Jesse Medina, an associate at Social Finance Israel, led T2D, a three-man team that won GoodDollar’s inaugural Hackinequality event — possibly the world’s first hackathon for reducing global wealth inequality using decentralised technology — in mid-March. Here he lifts the lid on the winning project and his hopes for the future.
GoodDollar: How did you hear about the hackathon, and what compelled you to want to take part?
Jesse Medina: “A friend of mine, Alan Greenspan, whom I connected with at a Hyperledger demo by IBM in Tel Aviv before the Hackinequality preparation event, told me about the hackathon. I knew I wanted to take part before I even got there, because I have a passion for how technology can bring various solutions to social challenges, financial exclusion of low-income populations being one of them. I was even more motivated to take part after hearing the presentations by the GoodDollar team about the work behind their tech and protocol, and how they were planning on using blockchain technologies to design the UBI of the future and mitigate income inequality.”
GD: Had you previously heard of GoodDollar, and if so what was your impression of what we are trying to do?
JM: “I had not. My impression of universal basic income (UBI) as an economic concept is that it is flawed, but very well could be a means towards improving what I consider to be a dire situation in terms of income inequality. I do believe that the capabilities offered by distributed ledger technology (DLT) to improve transparency surrounding how pools of funds are utilised and create conditions for the transfer of assets is what will improve the feasibility of UBI to mitigate the growing threat that automation represents to working people.”
GD: How did you form your team, and had you met your teammates before?
JM: “I had not met anyone prior to attending the meetup event, held a week before the hackathon. After the presentations by the GoodDollar team, each of us was offered the opportunity to present an idea, and so I took my turn after a few others. I was really happily surprised by how many of the people in the room, coders and non-coders, were interested in discussing with me how blockchain can intersect with pay-for-success initiatives with me.
“My teammate Lior Yaffe was one of them. Lior is an experienced blockchain developer, founder of the Ardor blockchain, and I was fortunate enough that he was interested in joining in on the idea. [GoodDollar Legal Lead] Ziv Keinan, who was a mentor at the hackathon, also added to the conversation in that room. Later on, Ziv invited our third team member Yaron Shmaria, and we went from there.”
GD: What was the name of your team and project, and is there a story behind the team name?
JM: “In the end, we called ourselves T2D, which stands for type 2 diabetes.”
GD: In a nutshell, what was your idea?
JM: “Our project was to demonstrate the concept, in a single night, of how pay-for-success initiatives, which generate financial returns from the delivery non-revenue generating services — more specifically from the achievement of social, health or environmental outcomes — can leverage carefully designed data collection systems and DLT to create immutable, and most importantly, identity-sensitive environments that facilitate the required conditions for automated asset transfer in a trustless manner, transparent to all participating parties throughout.
“A blockchain-based system such as this would have many components, obviously, as well as very steep — yet, in my eyes, surmountable — barriers in today’s business and legal environment. So we eventually narrowed our focus to demonstrate one component that has fewer barriers to implementation — that being a ‘cryptonomic’ incentive for prediabetics that adhere to type 2 diabetes prevention programmes.”
GD: How did you attack the hackathon? What were the main challenges, and how did you solve them?
JM: “We got situated, constructed and studied a macro-level schema with a wide scope, and strategised. Given the nature of what we were trying to demonstrate, which involves the private lives of individuals in prevention programs, the main challenge for us was to carefully design the data collection system in a way that would not compromise personal privacy and would not allow cheating of the system.
“We exchanged ideas, allowed the mentors to poke holes in them, and ultimately relied on Lior’s expertise as a blockchain developer to implement a form of multiparty computation that would provide the system with zero knowledge about the individuals involved, while also conceiving a protocol for verification of data entries by the participants.”
GD: How was the first GoodDollar Hackinequality event for you?
JM: “It was truly a great experience. For myself, as a junior developer who has worked as an impact investing consultant for a couple years, I got to learn from highly experienced developers, Lior and Yaron, while sharing my insights and experiences from an industry that is trying to mobilise resources from the private sector for sustainable development and tackle chronic social challenges with innovative financing. I felt like I was at an event full of people that shared this passion for how to use blockchain, a hotbed for financial innovations, to improve on those kinds of efforts.”
GD: Having worked through the hackathon, what are the key challenges that need to be solved today to reduce global wealth inequality, and how can technology help?
JM: “Solving global income inequality is obviously a very complicated task, and answering that properly is surely outside my scope of expertise. What I can say, however, is that pay-for-success initiatives that work to improve the social, health and economic outcomes of vulnerable populations, are a way to incentivise private-sector actors to invest in solving social problems and create social mobility. I believe these instruments will incorporate blockchain solutions in the future, because DLTs are a tool for data synchronicity and cross-organisational workflow at scale.”
GD: How important will blockchain be to narrow the global wealth inequality gap?
JM: “Blockchain is already proving to be instrumental in delivering financial services to the unbanked, and creating stores of value with opportunity for value appreciation, where there previously were none. There are numerous examples of this already, particularly initiatives by the United Nations.”
GD: Coming from the blockchain world, how do you see this attempt to harness blockchain technology in order to reduce global wealth inequality?
Editor’s note: this answer is from Lior Yaffe, co-founder of Jelurida the company that develops the Ardor blockchain, who was instrumental in developing the proof of concept at the hackathon.
Lior Yaffe: “The importance of blockchain technology is that it allows individuals and businesses to cooperate on a large scale using complex frameworks basing their trust on open source code deployed over a decentralised network without requiring a single entity to control the database. This ability has vast implications which we are only starting to realise.
“Reducing inequality could be one of them, since a main source of inequality is caused by the few entities that control the data sources and dictates the economic incentives. These entities tend to favour their own prosperity over the welfare of the anonymous individual.”
GD: In your opinion how far away are we to reducing global wealth inequality using UBI principles and blockchain technology — is this decades away or can it be solved in a handful of years, and why?
JM: “This is a question of politics, as UBI is by definition a question of what to do with taxes. I think once automation of jobs becomes a truly pressing challenge, governments will take a hard look at how DLTs will allow for asset transfers to the vulnerable with greater visibility and transparency for all.”
Hackinequality March 14–15 results:
First place ($2,500): T2D
Second place ($1,500): Lightning Alarm Clock
Third place ($750): GoodTrust
Most disruptive: Lynx
Code and decks for the teams: http://bit.ly/2FfG34f
Photos from the hackathon: photos.app.goo.gl/s1rFtTgLJHFkTxz8A
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