Oslo Freedom Forum Witnesses Global Momentum For Bitcoin And Activism

On Wednesday, social-minded Bitcoin proponents from Kenya to Canada to Russia convened on the final day of the 2024 Oslo Freedom Forum as part of the Financial Freedom Track event to offer their insights on how Bitcoin can be a tool for those around the world who need it most.

Alex Gladstein, Chief Strategy Officer for the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), the organization that puts on the Oslo Freedom Forum, kicked off the day by discussing why Bitcoin is essential in a human rights context. He then read two pertinent passages from Lyn Alden’s book Broken Money: Why Our Financial System Is Failing Us And How We Can Make It Better before inviting the author, an esteemed macroeconomic analyst, to the stage.

Alden provided a brief overview of monetary history before making the point that Bitcoin gives anyone anywhere in the world access to a free and open financial system. She also pointed out that Bitcoin, now 15 years old, has matured and has become easier to use and is also quite liquid, aspects of the network and asset that make it better suited for a human rights context than it was in its earlier days.

Hadiya Masieh, founder of the Groundswell Project, an organization that works to foster tolerance and empathy amongst diverse communities, then took the stage to present her talk entitled “How Bitcoin Can Fund Counter-Terrorism.” She highlighted how she’s taught Somali women how to use bitcoin to fundraise for political campaigns for female political candidates in the country.

Hadiya Masieh sharing with the crowd how Middle Eastern and African women benefit from Bitcoin.

Noble Nyangoma, CEO of the Bitcoin Innovation Hub, spoke soon after Masieh, discussing the work she does with refugees in Uganda, many of whom are not yet Ugandan citizens and therefore cannot open bank accounts in the country. She stressed that Bitcoin is essential for these refugees.

“With Bitcoin, no one is going to ask you ‘Where is your national ID?’” said Nyangoma.

One of the most moving talks of the day came from Farida Nabourema, a Togolese activist and Executive Director of the African Bitcoin Conference. She shared a harrowing account of how she once needed an emergency surgery in Ghana and almost didn’t receive it because she didn’t have enough money in the local currency on her at the time of the surgery to pay for it.

She did, however, have enough funds in her home country’s currency to make the payment, but the hospital wouldn’t accept it. The point she was making was that Africa is divided financially by the many different currencies on the continent, none of which can be used across borders.

She explained that Bitcoin fixes this, as it helps create a world — especially in Africa — in which the situation she experienced in that Ghanaian hospital could have been avoided.

Before the lunch break, Ben Perrin, better known as BTC Sessions, gave a presentation on how to use bitcoin in a high-fee environment, and Alex Li, a member of the HRF team, announced the 10 winners of of it Bitcoin Development fund grants for software developers who create tools that add to privacy on the Lightning Network, build decentralized communications and provide technological tools to human rights defenders.

In the afternoon, Sparrow Wallet developer Craig Raw detailed a number of practical ways to use Bitcoin more privately, while Lorraine Marcel, founder of Bitcoin DADA, a virtual Bitcoin education platform and community for African women, shared stories of how Bitcoin is catalyzing notable changes in her students and in those her organization serves.

“Before Bitcoin I could not really see a true way of getting financial freedom or independence for me or my sisters back at home,” said Marcel during her presentation.

She went on to share that the organization also uses bitcoin as a fundraising tool to help fund an initiative that provides feminine hygiene products and educational materials to female students in Kibera, one of the biggest urban slums in Africa.

Lorraine Marcel speaking about her work with Bitcoin DADA.

Calle, an anonymous software developer who created the Cashu protocol, an ecash protocol that offers more transactional privacy with Bitcoin, provided an overview of how ecash works and how the privacy it provides can benefit activists.

Toward the middle of the afternoon session, Christian Keroles, Director of Financial Freedom at HRF, interviewed Luthando Ndabambi, Community Leader at Bitcoin Ekasi, a circular Bitcoin economy located in a South African township. Ndamambi told Keroles that before bitcoin, he and many others in his community had no means of saving, which led them to not thinking much about their future.

“I tell people in my township, ‘When you think about Bitcoin, think about saving for your kids,’” said Ndabambi.

Soon after, Peter McCormack, host of the What Bitcoin Did podcast, sat down with Mike Brock, head of TBD at Block, and Anna Chekhovich, CFO at Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and HRF Non-Profit Bitcoin Adoption Lead. The three discussed how Bitcoin can help preserving democracy as well as the effects of the crackdown on privacy-focused Bitcoin wallets in the US.

“For us to receive donations, we [have to] provide our donors with high-level security tools for payments,” explained Chekhovich.

“If there is a tiny chance that your personal data is going to be leaked to the government and they will put you [in] jail, of course you will not make a donation. That is why privacy tools are crucial, and at the Anti-Corruption Foundation, we are very concerned about that. We try to do everything we can in order to provide safety to our donors,” she added.

“If we are deprived of these privacy tools we will not be able to accept bitcoin donations, because we cannot put our donors at such a huge risk.”

Dulce Villarreal, CEO and founder of Librería de Satoshi (Library of Satoshi), a Bitcoin hub that provides Bitcoin educational materials and classes as well as financial support for Bitcoin developer students, stated that she’s concerned about the fact that more than 50 million people live under dictatorships in Latin America and that central bank digital currencies (CBDC) will only further enable autocratic leaders on the continent.

Therefore, she’s on a mission to make Bitcoin ubiquitous by helping to train people from around the world to work on and support Bitcoin.

“Our mission is to make Bitcoin technical training accessible in your own language,” said Villarreal. “At Librería de Satoshi, our goal is to foster the next generation of Bitcoin contributors, entrepreneurs, educators.”

The day concluded with a fireside chat with Jack Mallers, founder and CEO of Strike, and Matt Odell, Managing Partner at Ten31 and co-founder of OpenSats. The two discussed the importance of profitable Bitcoin businesses contributing to open-source developers, much like the way that Strike announced it would be donating $100,000 to the OpenCash Association, a non-profit that supports such developers, founded by the aforementioned Calle.

“Through my work with HRF and coming here, there is a duty that I have to make sure Bitcoin is successful, although not maybe in my shareholders’ [or] in my corporation’s immediate interest,” explained Mallers. “That’s part of the game theory that makes the whole project work. And so no matter your role, we’re all on the same team. If Bitcoin is better, we’re all better off for it.”

Strong words to end a conference that featured the voices of so many who have gone above and beyond to ensure that we are all in fact better off because of Bitcoin.


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