Cryptocurrency’s potential to aid the unbanked has been a topic of discussion over the past months. A stablecoin startup employee and tech enthusiast, Steven Gilbert, experienced the successes and struggles of attempting to do such when he visited a poor neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia to promote adoption.
Gilbert wanted to do something charitable and related to cryptocurrency. Living in Bogota, he decided to help the needy and try to introduce the advantages of digital currency to unbanked individuals as part of an experiment.
“I was interested in visiting this neighborhood which is largely unbanked and poor, and seeing how they would receive the idea of crypto. The takeaway was that they were interested,” he said. Gilbert now resides in California and works as director of international operations at Reserve. He visited the Ciudad Bolivar neighborhood and gifted some of his money to nine families living there. Gilbert met them at a community center that assists displaced individuals in Colombia. Many of the people he talked with have phones, but no bank accounts. He showed them the Breadwallet and then gave them 1 ETH, equivalent to around $131, each.
In addition, Gilbert launched a mission to educate the locals, who reside far away from financial opportunities and banks to be found in central Bogota, about cryptocurrency and how it can be beneficial to them. “With one old woman, I scanned the QR code, made the transfer and she could see how much it was in pesos. She asked me, ‘Is that really what it’s worth?’ Her face lit up when I told her it was. She was fascinated to have digital cash,” he shared.
Despite the interest among the community, however, Gilbert noted that the problem was getting them to use the cryptocurrency. “I was trying really hard to get a merchant in the community to get them to use [crypto],” he stated. “I was like ‘hey, I’m donating this money to a community, as part of an experiment it would be awesome if the people could use it.’” Although he managed to sway the residents to download wallets, the shopkeepers were more challenging to convince:
“The merchants I spoke with in Ciudad Bolivar hadn’t heard of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, so I was starting from square one in terms of educating them. If I had more time, I’m confident I could have brought several merchants onboard but I was time constrained because I was leaving Colombia.”
Gilbert left them with the knowledge of Bogota’s several crypto ATMs as well as Localbitcoin.com. He also provided a list of restaurants and shops that accept digital currency. “The main thing was education. At minimum I wanted to see how they would receive crypto. The biggest benefit is a lot of these people don’t have bank accounts, they’re not tapped into the banking system, so one really cool thing about crypto is you don’t need anyone’s permission to download a crypto wallet. Once you know how to do it, you’re effectively banked,” he stated.
The logistics of introducing cryptocurrency to a tiny section of a neighborhood was also a challenge. “The area was dangerous, I could only be there in the daytime. I would have done more training workshops but because I wasn’t giving it to the entire neighborhood–only a handful of households–it could’ve created tensions,” he stated.
Despite the difficulties of conducting the experiment alone, Gilbert said it was easy enough to introduce unbanked individuals to digital currency and promote enthusiasm. After embarking on a role that focuses on introducing cryptocurrency to nations struggling with hyperinflation, he said that it takes some extra resources and manpower. “These people were very interested and excited at being part of a financial system. They were very open to the idea and I think we could get entire communities using crypto in the future.”