Block-teaching For Free: The Story Of BlockchainBH
How an organisation run solely by volunteers became the largest open blockchain education platform in Brazil.
A few years back, I began to strongly believe in this blockchain thing. At the time, I was living in Finland and started to get involved with the local community. The community was quite strong and with an overall good level of technical understanding, but for the general Finn, it was difficult to explain why blockchain was necessary.
The difficulty always arose when discussing the idea of decentralisation. Finland has a rather centralised government who actively interferes in the economy and people are generally quite happy about it. Government works fine, banks are fair, and companies provide good service. Why decentralise if centralisation works so well?
But the same cannot be said of my home country, Brazil. For comparison, Finland scored 85 on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index, while Brazil scored 35. Brazilians are well aware of the exploitation by corrupt politicians, banks and large companies, who possess great power and don’t always use for the greater good.
In such a country, you would expect the ideals of transparency, openness and decentralisation to resonate with the population, but blockchain technology was still a widely unknown topic.
There were two main reasons for this. First, the vast majority of Brazilians don’t speak a second language - hence English-based resources are out of most Brazilians’ reach. Second, companies providing blockchain education do exist, but their courses are not affordable for the average person, and they’re mostly located in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo.
Free blockchain education
Having realised that there was a lack of accessible information for Brazilians on blockchain technology, me and a group of like-minded people from my hometown, Belo Horizonte, decided to fill that gap. That’s how BlockchainBH began.
BlockchainBH is a non-profit with the sole purpose of providing high-quality blockchain education to everyone, regardless of their pocket depth. We have been operating for over a year and currently have ten core members, who haven’t earned a single cent for their work (more on this later).
While we started with article writing, nowadays our operations include anything from organizing small-scale meetups to supporting larger development projects. We regularly host workshops and lectures, publish online content on a regular basis and engage in conversations with key stakeholders on the future of blockchain.
At BlockchainBH, our goal is simple: we want to do all that is in our power to support the adoption of blockchain technology. It is common to hear praise for the importance of community-building and education, but not many people actually dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to it.
Our entire team is composed of top-level professionals, yet all are committed to offer their time and expertise often at no cost, because education should not be available only to those who can pay. In addition, we aim to showcase the benefits of the technology by putting it to use, not just talking about it.
Putting blockchain to work
Besides half of our members having built blockchain-based solutions outside of BlockchainBH, internally we have also worked on some key initiatives. We have led small-scale projects such a virtual vaccination card on Ethereum, created a web app for a coffee shop to receive Bitcoin as payment and ran a PoC for a cryptocurrency to be used by social enterprises in low-income communities.
In addition, we ran a campaign called Warm Up!, through which we raised donations in cryptocurrency from people around the world in order to buy blankets for homeless people in Belo Horizonte. The campaign addressed an important issue while showing the use of blockchain for transparency, as well as the global nature of cryptocurrencies.
We bought and delivered the blankets ourselves. You can check out the project here, as well as the final results along with a transparency report. We intend to run the campaign again this year, and for the foreseeable future.
Our business model
For us, providing free education is not just a means to an end. Free education is the end, the ultimate goal. As a team, we are united on a mission of doing all we can for a technology we believe in. And to make sure we’ll achieve it, BlockchainBH is designed in a way that reflects this very ideal.
First of all, there’s no hierarchy. Second, there’s no legal corporate structure. And finally, nobody gets paid. Effectively, we are not an organisation inasmuch as we are a group of people with shared ideals - which is what makes it so powerful.
So how does this work? To achieve our current model, we took a page out of Mr. Frankenstein’s book (the scientist, not the creature). We intend to create a monster who will eventually take a life of its own, independent of its creator.
Since we are not a registered company (or a registered anything) we never bring in revenue. That is not to say our members are not encouraged to monetise their knowledge and expertise. If we are presented with an opportunity to provide a specialised service, the most suitable members are recommended for the job and provide it on their own terms, externally.
As for roles, each of us specialises in what we do best, and everyone is free to make use of the brand and our network to pursue activities that they deem fit. Decisions are made by open debate and everyone is encouraged to voice their opinion.
We only have one rule: our internal activities and any other projects we support must be genuine initiatives to advance blockchain adoption.
Then there’s the thing that members do not get paid. This is usually where people get confused. Essentially, our members get to build their own personal brand, gain access to the community, learn with our team, and use of BlockchainBH as a platform to grow as professionals. Directly because of BlockchainBH, our members have got the opportunity to monetise their work and knowledge externally.
So far, this arrangement seems to be working just fine. Since joining BlockchainBH, five of our members have been offered positions at different universities, most of us have taken up consultancy jobs, developers have built solutions for enterprises, and almost all of us have got the chance to teach a paid course or workshop.
We’ve recently finalised partnerships with a few higher education institutions in Brazil and will be offering formal education in addition to our efforts on the community-led courses. We’ll also help guide early-stage blockchain startups in the country and should be hosting a hackathon later this year. And with the growth of our development team, we intend to pick up a few more internal open-source development projects.
At the same time, we are also hard at work to expand the reach of our programmes and create bridges for knowledge-sharing within and outside of our country. As of today, BlockchainBH has hosted in-person events in four different countries.
We’re proud of our achievements. Our education initiatives have reached tens of thousands of people worldwide, and since our inception, we’ve trained hundreds of developers, running nearly five events every month on average.
But we’d never have got here without the unflappable dedication of our members, nor could we have done it without the help of our partners, who have helped with venues, funding, marketing and a lot more. Much like blockchain itself, it’s all about building a community from the ground up. And not just paying lip-service with your run-of-the-mill corporate social media; it’s about the people. That’s the model.
We want to educate the whole world on the potential of blockchain technology and help develop a bedrock for the much-needed disruption of the current systems. And for this to succeed, it’s not enough to teach only those who can afford to pay.