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Reflections on BSIC NYC 2019

I’m excited to report that there are many potential applications for blockchain in social impact spaces, yet I found myself being a part of conversations geared towards international efforts, rather than the radically unexotic underclass of the country we live in. This was disappointing.

Clyde from the NY State Assembly shined light in the opening remarks that there were people who were citizens and not properly documented and could benefit from self-sovreign identity developments, but this was left to the wayside during conversations within the Land Titles and Refugee working group. Perhaps because there is too much material to cover and it has such a broad application, but I would have appreciated a more local focus.

I also found myself being one of the few developers in the rooms I was in. This is telling. Many of the people in the rooms were higher ups in international development organizations, financiers turned philanthropists, or leaders of blockchain projects, from the sessions I attended.

Also, I thought the conference could have benefitted from a looser structure that was more enthusiastic about the community, rather than shining a light on key visionaries in the space. As someone who finds it difficult to strike up conversations, I found it hard to connect with peers and even harder to discern who was someone with deep technical knowledge and a developer and who was not.

Overall, I’m glad that the working groups were offered. I was happy to hear more about actual solutions on the ground being implemented. however, much of it seems to be pie in teh sky ideas with little touch in realistic applications for specific use cases.

Even the setting, Microsoft’s HQ, in NYC, was prescriptive to a certain amount of privilege to all who attended during the week no less to this conference. Many people who would be value add to the conversation are likely working or under-represented in the world, not just blockchain in general.

The wrong mix of people were in the rooms. I appreciated the conversations, but would have appreciated a more community-based focus instead of a top-down hierarchical structure of both working groups and panels.

Tired of being talked at for hours, I left the conference to touch base with friends instead of staying for the whole day. I felt uncomfortable, as the only person with visible tattoos and coming from a traditionally under-represented, high-risk population. It was very corporate and not very Occupy Wall Street, which is more of how I imagine the blockchain space as a whole. Decentralized, collaborative everything.

In the future, I’d recommend that leadership be more mindful of reaching out to groups that are traditionally affected or underserved that are articulate and respectful to participate in the conference as a panelist or perhaps organize a hackathon around solving one particular person’s or small group of person’s issues using blockchain through connections with NGOs or other folks engaged in direct service organizations or self-organized anarchistic collectives.

In short, I recommend actually empowering people who need it directly, with a seat at the panel. They are users of these systems and provide real, actionable feedback on these technical solutions. They could contribute and be paid to contribute and provide real advice on how to equitably distribute the technical expertise of developers, financiers, policy makers, etc. interested in making a difference directly, quickly.

Overall, I’m grateful to have met and been in rooms with others interested in blockchain and building decentralized futures. I just doubt that many people know what that means for their own centralized sources of power and what that redistribution looks like on the ground for the other 99%.

For anyone looking for resources to get involved or learn more about blockchain:

Consensys has a intro to blockchain class available that is free to audit on Coursera.