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Ethereum Foundation Fellowship Program

Introduction

Hola, my name’s Marcus and I am a researcher and entrepreneur from Guatemala. Located in Central America, Guatemala is a country rich in cultural heritage and stunning geographic landscapes. Unfortunately, however, our history is plagued with violence, corruption, and inequality, a reality that disproportionately affects rural indigenous communities.

We are a nation where more than half of the country’s wealth is held by just 0.001% of the population (talk about the 1%). Guatemala’s inequity is a key driver in systematically limiting the health and education of our poorer communities. In some regions of Guatemala, 7 out of 10 children are chronically malnourished and we have the lowest literacy rate in Central America.

To address these challenges, it is my belief that those who have the opportunity to shift the imbalanced scales of justice, have a moral obligation to do so. This is a position shared by many of our peers, who hold the conviction that nothing changes if nothing changes.

There is perhaps no greater accelerator of change than the rapid development and adoption of technology around the world. In particular, I am a firm believer in the potential for blockchain technology to instigate the systemic change necessary to unlock more just and prosperous societies for all.

Web3, which relies on decentralized peer-to-peer networks, has already begun to disrupt the arts, culture, governance, finance, and so many other frontiers of human coordination. One of the most disruptive use-cases of blockchain has been the development of decentralized finance (or DeFi), which enables peer-to-peer digital financial infrastructure. DeFi has the opportunity to revolutionize the way we think about financial inclusion and offer pathways out of poverty for millions of Guatemalans and people around the world.

As a Fellow at the Ethereum Foundation, I’m working to expand the practical use of cryptocurrency throughout emerging economies and support in onboarding the next billion people into the space. I am conducting a 6 month research project where I will be speaking with a diverse set of stakeholders ranging from last-mile communities through to some of the world’s most innovative web3 protocols and dApps.

Ultimately, I will be publishing an open-source report that will compile the findings over the course of the research and will provide suggestions towards what is fundamentally missing in the industry and what opportunities lie in addressing those gaps. The intention is that this research will provide an indication of the necessary “legos” that must be put in place as we continue to build infinite games that provide transparent, abundant, and equitable futures.

Research

Enhancing inclusive growth and reducing poverty in emerging economies will require continued efforts to provide further education, increase investments in human capital, drive further innovation and support resilient technological infrastructure. Therefore, the research I will be conducting will rely on a multi-disciplinary approach, including document and literature review as well interviews with a wide range of stakeholders. The following outlines a sample of the various groups I intend on connecting with.

Rural Guatemalan communities

Many Guatemalan rural communities face dire socioeconomic conditions. In predominantly indigenous communities, the average earnings equate to $5 USD a day (the poverty rate is as high as 79%). In practical terms this means Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, with indigenous and rural populations affected disproportionately.

In order to transition out of poverty and access new opportunities to build more stable economic lives, it is imperative to provide financial services that unlock savings, payments, credit, and insurance. Most rural households operate entirely on cash-based transactions, which inhibit cross-border remittance payments, enable informal moneylenders with notoriously high interest rates, and do not provide yield-bearing savings. Therefore, in order to overcome poverty, it is essential to enable accessible financial services that leverage the latest technological advancement while prioritizing user experience and reliability.

The interviews with these communities will focus on analyzing the existing barriers to accessing traditional financial services as well as the underlying social, educational, and technological infrastructure that if overcome, could enable crypto-enabled solutions.

Impact-led initiatives

There are a number of projects throughout Guatemala that are seeking to deliver services to disenfranchised communities.Despite having an incredible impact throughout Guatemala, many of these projects’ capacity to scale is limited by the lack of access to financing and technological innovation throughout the region. My objective with these projects will center around unpacking how their initiatives are substantially advancing human development throughout the region, their scaling challenges, and fundraising needs. Some of the projects I will be connecting with:

  • MAIA: An indigenous-led organization that is empowering young women by offering them a holistic educational model that boosts academia, culture, and identity

  • Lamina POP: A social enterprise building low-cost housing in last-mile communities working alongside Stanford, Cambridge and Habitat for Humanity

  • Chispa: Manufacturers of wood-fired stoves that provide more efficient and healthier stoves for indigenous communities

  • Defensores: An environmental advocacy, education, and research group committed to fostering sustainable development throughout the region

  • Albedo: Democratizing access to solar power by providing affordable debt financing to both individuals and companies

  • **Polycon 33: **A circular economy-led social enterprise producing construction materials from recycled plastic

Crypto-native solutions

There is a flourishing movement throughout the crypto ecosystem regarding the real-world impact that crypto could have throughout emerging economies; moreover, there are a number of initiatives that are deploying crypto-leveraged solutions. With these projects, my goal is to understand how and why they leverage crypto to specifically address the challenges in the regions and industries they are working in. Further we will be documenting the social, governmental, and technological infrastructure they need to scale their operations and reach the next billion users in the regions where they operate. Some of the projects I will be speaking with:

  • Jia: Offering credit to growing enterprises in emerging economies

  • Goldfinch: Decentralized credit protocol focusing on emerging economies

  • Regen Foundation: Empowering communities to achieve ecological regeneration

  • Celo: L1 EVM-compatible blockchain whose mission is to build prosperity for everyone

  • GoodDollar: Delivering universal basic income straight to your phone

  • Proof of Humanity: Developing a robust online human identity system

  • Gitcoin: Funding open source software and public goods with over $69 million

  • Giveth: Community focused on building the future of on-chain giving

  • EthicHub: Improving farmer livelihoods by offering accessible financing

  • Afropolitan: Building a digital nation to enable all Africans to build abundant lives

Leading web3 protocols & dApps

Across the ecosystem, there are leading initiatives that are technologically pushing the envelope and re-imagining what more decentralized, permissionless, and interoperable human coordination could look like. My objective is to analyze the infrastructure-level challenges across the industry that, if addressed, will enable us to advance protocols and dApps that have the potential to uplift the lives of billions of people around the world. A few of these projects are:

  • Disco: building your sovereign identity for the metaverse

  • Uniswap: enabling decentralized swapping and earning of digital assets

  • Centrifuge: unlocking liquidity for real world assets

  • MakerDAO: issuing decentralized stable digital currency DAI

  • Syndicate: revolutionizing on-chain investment syndicates

Results

The outcome of this research is to understand Guatemala's challenges and opportunities towards accelerating inclusive, productive, and sustainable development through the implementation of crypto-enabled solutions. The aim is that this research will also provide valuable insights that can be applied more broadly, particularly to those working to build more inclusive social contracts, accelerate creation of opportunities, boost productivity, enhance sustainability, and enable human flourishing.

This is an ambitious effort that will require enhancing technological development, investing in human capital, deploying innovative and resilient infrastructure, and addressing challenges in transparency, governance, and citizen engagement, among other actions. To that end, the finalized report will unpack the following themes:

  • Current landscape: What does a flourishing livelihood mean for the communities we intend to serve in Guatemala? What are the barriers to ensuring decent standards of living in these communities?

  • Existing solutions: Who is leading the way on delivering last-mile services throughout these communities? What is missing for more effective and scalable delivery of these services?

  • Infrastructure: What is the local educational, regulatory, social and user-facing infrastructure that needs to be brought forth to boost adoption throughout the region?

  • dApps and protocols: What dApps and protocols are pushing the envelope on enabling faster adoption of crypto across emerging economies and where lie the opportunities for further research and development.

Throughout the Fellowship, I will be posting regular updates across my Twitter account, sharing a series of blogs via the Ethereum Foundation, and distributing my findings across public media.

If you are interested in contributing to the research, let's connect via email or Twitter

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