“The government is focusing on NGOs now, of course not in a good way”, says Denisa Kramářová, a lawyer at the Czech NGO League of Human Rights. She was responding to suggestions by some in the Czech Republic’s government that a whopping €116 million (USD $135 million) be slashed from annual funding to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). That represents more than a 20% cut in the yearly budget. As elections approach in early October, Czech politicians from the governing ANO party and the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy Party (FDDP) have made it clear that they want the cuts to be aimed at what they say are “NGOs with a political agenda”. FDDP’s Lubomír Volný also included in this category of “political” NGOs, People In Need—a Czech non-profit well known for providing humanitarian support. Increasingly, public figures across Europe are twisting the meaning of “political activity” by claiming that NGOs overstep the mark when they campaign publicly for social or policy change: that they somehow encroach on territory reserved exclusively for political parties. This is a deliberate attempt to reduce space for NGOs and all civil society groups whose primary purpose is to amplify the voices of their constituencies. It’s also a clear strategy to shield governments from criticism by organized sections of society. Czech NGOs’ concerns are shared in a growing number of EU countries where right-leaning governments are making similar noises about cutting funding to NGOs in some sectors. In Austria, IGO, a civil society umbrella group, recently warned of “unexpected and existence-threatening cuts in funding for well-established NGOs” working on sensitive issues such as women’s rights and migration that, according to the right-wing Austrian government, do “not fit into this year’s funding priorities.” In Slovenia, during the election campaign earlier this year, Janez Janša, a former prime minister and close ally of Hungary’s illiberal firebrand Prime minister Viktor Orbán, took aim at NGOs, saying “they are planning to attack and try to destroy the nation, family, private property and private education.” Even in Estonia, a country well-known for its open democracy and positive engagement with civil society, a conservative opposition party has run a smear campaign against activists and NGOs who receive state funding. Moves to cut funding to NGOs often go hand-in-hand with such public attempts to damage public confidence in civil society. In some countries, these smear campaigns have negatively affected the financial support that NGOs (and other, less formal kinds of civil society groups) receive through donations from the public. This endangers the sustainability of some parts of civil society—including those trying to protect the environment, promote social justice and defend women’s and minority rights—because they are forced away from state funding, relying instead on sources which are often less stable and sometimes from outside the country. The CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform that rates respect for civic freedoms, reports that almost half of EU member states are now failing to properly protect people’s rights to form and operate civil society organizations, engage in peaceful protest and freely express their views. Countries including Hungary, Poland, France, the UK and Spain are all caught up in this downward slide. As increasing numbers of EU governments elevate the fight against terrorism, build up their borders and downplay the need to uphold democratic freedoms, alarm bells are ringing. These cutbacks, and the wider assaults on basic freedoms across the EU, should be of serious concern to everyone trying to stem the tide of regressive populism across the union. Targeting NGOs is not the answer to the many problems the EU faces and will prove counterproductive in the long term. Pushing NGOs, including advocacy and human rights groups, to become muzzled, apolitical service providers would be a huge mistake. Community-based voluntary organizations have long served the European cause by giving access to basic economic, social, cultural and environmental rights to all, in some cases also filling an institutional void. But alongside its essential work to deliver services, civil society is a vital driver of accountability as well as a rich source of expertise, innovative approaches and new thinking to tackle local, national and supranational policy debates. Confronted with rampant mistrust in institutions, including national government and EU institutions, and falling faith in democracy, EU member states must recognize that organized civil society is a vital asset in any attempt to re-engage citizens, help them participate and re-imagine the system. Civil society organizations across Europe, including those in small villages and bigger cities, are already mobilising ahead of the European elections to ensure people’s pressing issues are adopted in candidates’ manifestos. Civil society campaigns are also underway to encourage citizens, and particularly young people, to vote. Public funding for these kinds of activities is vital. We need to heed these early warnings and see these attempts to defund “political” NGOs as the first step in a potentially very damaging downward spiral. As Denisa Kramářová of the Czech NGO League of Human Rights, says “It is not difficult to figure out which organizations will suffer at the end—those that defend human rights and make sure that the government does not overstep certain boundaries”. About the authors: Cathal Gilbert is the Civic Space Research Lead at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS. Giada Negri is a Research and Advocacy Officer with the European Civic Forum. 

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.