In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the leaders behind the Blockchain Summit normally hosted at Richard Branson’s own personal, Necker Island, saw an opportunity. The category five storm that last year destroyed the retreat and thousands of private residences forced the event’s co-hosts to re-evaluate its setting, and they wanted to do so with a sense of purpose.
In spite of a number of real-world results that have emerged from the conference, including the creation of the Blockchain Alliance, now including 36 government agencies and the Global Blockchain Business Council with members from 35 countries, the gathering has become an easy target on social media for the perception that it is little more than a vacation for the well-to-do.
So, in this, the fourth year of the event, the man who came up with the concept in the first place, investor Bill Tai, wanted to create a new layer of meaning, beyond just getting together a number of thought leaders and seeing how they could use the technology first made popular by bitcoin to bring new efficiencies to a wide range of industries.
In addition to gathering participants, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Kenya cabinet secretary Joseph Mucheru, Tai invited about 30 total speakers to Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot in Marrakesh, Morocco to talk about the business of building blockchain in Africa.
“The whole continent is a bit of an unknown to a lot of folks because they just don’t get much exposure to it,” said Tai, who is also the founder of the Actai Group non-profit aimed at bringing together groups of leaders for social good. “I think getting a lot of people together that are knowledgeable, with reach, and high profile, that collectively can form a view about what are the opportunities at hand can both serve philanthropic and commercial interests.”
Helping lead the shift in focus to using blockchain as a way to more deeply connect the rest of the world’s finances to Africa is Tai himself, who in addition to being an early investor in the event’s co-hosts, blockchain firm, Bitfury Group, is expected to make a series of related announcements on stage at the event.
Specifically, on July 9 Tai says he’ll announce a project called Barking Dog, which is being designed to help national governments without land-titling infrastructures easily use blockchain to recognize the land their citizens own, and tokenize the assets beneath it. Inspired by economist Hernando De Soto, who used land-titling to prevent the growth of illegal crops in South America, the Barking Dog initiative is part of a larger push to register land in Africa and around the world.
Already, Ghana-based Bitland and Kenya-based Land Layby are working to use blockchain to create formally recognized infrastructures for proving land-ownership. While the problem of proving ownership maybe foreign to many in the West, the World Economic Forum estimates that 90% of Africa’s land is “completely” undocumented. More than just a real-estate issue, Tai argues that empowering people with land-ownership is a crucial component to financial independence and broader blockchain building.
“If you have a squatter versus somebody with a title, the squatter just wants to take, take, take, and then run away if the law comes,” said Tai. “If you own the land with a clear title you want to make it better, you want to improve it.”