During the month of February 2018, the Pacific Island Nation of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) central bank was on a mission to develop a solution based on the blockchain technology. This was to help it overcome other startups that were still utilizing traditional methods. 8 million innovators pitched tents at the northern tip of Australia to deliberate on this issue. They intended to give solutions to the challenges of PNG’s financial inclusion before the end of 2020. However, the main set back to the PNG mission is inadequate infrastructures. The country still has poor infrastructure as compared to other developed countries.
According to PNG central bank deputy governor Elizabeth Genia, the central bank is in a mission of ensuring that all PNG’s citizens were able to access financial services. She added that PNG central bank was the main country’s regulator. Therefore, they were mainly focused on knowing and understanding more about blockchain. She also said that the country can have drastic development through the use of blockchain. The bank’s major initiative this year came when they sponsored the hackathon. The London Blockchain Week hackthon occurred in January 2018.
Genia also said that it is the central bank’s responsibility to understand ways through which the emerging technology can impact country’s citizens. Most parts of PNG are usually covered with deep valleys and mountains. Therefore, many villages are usually remote and isolated from one another. The geography of the country makes many villages to lack main roads that link them to the country’s capital city. Besides, PNG has a group of people who speak in 800 different languages with unique cultures. That is why the government is focused on delivering transparent services. The services will be helpful to the whole population.
PNG central bank got attracted to the blockchain technology in 2016. This was after it discovered that many countries central banks’ were moving into mobile money and fintech. However, Genia says that the PNG’s central bank started mainly from scratch. The bank sent its representatives to the London Blockchain Week that took place in early 2017. During that event, Genia got overwhelmed by the pitch that won that hackathon. The participants had to come up with solutions to challenges affecting a village in PNG. The village had no internet, infrastructure or electricity. The winner of that hackathon was Julien Bouteloup. Bouteloup is a blockchain tech developer and an entrepreneur. Additionally, Bouteloup had background knowledge in AI machine learning and electrical engineering.
Bouteloup said that every participant was developing a great application for a smartphone app. But most PNG citizens do not possess smartphones, neither can they access the internet. He developed IDbox to address the global issue of individuals. This was individuals who specifically did not possess a secured ID. IDbox is a device that allows people in developing countries to come up with an identity that is unique. Furthermore, the device is pocket-friendly. He went ahead and developed a device’s working prototype. The prototype’s primary aim was to help people to come up with a unique identity. It was also to assist people to access grid electricity through an analog phone. Bouteloup got funding from the Australian Government to go to PNG to test the prototype. The funding was influenced by Australia’s Abt Associates CEO, Jane Thomason. Thomason is also the facilitator of the worldwide partnership for the PNG’s central bank. Additionally, she has worked with PNG’s public health sector for 30 years.
According to Jane, once the prototype starts working on a scale, it will change poor people’s lives globally. She added that if everyone at PNG could access ID and get a digital wallet, their lives will improve. This is because they will be able to do many things like getting access to better health care. They will also have ownership of their lands. Bouteloup’s visit to PNG showed him the real picture on how people in those villages have difficulties in traveling. He carried out his first trial in Laulaura village located at the east of Port Moresby, PNG’s capital. He said that they spent six hours to travel from Port Moresby to Lalaura village and they used pick-up truck in traveling.
It takes much time to try a new technology like IDbox that needs fingerprints for developing countries. Furthermore, it calls for patience to develop cultural understanding through proper training and education. Bouteloup worked mainly with village women during the trial. This is since women were the only group that had interest in technology. Genia said that women are the ones who mostly manage family finances in PNG. Bouteloup added that they had to explain to the villagers that their move was not linked to anything. He said that the most challenging part was that the villagers did not see the advantages that come with possessing an ID. So he had no other option apart from incentivizing them.
The PNG villagers got motivated by the incentive of selling electricity. Bouteloup came up with a solar energy device to work with his device which offers free power. It also helped the villagers to sell the surplus power to other villagers. The IDbox device offers every villager a unique identity. They can use the identity to get remittance services, voting systems, and healthcare. Blockchain tech together with an ID could allow people to tokenize personal land assets on the public ledger.
GroundBlocks startup emerged the winner at the 2018 hackathon. The startup pitched an idea that aims at solving land registration challenges. The idea aims to do that through keeping boundary information of GPS with a distributed ledger of ownership of land. Genia says that blockchain technology will help in empowering the PNG women. This is mainly in areas that have high rates of domestic violence. She added that through IT technology with blockchain, women are in a position to be part of financial inclusion.