Johannesburg, South Africa—Leaders of the world’s largest emerging national economies are poised to meet at the 10th annual BRICS Summit today in the wake of capricious international summits. As Brazilian, Russian, Indian, Chinese and South African heads of government convene to discuss the fourth industrial revolution and collaborative approaches to achieving inclusive growth and prosperity, many question how the bloc’s proceedings and member cooperation will compare to what was witnessed at the G7 and NATO summits. This year’s summit takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa and its agenda is focused not only on developing BRICS member states, but also the African continent as a whole. A Look Back at the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China Last year’s summit, themed “BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future,” prioritized economic collaboration in addition to political and security cooperation. However, achieving political and economic cooperation appeared unlikely going into the summit due to the “Dolkam standoff”—a military impasse between China and India over disputed borders in the Himalayas. Though many questioned whether Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi would attend the BRICS Summit, Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a mutual disengagement and maintained face as all BRICS members met in Xiamen, China to discuss development amongst the bloc’s semi-periphery nations. Convening in the midst of geopolitical tension and strained Indo-Chinese relations set the stage for the summit and its intent to strengthen partnerships. The summit’s priorities centered around international inclusivity and development. To deepen member development cooperation, the meeting focused on partnerships, global governance, common development programs, and people-to-people exchanges. To achieve these goals, BRICS leaders aligned their efforts with G20 aims and the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Chinese President Xi and foreign minister Wang Yi invited the leaders of Egypt, Guinea, Tajikistan, Mexico and Thailand to the summit as part of China’s “BRICS-Plus” initiative. The initiative aimed to involve nations outside of BRICS membership in revitalizing regional assimilation. By creating a “new platform for forging regional and bilateral alliances across continents,” in which core BRICS economies help unify the regional blocs, the initiative sought to overcome South-South development challenges. In addition to practical approaches to economic partnerships and financial integration, key takeaways from the Xiamen Declaration involved counter-terrorism. Though BRICS is mainly viewed as an economically-focused body, the 2017 summit witnessed the naming and condemning of specific terrorist groups, including the “Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.” Indian leaders saw this as an improvement to the GOA Declaration and also an accommodation by the Chinese hosts to recognize India’s apprehension of Pakistani-based terrorists. Though China’s exclusion of Pakistan as a “BRICS-Plus” member appeased India, Indians leaders had reservations about the declaration’s failure to discuss China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Another achievement of the 2017 BRICS Summit was its launch of the African Regional Center of the New Development Bank (NDB). The NDB’s first regional office, the South African branch in Johannesburg, endeavors to strengthen African infrastructure and support the continent’s sustainable development. Its launching paved the way for the 2018 BRICS Summit as South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, will chair the meeting for the first time and focus on African development. The 2018 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa Nelson Mandela’s birth centenary contextualizes this year’s BRICS summit. As South Africa hosts the summit following July 18’s Nelson Mandela Day, BRICS members will expand the meeting’s agenda to include human rights issues in an effort to embrace the “Mandela Spirit.” President Xi Jinping will arrive prior to the summit’s commencement to discuss bilateral relations with President Ramaphosa. As China and South Africa share historic relations strategically, economically, socially and politically, the leaders will discuss continuing that cooperation in South Africa’s infrastructural development, following statements made by South Africa’s presidential spokesperson, Khusela Diko. President Xi’s travels to various African nations are a part of China’s “Belt and Route” initiative, which strives to link Eurasia to Africa in terms of energy and transportation, specifically through power plants, ports, railways and special economic zones. Prime Minister Modi will also meet with President Ramaphosa prior to the summit in bilateral discussions. This year’s summit theme, “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution,” reveals that South Africa hopes to leverage its hosting benefits for all Africans. President Ramaphosa has fed off of the Xiamen summit’s “BRICS-Plus” initiative by inviting other African countries to attend the summit, including Egypt, Angola and Zambia. Argentina, the head of this year’s G20 summit, Indonesia, a leading member of the ASEAN community, and Jamaica, the head of CARICOM, have also been invited to the summit. This is in an effort to use the international summit’s high level of interest to showcase the country’s capabilities and potential. To prepare the developing world for the fourth industrial revolution, the summit will focus on intra-BRICS cooperation, trade imbalances and dissolving non-tariff trade barriers. Other BRICS agenda items include establishing a working group on peacekeeping, a vaccine research center, a gender and women’s forum, and a tourism cooperation track. The cooperation track is comprised of three aspects: formal diplomatic interactions between national governments, engagements via government-affiliated institutions such as state-owned enterprises and business councils and “people-to-people” civil societal interactions. The five BRICS leaders will come to the summit with certain objectives. Brazilian president, Michel Temer, is expected to discuss Brazil’s trade imbalances with China while taking a less active role in the meeting as he will not run for re-election in 2018. Following fallouts with western leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely prioritize building stronger trading partnerships with fellow BRICS members and receiving loans from the New Development Bank to boost the Russian economy, following statements from the Russian Deputy Finance Minister. Prime Minister Modi is likely to discuss financing projects in Africa related to sustainable development, as well as furthering the bloc’s efforts in counter-terrorism. President Xi Jinping is anticipated to build upon last year’s summit by highlighting trade partnerships and China’s contributions to fund African development projects, in addition to criticizing American protectionism. South Africa will promote improved human rights in Africa, its cooperation track and improving African infrastructure and development. On to Johannesburg As the world’s semi-periphery countries convene in Johannesburg, BRICS leaders have agreed to collectively stand against trade protectionism in the face of American tariffs. BRICS members plan to build upon previous summits to ensure that emerging national economies can compete and grow into the future—even when facing economic downturns and a development headwind. To barricade nations against these development headwinds, trade cooperation and partnerships must be laid down, brick by brick. As the 2018 BRICS Summit takes place this week, the world will see how globalization and trade cooperation stack up against recent protectionist stances on the international stage.

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.