It is a sign of Central Asia’s and Kazakhstan’s increasing role and importance in the world that more and more is written about our region. But what is striking – and at times frustrating – is how reporting and analysis can be distorted to fit narratives which have little relationship to what’s actually happening. It has, for example, become increasingly popular for journalists to see events in our region through the prism of a revival of the Great Game in Central Asia. It is through this narrative of major powers fighting for influence that recent visits by the leaders of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Japan, as well as the U.S. Secretary of State are seen. I can see why this makes a neat headline but that does not make it true. Kazakhstan is not a silent by-stander in anyone else’s strategy. We are a country successfully making its own independent way in the world. We have purposely built good relations and strong economic ties with countries, big and small, to the east and west, south and north. We have close links with both Russia and China. Europe is our biggest trading partner and the US our second biggest foreign investor after Europe. This is not an accident but the result of our multi-vector foreign policy. Our economic progress – which has seen our GDP rise 19-fold since independence – is also based on being open to trade, investment and ideas. This commitment continues which is why, in the last year, we have helped found the Eurasian Economic Union and become full members of the WTO. Far from being at the centre of a re-run of the Great Game, Kazakhstan is, if you like, at the heart of what could be a Great Gain for all in terms of regional and global stability and prosperity, and is adamantly promoting this vision for all to embrace. This is why, in the last couple of months alone, President Nazarbayev has held extremely productive meetings with President Xi Jinping, President Vladimir Putin, President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – and has had very successful back-to-back visits to London and Paris as well, for example, to Qatar. These countries and their leaders all want to strengthen their relationships with Kazakhstan – as we do with them – as a partner and friend. As Secretary Kerry explained, for example, the U.S. is not pursuing a “zero-sum game” in central Eurasia but believes greater engagement by all will benefit all. This is a message which we wholeheartedly welcome and which I hope all those watching and commenting on Kazakhstan will hear. Curiously, at the same time, we can continue to see the focus, when discussing Central Asia, on how remote the region is. It is again a narrative which neglects how our world has changed. For as economic power shifts eastwards, bringing revived trade links, fast-growing markets and new areas of prosperity, it is not our remoteness but our position at the heart of the new emerging world which is most striking. It is Kazakhstan’s size and unique geography which are enabling us to provide a land bridge linking the economic powerhouses to the east and west. It is an opportunity that, together with our partners, we are working hard to maximise. New road links will cut by more than half the time it takes goods to be shipped by sea between China and Europe. Modern rail and road connections – linking to new port facilities on the Persian Gulf – are also providing fresh opportunities for trade and new markets to the south. These developments form part of the $9 billion domestic investment in improved connectivity that we are making through the Nurly Zhol – or Bright Path – programme which, through major infrastructure spending, is Kazakhstan’s version of the New Deal. More importantly, these connectivity lines will not only serve just as transit “conduits” between east and west, north and south but will come as life-lines for local communities all along the way in terms of creating and boosting local markets, empowering local businesses and private sectors, thus promoting well-being and prosperity, peace and stability in the entire area. The idea of Central Asia linking east and west and being at the heart of global trade is not new. We have played this role for many centuries. And it was one of the fathers of modern geopolitics – Sir Halford Mackinder – who spoke of our region as the ‘Heartland’ and predicted as far back as the turn of the last century that the old Silk Road would soon be revived “with a network of railways.” At that time, Sir Halford did not foresee the divisions in our world caused by war and ideology, which put a brake on cooperation in the heart of Eurasia for decades. But as the divisions disappear, his predictions are finally coming true as the ancient Silk Road is rebuilt and modernised. Our geography is now an advantage not a disadvantage – enabling us not only to boost our economy but provide a wealth of opportunities for the region and wider world. So, the common goal should be to turn Central Asia from being landlocked into being land-linked and a connecting bridge between continents, cultures and trade. There is, of course, another common narrative when talking about Kazakhstan and Central Asia. It is one which ignores what our citizens have together achieved and focuses instead simply on what more needs to be done. It is a view which suggests Kazakhstan somehow believes that after less than 25 years as an independent country, we believe we are the finished product. We do not and we are not. We know there is a lot more to be done and remain ambitious for the future including in our commitment to continue democratic reform. We do not claim, as should no country, to be a perfect Jeffersonian democracy. It would, however, be remarkable if we were. Our young nation had no tradition of democracy or democratic institutions to build on and was starting from scratch. But we are determined to step up the pace of reform, as shown by the comprehensive 100 Concrete Steps reform programme introduced by President Nazarbayev following his re-election in April. These measures focus on human capital development, the enhancement of good governance and the rule of law, cementing transparency and accountability in all layers of the government and society. Just as outside support has been crucial in driving our economic progress, we want our international partners – both countries and NGOs – to help us build our democracy and build our nation. We will continue to be open to dialogue and welcome all constructive dialogue and advice. But we expect in turn that the achievements of Kazakhstan in creating a prosperous country from the wreckage of the Soviet Union and in building a harmonious society in a population of many different backgrounds in an often-troubled region are not overlooked. It shows, if nothing else, why we are confident that our country will keep progressing.   The author is the foreign minister of Kazakhstan.    

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.