In his State of the Union speech on September 13th, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for member states to contribute more to the EU-Africa Trust Fund—or run the risk of a new wave of migrants arriving on their doorsteps. “We know the risks of a funding shortage,” he said, appealing not to leaders’ values but to their fears of new influxes of foreigners. “In 2015, many migrants wanted to join Europe when and because the funds of the UN World Food Program were exhausted.” He even made a bow to right-wing hardliners, telling MEPs that the EU had to step up its game and forcibly return more people without the right to stay in Europe. Yet by framing Europe’s relations with Africa solely in terms of stopping migration, the EU is leaving by the wayside longer-term development goals that would contribute to Europe and Africa alike. It’s vital for Brussels to expand its narrative beyond the politicized issue of migration and aim for more comprehensive development cooperation that would both confirm the EU’s status as a leader in foreign aid and help African nations reach their full potential. It’s true that, as the latest index by the Center for Global Development confirmed, European countries lead the way when it comes to their commitment to development aid. But there’s growing risk that, as Brussels tethers development aid to political ends, it will be rendered ultimately ineffective. After all, it’s telling that after Juncker called for EU member states to increase their contributions to the Fund, numerous development NGOs, civil society members, and African and European officials slammed the venture for politicizing aid and for failing to achieve its objectives. Launched in 2015, the Fund now has resources of nearly €3 billion. With projects concentrated in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, it aims to promote development and address the root causes of destabilization, displacement, and irregular migration. Originally, it was crafted as a political communications tool designed to show citizens that the EU is responding to the migrant crisis. And this is where its main problems lie. Development assistance is supposed to foster long-term, sustainable growth in close collaboration with partner countries. Yet the Fund does the opposite by focusing on securing quick success stories with minimal involvement by partner governments or civil society members. As Global Health Advocates found, officials favored projects with immediate visibility over those with longer-term impact. For instance, the EU turned down a project in Senegal mainly because there would be no results for four years. And while officials chose and announced projects quickly, they did not actually disburse the funds for more than a year. In addition to functioning mainly as a political tool, the Fund undermines development aid by wielding it as bargaining chip to push African governments to curb migration and improve cooperation with Europe. But this strategy misses out on the bigger picture and fails to channel aid to those who need it most, falling short of long-term goals. For example, examining the Fund’s projects shows that migration patterns, rather than structural drivers of poverty, have been the main determinants of funding allocation. Yet the EU’s impatience to curb migration in the short-term has had negative effects in some cases, such as by preventing people from migrating to neighboring countries for work—further depriving communities of economic opportunities. Meanwhile, as the EU-Africa Trust Fund and other European development instruments have failed to deliver adequate results, NGOs and private firms have been forced to step in and fill the gaps. This has been a particularly acute issue during global health crises, such as the 2014-15 Ebola pandemic in West Africa. For instance, Oxfam was among the main European NGOs that led the first response in Sierra Leone and Liberia, where they provided dozens of health centers with water infrastructure and medical equipment. They also trained hundreds of volunteers to go door-to-door and teach local populations about the new virus in countries with paltry medical personnel. And in Guinea, another hard-hit nation, the biggest foreign investor in the country—Russian aluminum company Rusal—formed a public-private partnership with the government to donate critical medical equipment and invest in a new centre to test vaccines for the virus. Rusal later donated the centre to the government and this summer, 2,000 volunteers in Guinea received the vaccine as part of the clinical review process. Even today, these non-profits and companies continue to furnish critical stopgap measures where the EU’s efforts fall short, providing humanitarian assistance for migrants and job opportunities for local populations. Yet as the Gates Foundation pointed out in a new annual report—to be fair, focused mainly on the US’ retreat on foreign aid—if governments don’t continue sustained efforts to fight poverty, it will be impossible for outside actors to pick up the bill. On one level, Juncker seems to have realized this. In a strategic note by the European Commission’s in-house think tank, which Juncker established and oversees, he lays out a vision for a comprehensive partnership in which the EU and Africa work together as equals to boost development. Rather than hammering home on ways to contain migration, ‘The Makings of an African Century’ emphasizes ways for both sides to leverage Africa’s considerable resources—above all, its people—for mutual benefits. It’s a shame that in his State of the Union speech, Juncker didn’t draw from these elements, but only succumbed to short-term political goals.

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
Caroline Holmund
Caroline Holmund is a management consultant and freelance writer in European affairs, transatlantic relations, and governance issues.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.