Venezuelans, failed by their government, are desperate and are leaving the country in droves. People are facing hyperinflation at home and are looking for a stable currency.
Jonathan Kohn, founder of Cripto Conserje, is half Colombian and half Venezuelan. He has been in crypto since 2013 and at the end of 2017, he heard David Hay at a blockchain conference give a passionate speech about using crypto to help the people of Venezuela.
Jonathan, Elena Giralt, Daniel Paramo, David Ardent and Pedro Ortega were inspired by David Hay’s efforts and co-founded a cryptocurrency concierge service for Latin American businesses with a focus on adoption through humanitarian aid. Cripto Conserje, aims to increase cryptocurrency adoption by educating people through hands on use of cryptocurrencies, furthering financial inclusion and sovereignty to those that need it most.
The Cripto Conserje team decided to focus on Cucuta, Colombia, a town on the Venezuelan border where the UNHCR estimates that over 35,000 people per day cross into Colombia. To encourage cryptocurrency adoption in this population, the team faced technology challenges: How does crypto work when you are at the edges of the internet and the edges of other modern technologies’ reach? How can this work when people don’t have smartphones, tablets or computers?
They realized that they needed a plan of how to create and distribute wallets with the technology readily available on the ground. Some 97% of the people didn’t have smart phones so they needed to come up with low-tech solutions. They started with a paper wallet. Paper wallets are public and private keys printed on paper. As Jonathan says “ If I hand someone a paper wallet, they get that.” People understand that they have to keep the paper safe and, if they lose it, the value is gone. Here’s a sample paper wallet:
In addition to a paper wallet, the team worked with Cointigo to create a hot wallet for SMS phones. Cointigo’s technology enables users to send and receive cryptocurrencies from their phone by SMS. Here’s an example from the Cointigo website of how end users can send cryptocurrency using SMS.
Once they had wallet technology that could be used with the technology that was readily available in Cucuta, the team developed an educational program to teach people how to use the wallet. Refugees earned $5 in cryptocurrency by taking a class and take a test (small quiz) when they finish class. The quiz design called for the refugees to give the team their public key. Once the team confirmed the public key matched a list of approved addresses, the refugees were sent $5.
Refugees now had cryptocurrency — now they needed to be able to spend it on critical supplies. In Colombia, crypto is a-legal. The Colombian government has not made a determination that cryptocurrency is illegal or legal and therefore merchants who take crypto don’t have any guidance on whether it’s ok for them to accept it. If merchants do accept it, they don’t know how to report revenues or taxes owed. Therefore, it is hard for brick and mortar vendors to take the it. The Cripto Conserje team therefore decided to work with street vendors and gave them tablets which they can use to accept cryptocurrency. The street merchants take the $5 in crypto in exchange for needed supplies and food.
The Cripto Conserje team not only wanted to use cryptocurrency as a way to distribute aid, they also wanted to fundraise and to help develop digital businesses to support the refugees.
The team has worked with crypto donors and crypto service companies including PAC coin, Ohm coin, Horizen, Cointigo (SMS wallet), Athena Bitcoin (ATM) and more to deliver the infrastructure needed to make crypto function as a currency people can use. They did also did a live stream fundraiser in partnership with Cryptograffiti and AirTM where they raised over $16,000. The funds were split to help the AirdropVenezuela campaign and to rebuild a daycare for Venezuelan refugees, Fundacion Renacer, where the event was held.
Cryptograffiti made a mural of Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, with Bolivar notes. He peeled off one Bolivar note every time someone donated crypto. He took down Maduro, piece by piece.
The Cripto Conserje team is also working with children in the area to create crypto art and make each piece into non- fungible tokens (NFT’s) that they can sell on opensea.io and other online marketplaces. Eventually they hope to sell other things made by the refugees, including edible mushrooms which they will train refugees to grow, feed and sell to help themselves.
Cripto Conserje aims to be a concierge service for merchants, enabling them to use crypto. As a result of their efforts, they believe that Cúcuta will be the first city to achieve 50% merchant adoption of crypto.