Global forced migration has reached unprecedented levels, with 68.5 million people uprooted by conflict, persecution or human rights violations at the end of 2017. And while the geographical origin of forced migration flows ranges from South America to the Middle East, each crisis shares a common origin—the absence or collapse of democratic governance. This poses a daunting challenge for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which pledges to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Why are democratic institutions so pivotal to creating the conditions for peace and stability, and how do weak institutions create situations like forced migration? Core institutions like the rule of law, free press and representative government enable citizens to communicate their needs to governments charged with serving the people—not the other way around. Well-functioning, transparent and accountable institutions create the conditions for better economic opportunity by introducing stable dynamics in which to engage in commerce, and enable the peaceful settlement of conflict within societies—all of which reduce the incentives for citizens to leave their countries of origin. In contrast, deficiencies in service delivery, poor or nonexistent democratic representation, endemic corruption, conflict and violent crime, oppression and socioeconomic hardship proliferate in countries with weak institutions, driving people to flee in search of better lives. Such problems are usually rooted in governance shortcomings, dysfunctional accountability mechanisms and weak security institutions. If we are to have any hope of addressing this issue, political leaders must be prepared to address the challenge not just as a humanitarian or security issue, but also as a governance problem. In order to do this, it is crucial to approach the issue not just through a technical lens, but also as a political problem requiring political solutions—particularly at the grassroots level, where governments interact most directly with citizens and are most directly engaged on issues such as service delivery and security. The international development community has rightly placed more of a priority on thinking and working politically in order to address the root causes of development challenges in a more holistic manner. For example, many countries have laws on the books designed to inculcate democratic institutions—for instance, through legislation requiring governments to adhere to freedom of information rules—but falter in the task of implementing such legislation. It is in the implementation where politics comes into play. Civil society organizations, businesses, media and ordinary citizens need to hold their governments accountable for the implementation of SDG 16. They can do this first and foremost by working with key political players to translate SDG 16 into concrete and achievable action, and by maintaining pressure on their governments to fulfill these measures. Politically sensitive technical assistance from development organizations with expertise in local governance and politics is also crucial to this endeavor. In my own work with the International Republican Institute (IRI), I have seen how supporting citizen-centered government by understanding the political dynamics and customizing interventions around the key local issues can help improve conditions in countries experiencing high migration flows. The migrant crisis is one of the clearest examples of the damage that can be wrought by weak or nonexistent governance. While there are many interventions that must be undertaken to address this crisis, a political approach is among the most crucial, as it is in the political realm that institutions are ultimately built or demolished. About the author: Rima Kawas is the Director of Governance and Collaborative Learning at the International Republican Institute (IRI) overseeing the global governance portfolio focused on working with governments to implement transparent and accountable governing practices while promoting citizen-centered government decision-making. In this capacity, Rima focuses on creating innovative program interventions, piloting new approaches, and leveraging and building technical expertise.

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.