to ensure that relatively all of their donations are going to their organization of choice. While still in the fledgling stage, the future possibilities of Bitcoin and digital currency in the philanthropic sector remain bright.

In the field of Education, there has been a significant amount of hype surrounding Bitcoin as well as digital currency at large. To date, there are a total of three institutions who accept Bitcoin as tuition payments, including: the University of Cumbria in the UK, the University of Nicosia in Cyprus (UNic), and Kings College in New York City. According to Dr. Christos Vlanchos, the UNic’s Chief Financial Officer, the acceptance of Bitcoin stemmed from student demand among international students, who desired to transfer funds without the bunch of high costs traditionally associated with banking systems.” In February of 2014, the University of Puget Sound likewise became the first American University to accept Bitcoin donations. Student led Bitcoin Clubs have also sprung up on campuses around America, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State, and the University of Michigan. There are also various colleges and universities who now offer coursework and programming on the topic of digital currency. For instance, UNic offers a Digital Currency Degree, as well as a course called “Introduction to Digital Currencies”. The larger implications of Bitcoin in the educational sector have just begun to be explored.

Exchanging cash for Bitcoins using my smart-phone at the unveiling of a Bitcoin ATM. 

Exchanging cash for Bitcoins using my smart-phone at the unveiling of a Bitcoin ATM. 

One of the most hotly debated issues in America is the issue of immigration. There are an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The newly passed immigration legislation under current U.S. President Barack Obama, will only affect roughly half that number. The new Federal legislation will specifically affect parents of children who are either born in the U.S., children brought to the U.S. after January 1, 2010 and residing in the U.S. for at least five years, as well as lawful permanent residents. It is very likely that a large portion of the immigrant population will choose to try their luck as is, rather than risk deportation by exposing themselves to such a rigorous process, including biometric scans as well as a $465 application fee.

As a result of the barriers to citizenship, a large number of U.S. immigrants lack and will continue to lack the ability to obtain state issued drivers licenses and identification, resulting in the inability to open bank accounts. While the new law will allow some immigrants to open up bank accounts in some states, there still remain legal gaps for others. Bitcoin is a way for these individuals who cannot obtain the required state issued documents, to safely store currency utilizing nothing more than their smart phone. Digital currency also gives these individuals the ability to send money to family, friends, and institutions in South and Central America, and Mexico much more quickly as well as inexpensively, than through intermediaries such as Western Union. Many critics of Bitcoin and digital currency state the fear of widespread money laundering schemes as a primary concern. Yet, between the year 2007 and 2008 alone, a Mexican cartel wired $7 billion dollars to U.S. accounts in New York, funds which also included drug proceeds. Such facts expose the already ubiquitous loopholes in our current monetary system. In spite of the controversy surrounding immigration or the use of digital currency among immigrants, many benefits and possibilities remain for immigrant populations and the many social organizations which serve them.

While traveling into outer space there is a launch window that astronauts have to liftoff in order to accurately and timely meet their destination. Now is that time for organizations aiming to utilize the possibilities of Bitcoin and digital currency to innovate and create a better tomorrow. Many prospective opportunities exist and are being taken advantage of in the educational and philanthropic sectors, as well as among immigrants and organizations who serve the same demographic. Brave steps must be taken in the direction of Bitcoin and digital currency if organizations and their constituents are to reap the immediate associated benefits during such a pivotal point in the digital revolution. 

Ean Garrett, J.D., is the author of two books, "Rebirth of a Dream" and "The Immovable Race", as well as the Chief Innovation Officer of the consulting firm, Infinite 8 Institute, L3C, specializing in education and social innovation. Follow him on Twitter & IG: @eangarrett