Local tech startups dispel Blockchain’s negative reputation

Blockchain conjures up images of cryptocurrency traders talking up their investments on online forums to make a quick Bitcoin buck, and organised crime organisations laundering drug money or funding terrorism.

The National Bank of Cambodia has gone a long way to educating Cambodians about the positive benefits of Blockchain with its Bakong digital payment wallet, that allows users to dispense with a myriad of online payment options offered by commercial banks and send and receive money quickly and safely.

Using Blockchain in a positive way is not the sole preserve of central banks. A growing number of Cambodian entrepreneurs have been coming up with other ways to utilise the technology to benefit society and the environment.

Mike Gaetner is the Chief Technical Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Sabay Digital Corporation. The company provides news and entertainment in the Khmer language on a range of portals but, as a content provider, he found it hard to collect the thousands of payments of just a handful of dollars each. Dealing with a large number of Cambodian banks with different software interfaces made it difficult to confirm whether the payment had been made, and where the money had gone. Sabay started working on a Blockchain solution in 2018.

The reason is that blockchain consists of a hash, some data – such as information or even a piece of art – and the hash of the previous blockchain. Any changes in the data will change the hash so everyone in the chain will know it has been tampered with.

“We realised that’s it’s a solution that can help us to store information in an immutable way,” Gaetner said. “Because it’s become immutable, because of the properties of blockchain that involve creating digital signatures we could create a solution using Blockchains where we could create one source of truth that cannot be lied to,”

Gaetner says the solution has proved so effective that Sabay wants to launch it as a commercial product to other companies with similar payment problems.

Rithy Thul, Cofounder of the Selendra Open Network Blockchain, says understanding the potential of Blockchain could be a platform to launch the careers of thousands of young Cambodians as the global economy heads towards Industry 4.0.

“The goal of this Blockchain is to empower the next generation of developers to get into Blockchain earlier. Our belief is that Blockchain is in the early days compared to the internet in the early 90’s. So it is here to stay and if it is here to stay then it will be part of our lives in the next 10 to 20 years. That means any developer or any young people that want to get into this technology should get right in,” Thul said. “I don’t want to see the next generation of people, especially in Cambodia, miss out in the next 10 years. If they get in earlier, they can build a better Blockchain than we can.”

Along with his educational aspirations Thul is using blockchain to stop deforestation. He bought a plot of land in the Cambodian mountains. Three of the 110 hectares has been divided into square metres that represent a single token. This allows people with little money to invest in land and benefit from any price rise, which will push up the price of the token. The environmental benefit is that they’re selling the token, not the land, keeping developers from cutting down trees and building on the site.

Other environmentally-focussed Blockchain experts are working with Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), or tokens that can’t be changed, to save endangered species. Todd Hunkin is a co-founder of Fauna Conservation NFT. He describes NFTs as like an online Pokemon trading card. The difference is that his ‘trading cards’ are based on real endangered animals. Sales of the NFTs go to protect species like the Irrawaddy Dolphin.

“What we’re looking to be is the first non-profit on Blockchain. We want 100 percent of our profits going towards the conservation of these animals and really the tagline we’re going for is ‘collect and conserve’,” Hunkin said.

He said the project aims to raise awareness of the rarity of some species because NFTs are also rare. And he claims that, even though it is Blockchain based, the project is carbon negative because it uses the latest energy-efficient technology and a portion of the revenue will go towards carbon offsetting. Unlike other collectibles, the owner of the NFT won’t get to bank all the profits if the token goes up in price. Fauna Conservation takes a commission and gives it to its conservation partners.