A year ago, we found ourselves looking on in horror at Venezuela’s endless stream of bad news: one million percent inflation, no ability to transfer money in or out of the country, violent crackdowns on merchants who set their own prices. We were witnessing an economic collapse that rendered residents destitute… and distrustful of their own money.
Coming from the worlds of finance, technology, and design, we started to brainstorm how we might help Venezuelans living under such dire circumstances. Our early starts, however, led us only to learn how much we didn’t know. Without understanding the day-to-day context Venezuelans were living, it was difficult to grasp where to start and what solutions were needed. We needed to go to the field to learn how Venezuelan individuals, families, and communities were managing their financial health, their physical safety, and their overall wellbeing. In the fall of 2018, we started the Open Money Initiative to do this work.
The Open Money Initiative is a non-profit that researches how people use money in closed economies and collapsing monetary systems. We kicked off our first project in January of 2019. Using a design-led approach, we focused on capturing the human experiences often lost in macro data. We conducted ethnographic interviews and longitudinal studies in Venezuela.
Over the course of our work, we spoke to students in Caracas who use bitcoin to survive. We met money changers who carry dollars cash from the United States in suitcases on airplanes. We learned from women who brought their life savings out of Venezuela by hiding bills in their hair buns. We sought people who are surviving in a unique, untold, or unexpected way.
We will also be sharing our work at the following conferences:
Our work has been made possible by the generous contributions of our sponsors: Zooko Wilcox, the Human Rights Foundation, IDEO, the Tezos Foundation, the Interchain Foundation, LocalBitcoins, the Stellar Development Foundation, the Zcash Foundation, and GiveCrypto.
We are lucky to have sponsors who support our vision of a free and open financial system for all — and who also appreciate the need for neutrality in undertaking this kind of research. The Open Money Initiative does not promote a given product or brand. In our research, we present the world as we have found it. We hope, however, that our insights inspire entrepreneurs and organizations to lean into the future of what can be: building products and services that address the needs of those living in closed societies.
We look forward to sharing more soon.