To combat epidemics, the local population must be more involved and respected, says Ursula Jasper. This is one of the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

Health workers in protective suits, critically ill patients in makeshift, improvised medical wards, armed soldiers enforcing curfews—many of us can still recall the dramatic, powerful images on television of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. In Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea alone 30,000 people fell ill and 11,000 died from the epidemic. The outbreak, which the World Health Organization seriously underestimated at first, hardest hit three of the world's poorest countries. With their healthcare systems and infrastructure decimated by many years of civil war, there were far too few health workers and resources to provide adequate primary care even in non-crisis times. The current situation in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo is similar—here unabated violent clashes make the battle against Ebola enormously challenging.

What’s clear is that local healthcare must be radically improved and international cooperation intensified if we are not to be powerless in the face of a new epidemic with a highly contagious pathogen.  And since infectious diseases spread beyond national borders, the regional actors must cooperate more effectively. Several steps in the right direction have already been taken in West Africa. For example, after the Ebola crisis of 2014, the West African Health Organization was strengthened and a Regional Center for Disease Control established in Abuja, Nigeria. Such an initiative is crucial because it facilitates the early detection of disease outbreaks and boosts regional cooperation.

Taking into account culture and customs

In addition to such long-term institutional measures, there is another, often underestimated sphere of action that is directly accessible to people and has considerable influence on the spread of disease: risk and crisis communication. As experience from previous health crises has shown, it's often difficult to assess risks and dangers accurately and to change the behavior of the affected population so as to reduce the personal risk of infection and transmission.

During the 2014 Ebola epidemic, for example, not enough was done to explain measures such as “contact tracing” and to understand and take into account the concerns, fears, culture and customs of the local population. Contact tracing is an essential measure in containing a disease outbreak; it involves identifying those who may have come into contact with an infected person, informing them of a possible infection and providing them with medical care where necessary.

Proactive, forward-looking health risk and crisis communication is also vital because rumors and misinformation spread particularly rapidly in crisis situations. However, in many countries the health authorities have not yet developed the necessary strategies and means for swiftly identifying and correcting false information over a range of channels.

Making use of digital technologies

While in Nigeria last summer for a two-month research stay, I got to know a project that GIZ, the German development agency, is carrying out with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It seeks, among other things, to strengthen risk and crisis communication in the region.

Interestingly, it’s not only a matter of setting up national and regional-level structures, but also of involving the local population in a targeted way. For example, the project organizes “Hackathons”—programming competitions in which teams of IT developers, health and communication experts compete to develop apps and websites that provide information on health hazards and prevention measures and can mobilize the population in the event of a crisis.

The project takes advantage of the sharp increase in mobile phone and internet users in the region over the last few years. At the same time, such a bottom-up participatory approach makes it possible to better understand the needs, concerns and also the skills of the local population, and to align the content and design of the communication media accordingly.

This is a lesson from the Ebola crisis that applies not only to West Africa: containing a serious transmissible disease is more than just a medical and logistical challenge. Such an endeavor can only succeed if the local population trusts the health authorities and on-site organizations, and if these, in turn, respect the social and cultural context.

Editor’s note: this article was originally published by ETH Zurich and republished here with permission.

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.