The Sustained Dialogue Institute has been committed to transforming diplomatic relationships through thoughtful and honest dialogue since 2002. SDI works around the globe with governments, campuses, and communities to help people overcome their differences and reform relationships. Accordingly, at a time when relations between the United States and Russia have been on shaky ground, there is no better time for such a transformative experience than now. This year, SDI celebrated the prestigious National Dialogue Awards Gala by honoring legendary jazz greats Wynton Marsalis and Igor Butman. Aside from their musical legacies, the two have made great efforts to promote cultural understanding and cooperation between the United States and Russia. At the Gala, the renowned musicians accepted their awards, remarked on the importance of sustaining a cultural dialogue, and put on a flawless musical performance. The night was an incredible demonstration of cultural diplomacy between the two nations, during a time when dialogue is so vital. The first recipient of the National Dialogue Award was internationally-acclaimed musician Wynton Marsalis, who has been awarded nine Grammys, the National Humanities Medal, and a Pulitzer Prize. Marsalis has also used his extraordinary talents to give back to the community. Notably, he has co-founded Jazz at Lincoln Center, and has donated much of his time to fundraising efforts for numerous non-profit organizations and charities. Marsalis expressed that “Jazz is the sound of freedom, born of the quest for harmonious dialogue through the resolution of conflicting perspectives—under the pressure of time.” Igor Butman was also honored by receiving the National Dialogue Award. Butman is famed for being a “jazz bridge between Moscow and New York” and has been a beloved jazz musician in both Russia and the United States since the 1980s. He has performed on talk shows, at festivals, and concert halls around the world, where he has delighted listeners with his soulful musical talents. According to Butman, “Art and especially music itself has no borders, and our mission as musicians is to build new humanitarian bridges between nations and countries. Jazz diplomacy and musical education is our tool to help people all over the world to overcome boundaries and erase barriers.” Gala Chair Susan Carmel has dedicated much of her career to overcoming such barriers between the United States and Russia through culture and the arts. Carmel founded the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History at American University, which hosts events and exchange programs that allow students to experience Russian culture and arts first-hand. For Carmel, the arts have been a way to make connections, overcome stereotypes, and form relationships. The artistic and cultural influence Russia has had on the United States is not hard to see. Everything from classical music, literature and architecture, to ballet, film, and of course jazz has been influenced by Russian artists and thinkers. Recognizing these connections can enable people to break free from stereotypes, judgement, and hate. “You have to take the time to see people and find ways to relate”, according to Carmel, “to form those cultural bonds where you can say, I’m like this person…I understand how this person feels.” As a diplomat, religious leader, and humanitarian, Rev. Mark Farr also identified with this need to overcome stereotypes and foster authentic relationships. Farr expressed that genuine change comes from forming relationships before talking about the issues, and that these conversations cannot only happen when relationships are at their best. In fact, according to Farr, “When relationships are at their lowest, that’s not when you need to avoid talking, that’s the moment you need to talk.” Although almost every issue is politicized and polarized to some degree, when people engage in thoughtful dialogue it can pull them from the extreme ends of the spectrum toward common ground. In these conversations, what’s more important than trying to convince people to take sides on a certain issue, is ensuring that each person has a voice and feels heard. “What we have”, Farr explained, “is a multiplicity of different inputs and outputs, which need to be threaded in such a way that you come to a successful conclusion that everyone feels…that their voice has had some effect.” The Sustained Dialogue Institute describes dialogue as “listening deeply enough to be changed by what you learn.” This sentiment was certainly felt at this year’s National Dialogue Awards, through both the words and music of Marsalis and Butman. By bringing humanity to the forefront of the conversation, we can begin to mend relationships and have a productive, meaningful dialogue.

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
Hannah Bergstrom
Hannah Bergstrom is a Diplomatic Courier Correspondent and Brand Ambassador for the Learning Economy.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.