My time at SXSW: Technology, Climate, and Banking- Charting a New Path Forward.
Apart from the parties, musicians from Germany, the Netherlands, and Puerto Rico, as well as some lovely film premieres, the idea festival part of SXSW was enlightening. From brains being grow in a lab, to changing disability narratives in the media, the festival spanned topics near and far.
Having the collapse of SVB and new ChatGPT models released in the middle of the festival proved for engaging sessions and presenters having to think about financial and technological implications in real time:
Some of the most interesting presentations were those around distributed solar generation and the way financial systems are disrupting both corruption on the continent of Africa, as well as untying the legacy of Financial Colonialism in places like Francophone Africa.
Hearing from financial activists in Togo and Senegal, I learned about the negative impact of monetary colonialism. From absurd tariffs to outright sabotage, the French government has long sought to control Africa through the CFA Franc. For countries in the global south, tying their currency to the west has rarely proved positive, and often locking them into bad deals and into never-ending loans from places like the World Bank.
The activists spoke about using decentralised finance and distributed ledger technology to move money in places that were not only controlled by the West but also by a dictator. Cryptocurrencies are exploding in places like African countries, Venezuela, and others marked by political and financial instability, as well as ones exiled by global financial systems ruled by Europe and The United States.
The increase in interest rate by the Federal Reserve in the US for example will not only increase prices and increase unemployment in the U.S, it will have the same effect for the number of countries tied to the dollar, that are already forever indebted to lenders. A report by the Brookings Institution shows that these increases in the interest rate lead to the devaluing of currency in emerging markets.
Whilst we think about development, it was exciting to hear from Abraham Cambridge, of Sun Exchange, on his efforts to power Africa through distributed solar. While institutions like the World Bank have been criticised for their support of oil and gas, and just recently launched a solar program in Africa, the Sun Exchange allows for rural solar development through payment systems that exist outside of dictatorships and unstable economies through solar-powered cryptocurrency. This system has powered schools and communities across Africa and divesting them from the pollution that cooking fuels and other harmful energy generation methods provide.
This provides a huge promise to the U.S. From issues like the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the war on ESG investing, finances are often a tool used to maintain our dependency on oil and gas. While traditional big banks don’t see the benefit of alternative currencies, like Mark Monaco, head of enterprise payments from Bank of America, who said at a panel: “People who don’t qualify for bank accounts are simply ineligible” people like Abraham Cambridge as well as Jack Dorsey, are betting big on figuring out a system that works for people while at the same times increasing renewable energy access in Africa. The rejection of alternative financial systems by the West has always proven popular, as these same ideas were touted in 2017, at the World Bank Fall Meetings by members of the U.S Federal Reserve, fighting and questioning the efficacy of a venmo-like app in Africa.
Whether or not we adopt this in the U.S, it's clear our current banking system isn’t working for most people, and it's time we take lessons from countries that are always facing economic instability to find new paths to charter a clean energy economy.