This is an op-ed by Obi Nwosu, a full-time bitcoin advocate and board member of ₿trust, a non-profit organization originally started by Jack Dorsey and Jay-Z to fund the location, education and compensation for bitcoin developers from untapped parts. world, starting with Africa.
Who knew that a plane trip could change the future of Bitcoin?
There I was, on my way back from Lofoten in Northern Norway, after an amazing and exhausting few days discussing how the Bitcoin community could support the goals of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities and human rights groups around the world, and I was exhausted.
Most of the people on the plane were sound asleep – rightly so – but I couldn’t rest, such was my excitement thinking back on the past three days. I noticed a few people up front chatting and decided to join them. Jeff Booth, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, and Leopoldo Lopez were enthusiastically discussing how Bitcoin could be deployed in regions where their human rights groups operate at scale.
I listened to the conversation. They were explaining that with the right app, they could increase Bitcoin adoption exponentially and, in the process, help the people they care about so much.
NGOs, charities, human rights defenders and activists realized that many of their problems had financial roots. The people they try to help are barred from accessing the global financial economy and forced to use their regime’s currency – often with double, three, four or even five-digit inflation – making it impossible to save, plan or escape their money chains.
By having simple, safe, and private access to Bitcoin, anyone, anywhere could gain access to a currency whose inflation cannot be manipulated by any regime for its profit and the loss of its citizens. Access to the Lightning Network would allow these people to quickly and inexpensively receive money from NGOs, charities, their relatives in the Diaspora or transact with international merchants and each other, all protecting their privacy. However, the existing options were too restricted so that target users could not access them, or they were too complex and expensive, or they were not designed to scale globally while protecting privacy.
With the right solution, these highly efficient operators already had the facilities, knowledge, and know-how to get hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people in some of the world’s most oppressed countries to learn about Bitcoin and to adopt a portfolio. And if this wallet was easy enough to set up and use, it would just be enough to let the power of network effects do the rest. What would start with a million users would quickly grow to 10, then 100, and beyond. It seemed bold, but it was possible that in a very short time we could have a billion users on Bitcoin.
Strengthening the financial tools available to oppressed communities and NGOs advocating for their causes ultimately strengthens democracy. This ultimately creates a better future for countries struggling under oppressive regimes and makes the world a better and fairer place.
Ever since I met Elsirion at Hacker’s Congress in Prague nearly a year earlier and first learned about Fedimint, I had dedicated my time to promoting, sponsoring and growing it. Now, what was clear to me was the realization that Fedimint was the technology specifically designed to make the vision of quickly reaching one billion Bitcoiners a reality.
One of the biggest challenges to bitcoin adoption today is custody – self-custody is intimidating for people, and there are issues with custody solutions, including unclear and in-depth regulations. ever-changing or risk of loss. We only have to consider some of the recent stories of regulated exchanges lose, spend or risk their clients’ assets for warning examples. The need for a solution like Fedimint is greater than ever.
– A form of bitcoin community custody.
– It uses federations, a fault-tolerant byzantine multisig wallet technology similar to Blockstream’s liquid network).
– It is managed collectively by groups of trusted community members whom we call ‘custodians’, for and on behalf of their communities.
– Has privacy thanks to Chaumian e-cash.
– And is tightly integrated with the Lightning Network.
(more details can be found on the fedimint.org website and FAQs)
The result is a system that is simpler and more private than using an exchange or hardware wallet and that allows communities anywhere to take control of their bitcoin. Simply put, Fedimint is a form of bitcoin custody designed from the ground up to operate on a global scale, allowing billions of people to receive, hold, and spend bitcoins.
I shared my solution with Jeff, Leo and Lyuda and in the ensuing discussion the idea was born for Fedi, the easiest, most secure and most private bitcoin wallet in the world.
We would use the Fedimint custody protocol as the secure, simple, and decentralized core that everything else would connect to. Equally important, it needed an equally solid user interface. I would work with key people involved in Fedimint to form a trading company to accelerate development. For rapid global growth, we would leverage the experience and skills of a group of NGOs, charities, activists and human rights defenders to bring Fedimint to their communities.
When I returned to my hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, labor began. Until now, Fedimint had progressed as an open-source protocol project with a long-term plan to build a business around UI commercialization. Oslo changed everything. I described my experience to Elsirion, the inventor of Fedimint and Justin Moon, the founder of one of North America’s largest Bitcoin meetups, explained the desperate need and the bold new vision. They quickly understood the key role that the Fedimint protocol would play in helping the most deprived in the world and agreed to join me as co-founders.
We then reached out to all Bitcoin-focused VCs in search of capital partners who would understand the vision and be willing to join us on the journey. The response has been phenomenal. We started with Kingsway Capital, a prolific investor in technology companies serving the Global South and, more recently, bitcoin businesses. I contacted Ten 31 VC who were long time supporters of Elsirion, the Fedimint protocol and me. And of course, I spoke to capital about the death of the ego, as Jeff Booth was one of the main reasons I came up with the growth strategy that catalyzed the project. Within a week, not only had we increased our target seed, but we had exceeded it and had to increase it twice. In a month, we had completed the round. Beyond our main investors, we were also fortunate to have investments from Trammell Venture Partners, Hivemind VC, Timechain, Recursive Capital and Steve Lee.
It’s not just venture capital funding. The Fedimint open-source protocol project has attracted support from a wide range of organizations. Blockstream was the first to recognize the potential and has sponsored the project for years and recently renewed its commitment. Long before making a capital investment, Ten 31 VC had provided a BTC grant which signaled to the team that we were onto something. More recently, Spiral, which is part of Block, agreed to provide a number of grants to developers working full-time on the project. The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has generously donated to Fedimint and I have to thank Alex Gladstein of HRF for inviting me to the Oslo Freedom Forum, where it all happened, in first place. And finally, I had made a small donation for the project.
The reason for the quick response – even in this time of bearish sentiment – was simple. Everyone could see that this was Bitcoin’s missing link – decentralized, privacy-preserving Bitcoin custody. Moreover, he solved a problem for a group of people who needed it the most and he solved it in a way that would send a signal to the rest of the world and prove once and for all that Bitcoin was not only useful, but essential to making the world a better and freer place.
Today, my amazing partners, Elsirion and Justin Moon, work with a growing list of talented open source protocol engineers and designers, working furiously around the clock to make Fedimint and Fedi a reality. A year ago, Elsirion guessed that it would take him about 24 months to get the first prototype of Fedimint working. But a few months later our conference combined with Bitcoin Miami 2022, and the resulting influx of dedicated and talented developers, we had a working prototype. They continue to work on development, and the funding and support we have will help advance the Fedimint protocol and the Fedi app further and faster.
Finally, I will have the privilege and honor of working with some of the most prolific and accomplished activists in the world. These include Lyudmyla Kozlovskawho has a proven track record in defending people’s rights in Ukraine and post-Soviet Europe as a
the president of the Open Dialogue Foundation. We also have Leopoldo Lopezwho for years defended the freedoms of Venezuelans and other Latin Americans under oppressive regimes, even when it cost him his own freedom; Farida Nabourema, the founder of Afro Bitcoin 2022, the first West African Bitcoin conference, who speaks eloquently about the challenges of countries like her home country, Togo, which are suffering under the weight of monetary colonialism due to the colonial franc; and Fadi Elsalameen, which has helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by people living in the Middle East. I will work with them to formulate deployment strategies tailored to the challenges of each particular region, and use their wealth of knowledge and on-the-ground experience to ensure that Fedi is designed to meet their needs.
Over the next few months we will all be working in parallel to complete and deploy the first version of the Fedimint protocol, launch the Fedi app – which we know will be the first bitcoin wallet to be built using the human-centered design method developed by IDEO, and to plan, test and execute our strategy for rapid global growth, fueled by freedom-loving people around the world. Bitcoin was waiting for a technology for the global adoption of Bitcoin and Fedi, powered by Fedimint, is.
This is a guest post by Obi Nwosu. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.