An initiative for global prosperity: tech savvy start-ups compete to solve world problems

Originally published on AnswersOn.

By Joseph Raczynski

The Global Maker Challenge is an online open-innovation platform that offers an opportunity for “makers” and innovators to connect and collaborate, across the globe, and try to solve real-world problems affecting people’s lives.

 

ABU DHABI & DUBAI, UAE — Recently the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, facilitated by MIT Solve in partnership with the United Nations and University of Cambridge, held their pitch event where 16 global sustainability start-up finalists from a pool of 1,200 applicants competed for an award of $1 million.

The Global Maker Challenge is facilitated by the Initiative for Global Prosperity, which seeks to unite the world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies, philanthropists, academia experts, and researchers, and form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through innovation.


The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.


This global initiative is supported from the very top of the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had the high honor to sit down with Chief Executive Officer of Alliances for Global Sustainability, and royal family member, Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, and discuss how and why this initiative means so much. Indeed, it became clear in the conversation that the UAE does not just promote these ideas but acts on them.

“Our government sees artificial intelligence (AI) as a significant component in improving efficiency and resources across all public sectors, and facilitating ease of access to court services and processes for the people of the UAE,” Sheikha Shamma said, stressing the importance of the role start-ups play to “make” new ideas and innovate. While the Global Maker Challenge finalists focused on how to improve lives globally, the UAE also is pushing ahead with these emerging technologies locally, explained Sheikha Shamma.

“The UAE is very progressive in its use of technology, both within the private sector, but more specifically at a government level, adopting new tools such as blockchain and AI with the aim of leading in this area by 2031.”

The finalists

Focusing on the finalists, I had the opportunity to speak with many of them who fell into four distinct categories in the competition; Sustainable Energy; Digital Divide and Digital Literacy; Rural Transformation & Zero Hunger; and Sustainable Cities.

One finalist, Otago Ltd., is a start-up that produces eco-friendly char-briquettes for clean cooking in Cambodia. “Nearly three billion people rely on open fires and traditional stoves to cook their food,” said Otago founder Carlo Figà Talamanca, adding that these fires emit massive amounts of air pollution inside homes and contribute to nearly four million deaths per year, impacting mainly women and children. Otago’s concept of biomass briquettes (coconut shells, corn cobs, and bamboo), produce less sparks, pollutants, and do not contribute to deforestation as traditional charcoal production does.

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Sukhmeet Singh discussing his pitch on sustainable energy in India at the Global Maker Challenge

Another finalist, OffGridBox, provides affordable clean water and renewable energy for rural communities in Rwanda. It is a financially sustainable and environmentally friendly metal crate that leverages solar energy in an affordable way. Each box, through micro-payments, provides 400 families with lighting and phone charging within their homes and purified drinking water — all for only 18-cents, or less than half of what they currently spend. (Amazingly, while people often do not have running water or electricity, they did have mobile phones.)

The Rumie Initiative, another finalist, aims to reduce the digital divide by delivering online learning resources on mobile phones to communities with limited or no Internet connectivity. And LearnCloud — an online repository of high-quality, digital educational content — is crowdsourced by educators and other passionate volunteers in different languages and for different contexts. This program allows kids in the most remote locations around the world to have all the books they would need from 1st grade through 12th, all on a donated Android tablet or phone.

Ada Health was originally developed for doctors by doctors to advance patient symptom reporting. Then, doctors and AI experts spent seven years developing a sophisticated medical reasoning engine that now encompasses the complex constellation of connections between the currently known 12,000 symptoms and 10,000 conditions that can affect the human body. Hila Azadzoy, managing director of the global health initiative at Ada, stated that the organization goes into areas around the world where doctors may be scarce and helps individuals understand and manage their health through personalized symptom assessments and recommend next steps. The patients can also share these results with their healthcare professional via a chatbot on a mobile device. Ada speaks five languages, and it has more than five million users worldwide who have completed more than nine million symptom assessments.

The finalist pitched their ideas to panels of judges from around the world. After the pitches, the panelist, judges, consultants, and other participants entered into several workshops on innovation, design thinking, mentoring, and women entrepreneurs mobilizing positive change.

The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.

And having these initiatives facilitated by a public and private partnership is critical to bettering a world in need. As the Initiative for Global Prosperity explained, “the well-being of our world is based on fostering the values of resilience, community, harmony, and dignity.”

The winners of the Global Maker Challenge will be announced in Yekaterinburg, Russia in July.

Consensus 2019: Blockchain’s Biggest US Conference Sees Increased Legal Oversight Coming

Originally published on The Legal Executive Institute.

By Joseph Raczynski

 

NEW YORK — The fifth annual Consensus — the preeminent cryptocurrency and blockchain conference powered by CoinDesk — wrapped a rousing three-day event in mid-May that produced several legal-leaning themes in the ever-mingling world of technology and the law.

On the anti-money laundering (AML) front, Sigal P. Mandelker, Under-Secretary for the US Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence unit, cited several salient points around cryptocurrency. First, he said, there is a need for more guidance from regulatory agencies.

 

Since 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has received more than 47,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) that mention bitcoin or virtual currency with half of these filed by virtual currency exchangers or administrators themselves. If your institution forgoes more robust Know Your Customer (KYC) rules for anti-money laundering efforts, you could be significantly impacted. The positive, Mandelker noted, was that forthcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidance could arrive as early as June which will help crystalize how to handle cryptocurrency in the AML quagmire.


Around cryptocurrency, there is a need for more guidance from regulatory agencies.


The Consensus conference also demonstrated that avid interest in understanding the blockchain space persists. While I have spent the better part of the last three years discussing blockchain and cryptocurrency with law firms of all sizes in the US, the UK, the UAE, and Australia, the thirst for learning is not quenched.

 

Steve Quirk, TD Ameritrade’s executive vice president for trading and education, spoke candidly that the interest in this area spans across all generations. He noted that attendance has been “off the charts” at the bitcoin education events facilitated by TD Ameritrade, which is exactly what I have found when presenting to law firms and corporate counsel. Within the legal ecosphere, lawyers seek to know more about the technology around blockchain, and what impact it will have on their clients and their business.

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The SEC Weighs In on IEO

Another theme emerging at Consensus was the eager discussion concerning Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs) which is similar to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), but in this instance the cryptocurrency exchange is the one responsible for running the financials.

 

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) weighed in on this frothy topic, as Valerie Szczepanik, the SEC’s Senior Advisor for Digital Assets and Innovation, made it abundantly clear that these IEOs fall under the oversight of the SEC. These crypto-exchanges which facilitate token sales likely meet the legal definition of securities dealers if the issuer or any of the buyers are based in the US, she explained.

 

So again, we could see a flood of business move outside of the US — however, some exchanges balk at this threat, noting that it’s very similar to the run up of the ICO market. To comply in the US, the exchanges need to follow the same procedures for registration and licensing requirements as do broker-dealers, alternative trading systems (ATS), or national securities exchanges. Forgoing those steps, any IEO who promotes or sells such tokens will find themselves in the SEC’s direct line of fire.

 

There were several other themes likely to impact the legal industry in the coming years that were brought up at Consensus. For example, so-called “stable coins” were discussed in detail at multiple sessions. Stable coins are cryptocurrencies designed to minimize volatility, usually by pegging them to another asset, like US dollars or other cryptocurrencies. It is feasible that real estate transactions — or indeed, transactions for any financial agreement — could be executed using these more stable digital assets.


Internet 3.0 is here, and that rests on the Internet of Value, which is built on a distributed ledger.


Another concept being talked about was “staking”, or the evolution of cryptocurrency mining and the confirmation that transactions are legit on a blockchain. This confirmation is changing from the energy-intensive Proof of Work to Proof of Stake, in which those who wish to confirm transactions stake a large sum of tokens or money on a blockchain. Then, if they try to cheat the system or confirm erroneous transactions, they face the prospect of losing their stake. This will be a bourgeoning area for lawyers to aid users and companies because we will see many tokenized systems placed into custody for management, with these details baked into smart contracts.

 

As the conference came to close, ConsenSys founder Joe Lubin discussed the evolution through which we currently are being catapulted. Internet 3.0 is here, he said, and that rests on the Internet of Value, which is built on a distributed ledger.

 

This new trustless state, is a far cry from our current Internet, he added, which was built “in naive times” which has left us “running our economy on a network that was built by academics to trade research papers.”

 

Today’s new trustless environment is going to require skilled lawyers to navigate a concept where distribution of information is decentralized and increasingly self-executing.