A little over three years ago, stakeholders converged in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the third edition of the  Financing for Development conference (FfD), a high-level meeting of heads of states, finance experts, business sector entities, and NGOs for the negotiation, agreement and implementation of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The conference’s outcome, the Addis Tax Initiative—endorsed by the UN General Assembly in July 2015—birthed an initiative to make tax systems more effective, transparent, and efficient. Yet more than three years down the line, the initiative which pledged international support for strengthening domestic revenue mobilization (DRM)—especially tax collection—across Africa has stalled. Recent analysis shows the support promised that summer has so far failed to materialize. The appraisal by Jamie Drummond, co-founder of global pressure group ONE and Alex Thier, co-author of the Addis Tax Initiative, is incisive. They argued that while Africa’s government revenue is multiple times more than the international aid it receives, it is still way too low to cover its infrastructural and developmental deficit. However, efforts to revamp tax structures have amounted to little more than lip service, as donations exclusively earmarked for this purpose have been insignificant. Indeed, only a measly 0.2% of aid went to taxation support in 2015. Nevertheless, redoubling support for new taxation structures is still an urgent matter. Early last month, the World Bank echoed these thoughts, specifically singling out Nigeria and urging the country to address shortcomings in securing non-oil revenues by raising taxes. “Nigeria needs to increase its non-oil revenue…to do that requires strengthening tax administration and increasing compliance rates, and reforms including rationalizing tax incentives and exemptions and selectively increasing rates such as excise on alcohol and tobacco,” says the global lender’s vice president for Africa, Hafez Ghanem, amidst plans of increasing funding to the continent’s top oil producer to the tune of $4.5 billion in the next three years. Ironically, Nigeria has actually made commendable progress in collecting taxes (thanks to the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration [VAIDS] scheme) and harmonizing tax collection to avoid over-imposing on small businesses. Tax receipts have risen by about 42% from 2017. Also, the Federal tax authority had already realized about 75% of its 2018 target by mid-year. Nigeria has an abysmally low tax revenue-to-GDP ratio of 6 percent for a country with over 70 million taxable adults. Through the scheme, though, the country’s tax base has grown from 13 million in 2015 to 19.3 million in 2018. Incidences of multiple taxation are also being addressed with the floating of a joint tax board working on a National Tax Policy to harmonize taxes being paid in the different states across the country. But beyond the lack of international support, another point of serious concern is the issue of powerful vested interests (both political and economic) who profit from weak tax systems in Africa. Indeed, personal income taxes only make up about 10% of tax revenues on the average as opposed to 25% in OECD countries. Economic ‘heavyweights’ (often with political influence) frustrate efforts aimed at improving the performance of tax administrators and processes. We have a full plate of examples. In Kenya, parliamentarians have drawn a battle with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) over allegations of improper contracting for stamp technology. Efforts to raise Sh3.6 billion in excise tax on cosmetics, bottled water and other non-alcoholic drinks—even after winning a protracted case at the Court of Appeal—is being frustrated. Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny has gone as far as calling for the firing of KRA chief John Njiraini. However, not everyone is perturbed by these endless delays. Coincidentally, drinks manufacturers and other corporate interests stand to gain from undermining this new system, as the tax burden rests on manufacturers and importers of such goods. Even more flagrant: South Africa’s politically-motivated purging of tax officials.  In 2017, at the behest of the Gupta family (and with help from dodgy reports prepared by KPMG), former president Jacob Zuma dismissed then-finance minister Pravin Gordhan in order to protect their business interests. By the time the curtains were raised, KPMG—having found itself at the center of ‘state capture’ allegations—withdrew all of its findings and recommendations in a report that accused the South African Revenue Service (SARS) of running a so-called ‘rogue spy unit’. Five other former SARS employees were also implicated in the report. The firing of KPMG SA’s entire leadership and subsequent refund of R23m to SARS proved nothing more than a face-saving gesture. The notion that African tax laws are susceptible to political patronage had already been cemented. Nonetheless, resistance from entrenched interests is no reason to abandon efforts towards strengthening tax collection systems. Though the Addis Ababa initiative may not be meeting its goals so far, it still has time to catch up. And initiatives like VAIDS have shown the numerous benefits of well-administered taxation that Nigeria and other African countries can gain. With pledges of support for DRM from the international community, effective tax collection will push the continent towards higher equality, fiscal accountability and reduced corruption—further advancing Africa’s march towards achieving the SDGs. About the author: Abiodun Owolegbon-Raji is a writer and blogger on political and economic affairs with a background in political science. He is a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He is an aspiring Global Development Professional.

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.