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DevCon4 prep reading series : Interview with Raphaël Mazet of Alice about Crypto Adoption, Accelerator for Good, and Blockchain for Good workshop

In this series, we are interviewing Ethereum community members who are taking key roles bringing community together by organising various events around DevCon4.

In this blog post, we interview Raphaël Mazet who is CEO of Alice - blockchain for social impact and the host of “Blockchain for Good” workshop.

Hi, Raphaël. Thank you very much to be on the interview. Could you introduce yourself?

Hi, I’m the CEO of Alice, a social impact network built on Ethereum that aims to find the best ways to improve people’s lives, prevent human suffering and protect our planet using cryptoeconomics. We use mechanisms such as “donations by results” combined with impact investments to make sure that the performance of each social project on Alice is completely transparent.

You have spoken at non blockchain related events. How do you explain blockchain to people outside of crypto bubbles and how are their responses?

I usually take the analogy of a big shared, transparent excel spreadsheet through which everyone can transact with each other, without the need for a bank, and on which we can build contracts that are executed without the need for lawyers. It’s not really accurate, but simple enough that my Mum understands it!

You have spoken at many charity and social impact events. What’s the adoption of crypto and blockchain in these areas?

When we started Alice in 2015, all we’d get from charities and impact investors was blank stares, but the sector is coming up to speed really quickly. I’m talking at SOCAP, a big social finance conference in San Francisco this week for example, and there are at least four or five sessions on blockchain technology. It’s astounding to see how awareness is rising.

You guys have been incubated by https://bethnalgreenventures.com , UK based accelerator program for social good (which one of Kickback co-founder Makoto is the alumni). What was your experience of going through the incubation program and how did they treat crypto startups like Alice?

BGV is a great accelerator for very early stage social tech startups, which is exactly what we were when we started the programme at the end of 2016. I think they treated us just like any other company, helping us fit with user-centred design, market fit, business models, etc. Blockchain startups are special, but sometimes we focus too much on the tech and not enough on usability. BGV was great for that.

Recently we integrated a new accelerator called Campus that’s backed by Google, which is for startups that are in a more advanced growth phase. It’s been almost two years since we graduated from BGV, so it’s been a good way to take a step back, integrate our new team members and set the strategy for the next year.

Tell us more about your experience of piloting your product in the world with a charity in London.

Launching the first pilot at the beginning of last year was a huge challenge. It was a project run by a homelessness charity called St Mungo’s to help 15 homeless people in London find a home and deal with their mental health or substance issues. It took us about a year of preparations, both on the technical side and on the operational side to get it launched. We had to figure out the tax implications, how to integrate with fiat payments, how to smooth the UX so that “normal” donors didn’t have to worry about using a Web3 browser, on top of all the front-end design, UX testing, etc.

We learnt a lot through that process, and we spent the last 6 months improving the platform. The next set of appeals are coming soon, one hopefully in time for Devcon 4. Watch this space!

You guys are one of the first to accept payment in fiat (with credit card) then convert into ETH, which is known as “last mile problem of Cyrpto”. Tell us more about the experience. Do you recommend other Cypto companies to do the same?

Actually, we don’t convert fiat donations into Eth. Let me explain why. One of the basic mechanisms on Alice is that people’s donations aren’t immediately given to the nonprofit running a project. Instead, they’re held in escrow until an independent validator verified that they’ve achieved their goals — e.g. the validator will check the rental agreement if a charity claims to have found a home for someone who lives on the streets.

The choice we made was to work with mainstream donors: people who are used to donating, but don’t know anything about crypto, so we wanted to allow them to pay with their credit cards. The problem is that it would be too risky to convert fiat into Eth given the volatility, as it can take quite a while for a charity to achieve its goals. If in that time the price of Eth collapses, the project becomes unsustainable. So instead, we worked with an online escrow provider, put the fiat donations in a segregated bank account, and issued tokens that represented the donations to use in our smart contracts. Pretty much like a homegrown pegged stablecoin. We actually ran part of the pilot within the sandbox of the Financial Conduct Authority, the UK’s financial regulator, and we gave a talk at Devcon 3 about our work.

Remember, this was early 2017, at a time when Dai and other Ethereum-based stablecoins didn’t exist. I’m not sure Infura was operational either, so we built our own transaction relay to avoid congestion. Now we’re looking at the alternatives, and will actually announce an integration with Dai at the Blockchain for Good event.

For your “Blockchain for good” event, you have brought so many different organisations. What kind of conversation do you expect to happen and why should people attend your event while the rest of people are busy Halloween partying?

They should do both! First load up on good karma, and then trick or treat the night away!

More seriously, it’s tough setting up any kind of social startup, and in some ways, it’s even harder using blockchain technology. It’s not as easy to raise funding for example — people tend to prefer fractal gambling tokens that go to the moon rather than serious social tech. UX is also tough with blockchain technology, and there are tons of technical hurdles to overcome.

Unlike last year, there’s very little in the official Devcon event that’s focused on social or environmental projects. What we want to do with this event is to bring together people who have already launched social dApps in the real world, so that we can all collaborate to get more solutions off the ground. It’s basically one big collaborative event where we can all learn from each other to fulfill the blockchain’s social and environmental potential.

You guys decided the interesting mix of using both EventBrite and Kickback. What’s your expectation of using Blockchain based ticketing systems like us?

We think Kickback is a really cool concept that could solve a lot of problems. Our event is already completely sold out on Eventbrite, but we know from experience that only 50% of ticket holders might show up (this is Devcon though, so people are more passionate than most!). Kickback could help reduce that, and it’s cool to be testing it.

Most readers of this interview are in the crypto/blockchain space. What is the one thing anyone can start for social good from now which you can advice?

The best advice I can give is: don’t build in a vacuum. You first have to understand how the system is broken before you can fix it, and the only way to do that is either to get first hand experience or do a lot of market research. I’ve seen many social blockchain projects pop up in the last 3 years that came from a good place but tackled problems either in a naive way (at best) or in potentially dangerous ones (at worst!). That’s one of the reasons behind this event: come and learn from great projects doing inspiring things and contribute too.

Thank you very much for the interview!

If you want to talk with Raphaël about a big shared, transparent excel spreadsheet for social good, please RSVP here.

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