What we need to keep blockchain booming in Africa

To harness the power of blockchain technology for the continent, we need a new generation of highly skilled professionals to drive its application. South Africa will soon see a first-of-its-kind intensive skills building boot camp and hackathon to achieve just that.

Blockchain is booming in Africa. On the financial side alone, Bitcoin trading hit record highs in South Africa in August as the currency surged to $4,700 a coin. Additionally, Pick and Pay, one of South Africa’s largest retailers successfully trialled Bitcoin as a payment option.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has said it is open to issuing a national digital currency, likely based on blockchain or distributed ledger technology and similar plans are in the pipeline in Senegal and within the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).

Analysts believe Africa will be impacted dramatically by the rise of blockchain technology, arguing that it can enhance both efficiency and transparency across sub-Saharan economies. The applications range from micropayment systems to digital identity management or smart contracts, driving a new era of more inclusive growth, job creation, and prosperity.

However, while the technology is flourishing, skills development in the area is not. Moreover, this has prompted two forward-thinking organisations to collaborate to host a first-of-its-kind blockchain boot camp and hackathon aimed at building skills in this rapidly expanding area.

The event will be hosted in Cape Town by the African Institute of Financial Markets and Risk Management (AIFMRM) at UCT and Linum Labs, a blockchain production studio with a focus on blockchain consulting, training and community development.

The hackathon aims to stimulate the development of ideas, prototypes, and applications relating to blockchain technology to solve business problems, particularly within the FinTech sector. “The emphasis is on skills transfer and mentorship within a collaborative and enabling environment,” say the organisers.

“The blockchain is changing the nature of finance. As a result, the need to develop innovative financial products has never been more pressing,” says Dr Co-Pierre Georg, Senior Lecturer at AIFMRM. “The decentralised nature of FinTech and the blockchain means these innovations are often built from the ground up by individuals, start-ups, freelance coders and students – and facilitating interaction between these stakeholders is pivotal for the diffusion of new ideas and technology.”

It is not just not just FinTech being revolutionised, says Andrew Tudhope, Lead Architect at Linum Labs. “This is a paradigm-shifting technology. The community plays a critical role in the direction any blockchain takes, and to have a viable community; you need education and skills transfer,” he says.

Many students with a keen interest in the blockchain do not have the opportunity to learn in a traditional setting, says Georg. “Creating opportunities for people to gain practical skills enabling them to develop on the blockchain is therefore crucial to addressing the skills deficit on the continent,” he says.

The boot camp and hackathon – an intensive 10-day experience which includes skills training, networking, advice on how to turn ideas into businesses, and the opportunity to win cash prizes of up to R100,000 – will be sponsored, and delegates will be chosen on merit through a rigorous application process. Organisers plan for it to become an annual event that sets the benchmark for blockchain technology development on the continent.

Delegates will gain a head start in this rapidly evolving industry, and will be well positioned to drive the application of the technology on the continent, says Linum Labs’ Devon Krantz.
“In South Africa alone, there’s great potential for changing systems that already exist,” she says. “For example, improving solar technology, notably introducing more transparent solar energy transferral. Moreover, transparency, in general, is an exciting possibility: the identities of children receiving the Child Support Grant, for example, could be stored and protected using blockchain. There could be greater transparency in managing social welfare grants.”

Blockchain could be a game changer, agrees Georg. “The nature of the technology: that it is secure and open to all, cutting out the middleman, means it could revolutionise life for people living in low-income countries or fragile states such as are common in Africa. However, this will not happen if we do not take care to develop the skills needed to drive its application on the continent so that it is accessible to more people.”

“We need to make sure that Africa can develop and keep its young talent before they take their highly sought-after skills to China, Europe or the USA,” says Paul Kohlhaas, CEO of Linum Labs.

“The hackathon is a unique opportunity to start this important journey to keep the blockchain booming on the continent.”

For more information on the hackathon please go to http://linumlabs.com/blockchain-hackathon/. Any qualified person interested in learning more about the blockchain is welcome, preference will be given to students particularly those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

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