Blog > 2021 > April > Identity is the key to our vision for Africa

Identity is the key to our vision for Africa

Decentralization and using blockchain to address real-world issues will help deliver a new future for the continent

28 April 2021 Charles Hoskinson 7 mins read

Identity is the key to our vision for Africa

Yesterday, in the #CardanoAfrica show, we laid out our bold vision for the continent – and how we’re delivering on it. Here’s how we introduced this very special event

I started Input Output in February of 2015 with a dream – to deliver economic identity to the billions of people around the world who do not have any control over their own lives. 

The reality is that people live in two different configurations; one for developed countries and one for the developing. For most people like me in the developed world, there are many things we take for granted. The fact is that it's easy for us to have an identity, passports, driving licenses. It's easy for us to travel. It's easy for us to prove our credit worthiness and get credentials. It's easy for us to borrow money, get insurance, and to process payments. For example, if someone does a service for you, you can send them something in seconds using a banking app or a mobile payment service such as Venmo. You can send them a PayPal transaction. We take this for granted and, for the most part, it's part of our daily lives.

But when you live in the developing world, things are very different. It's very difficult to globalize. It's difficult to prove claims, whether you're producing something with fair trade or in a sustainable way. It's difficult for people to receive money and send money. Remittance transactions carry a fee amounting to between 8% and 15% of the value of the transfer. When a person wants to borrow money, if it's even possible, micro-finance transactions can have interest rates as high as 85%, according to the World Bank.

The reason for these high fees is not avarice, or racism, or some evil in the global order. Rather, it's because of systems. Some countries enjoy financial infrastructure that is superior to other systems. The problem is that the legacy systems we have are fundamentally incompatible with total globalization, without admitting total centralization behind one standard, such as the American way or the Chinese way.

The world can move beyond that. This is the 21st century, a century with the iPhone, a century with the internet and the World Wide Web, a century where information can move almost instantaneously. As a consequence, we have the potential to create a better way of governing. We no longer need central entities. We no longer need central governments. Just like the internet, the things that process our payments, establish our contractual relationships, hoist up our identity, prove our property ownership, and permit the gears of commerce to work, can be done through the very same decentralized technology that has enabled innovations such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Cardano.

We started Input Output based on first principles. We started with science. We built research labs around the world, hiring dozens of PhDs and we have since written more than a hundred papers, many of which have been tested through the wonderful crucible of academic peer review. Citation after citation later, conference after conference later, journal after journal later, we've built a corpus of scientific knowledge that has allowed us to understand how to build systems that can scale not just to millions, but to billions of users. These systems can preserve a fundamental truth, that we are all equal and we all deserve access to the same marketplaces.

Whether you're a tech billionaire or a shepherd from Senegal, you should receive equal treatment and consideration. You should be given equal access to markets and merit should be the differentiator, not geography or genetics.

We have built great protocols like Cardano. It's not just about promises any more, this technology is now about delivery.

For four years, our people have lived in Ethiopia and have traveled across Africa to Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. No matter where the winds would take them, the promises and commitments and dreams were the same. We wanted to spread our vision of changing the way the world works by pushing power to the edges and allowing people to be their own bank, allowing people to have their own identity.

The first fruit of our labors is the deal with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education. This will involve five million students using Atala Prism technology integrated with the Cardano blockchain. Every one of these students will have a digital identity – a DID. That DID carries with it information – metadata – that will travel with them throughout their academic life, and follow them into the economic world. When these millions of students graduate, as they go into the economy, eventually this infrastructure can be used for buying property, for payments, for voting and all other matters of their economic life.

What's beautiful about this deal is, is that it's extensible. Our priorities and goals are aligned with the vision, priorities and goals of the Ethiopian government. Last year, the government set out its National Digital Transformation Strategy – Ethiopia 2025. This is a bold vision to digitize the country, including a national identity system. It is our belief that the work we have done here with Prism and Cardano for these five million students will inevitably grow to be an inspiration, and perhaps the system, for 107 million Ethiopians, allowing them for the first time to globalize on equal terms with the United States, the European Union, China and other powerful economies.

In addition, this system has the potential to go far beyond identity. We believe it can help people find jobs, because it can verify their credentials, helping them prove their skills. The system can be used for a litany of activities, establishing people as credible actors who have earned the right to have a job.

That's just Ethiopia. We also have partners in Tanzania, World Mobile, and partners across the continent. Every one of them has hopes and dreams about how to apply this technology. The magic of Cardano is that, like Bitcoin, it's permissionless. It does not require someone to register or license something. It does not require someone to ask to use it. Rather, it's an open platform.

And while these projects have been spearheaded by Input Output Global and our partners, they serve as an inspiration for countless entrepreneurs in Africa. They can realize their dreams, their businesses. Whether it’s a decentralized Uber, or securitizing a small company, or a new way of representing resources in trade and commerce, the result would be a piece of infrastructure accessible to all, open for everyone on the continent, to help others achieve their dreams.

Our industry has created a lot of really cool innovations. NFTs, DeFi, security token offerings, and ICOs, and most of these things have been based upon promises of a new world. I believe that over the next five years, as this technology rolls out across all of Africa and many other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe, that these promises can be transformed into new business models.

Thousands of innovations are possible with blockchain infrastructure. Whether you use it to vote, to find the capital that you need as an entrepreneur to thrive, to take care of those you love, or for estate planning so that your desires and your beliefs can transcend even your own death. All of these things are possible with the technology we've constructed, built with formal methods and advanced programming languages like Haskell, and validated by peer review.

Getting here has been hard, and it’s only been possible with the help of thousands of people. So let’s celebrate them too as we mark this first step in fulfilling the dream of giving people in Africa control over their own lives. 

For more on our work on the continent, visit our new Cardano Africa website