Can Blockchain Change the World?

We believe every kite has a story. At Left, we’ve adopted the symbol of the kite. A kite is playful, but it also needs tending. If you fail to pull the string, it will fall back to the ground. We believe our users, our partners, our community — they all have stories worth telling. Our goal is to try and tell the stories to the best of our abilities.

This post is a travel diary of sorts describing a trip taken Sept 14 to October 3, 2018 by four members of our Canadian team: John Lyotier, Joe Deobald, Rachel Cheng, and Brianna MacNeil (the bios for each are at the bottom of the story). This primary purpose of the trip was to do field research, meet with our team in Bangladesh, plan with strategic partners, connect with potential customers, and … tell our story with the help of the Decent Documentary film crew who accompanied us every step of the way.

I admit, I have had trouble writing this post, and you will see a jarring transition part way though. This difficulty is not because I was procrastinating, nor is it because I had too many other important things to do. It is also not the result of having too much material to share: too many photos, too many thoughts, and too many emotions to squeeze into a few column inches.

You see, core to the trip was a visit to the Rohingya refugee camps on the Bangladesh/ Myanmar border. The largest of which, the Kutapalong-Balukhali (commonly referred to as the “Megacamp”) is the world’s largest refugee camp and home to an estimated 660,000 refugees. Over the past 12 months, over 700,000 Rohingya have fled the genocide in Myanmar and have made their way into Bangladesh. The connectivity (or lack thereof) for these displaced people led us to the camp where we wanted to see how RightMesh could help.

While Brea, Joe, and Rachel may each share their own, individual heartbreak and emotions in their own photo journals, I wanted to set the stage for all of us.

This was destined to be a memorable trip for all of us, though perhaps each for different reasons. Should you have any questions or feedback, please let us know in the comments or drop us a note. There are a lot more thoughts we didn’t have time or the courage to write, but we still would be happy to answer your questions.

Thanks for reading.


Intro & Pre-trip Jitters

This will be my ninth trip to Bangladesh, yet it will be the first for Joe, Rachel, and Brea.

For those who are unaware, Left, the parent company for RightMesh first established operations in Bangladesh back in 2010. Left Technologies International (dba W3Engineers) works across our portfolio of companies, including building apps for the RightMesh ecosystem as well as is responsible for the technology stack for our revenue-producing side of the business. The team also works on other for-bid projects centered around its understanding and expertise in scaling mobile and web applications as well as its growing expertise in decentralized technologies and mesh implementations.

While our visit the Rohingya Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar was to be the “highlight” [I feel somewhat awkward calling it that], I take great pleasure in visiting our team and seeing the progress of some of our initiatives while reconnecting with friends and colleagues. On this trip, we were also so appreciative of our team for the effort they have put forth to secure us proper visiting permits, allowing us to visit the refugee camps. This refugee crisis affects not only every Bangladeshi, but it is a global issue that humanity needs to step in and do what it can to assist.

On the back half of the trip, we have added a few days to meet with strategic partners in the Philippines as well as host a meetup with ConsenSys in Manila. The Philippines, which has more than 105m people spread across 7,000 islands, is a place that I have never been to before, and we believe that it has the density and requirements for RightMesh to thrive.

A large part of the pre-planning was coordinating the trip with the Refugium Foundation as part of our partnership on their upcoming documentary, “Decent — How Blockchain Can Change the World.” As we noted in our partnership announcement,

“The film plans to feature real-life use cases of Distributed Ledger Technology which offer solutions to societal issues ranging from a lack of internet connectivity to aiding refugees. Decent will be one of the first documentaries to explore how blockchain companies like RightMesh can have a massive social impact and benefit real people everyday.”

I try to make it out to meet with our team in Bangladesh frequently. I set myself a target of every six months, but this time it will be closer to ten months between visits. My travel schedule of the past year took a toll on me and my family, so after completing the RightMesh ICO, I needed to catch my breath and delay until now.

While I have always felt extremely safe on any of my trips to Bangladesh, I have to admit that I had a little trepidation about this trip. Not only were we to venture further south to the Bangladesh-side of the Myanmar border, but also a lot of the planning was occurring in the midst of the Bangladesh student protests. While things subsided relatively quickly and rather quietly, with a federal election coming up in a few months, I feared that tensions could be running high.

Sunday, Sept 17, Arriving in Dhaka

It was 32 hours and 20 minutes. I have gotten into the habit of setting a stopwatch when I leave my house and stopping it only upon checking into the hotel at my destination. 32 hours wasn’t bad considering I have had other trips to Bangladesh that have been as high as 44 hours. This time was Vancouver > Manila > Kuala Lumpur > Dhaka.

I’m not really sure why I track my journey to be honest. It is probably because I am still fascinated by the idea of time travel, and partially it is me pretending to have a modicum of control over what is a relatively uncontrollable situation.

Thankfully, we just missed the Super Typhoon Mangkhut that did some significant damage and killed 50 people in the northern part of the Philippine archipelago — but it was a reminder that our technology can have a real impact throughout the world. Sometimes when you get a notice of a 4-hour delay in your flight, it causes angst. This time, it was a blessing. We just missed the storm, so other than it being long, the journey was uneventful.

While most of our first day in Dhaka was also uneventful, we had an opportunity to visit the RAJUK Uttara Apartment Project north of the city as we contemplate how our technology can be used in rethinking “Smart Cities” everywhere. While so much of Dhaka has been built out with urban sprawl and without much apparent planning, this was a new initiative that was more of a planned, livable, and environmentally-friendly city. Located over 215 acres, the project will feature 179 buildings of 14 stories each, totaling 15,036 flats. An estimated 75,000 people will live in the community.

Why these figures are important to note is the scale of growth that Dhaka is experiencing. In 1971, the city just passed 1 million citizens. Now there are more than 17 million inhabitants. At the rate of annual growth, enough people will move into the capital city to fill these towers over and over every single month. So when we talk about urbanization and some of the world’s mega-cities unable to keep pace with their rate of growth, this is the scale that we are talking about.

Monday, Sept 18, Dhaka

I had forgotten how horrific the traffic situation in Dhaka was. Though in conversations with locals, it has gotten worse… this happens when you add nearly one “Austin” to your existing population base annually [Austin’s population was 931,000 in 2017]. While they are rapidly trying to construct a rapid transit/skytrain system, this has the short term impact of making the snarls even worse than they already are. The new rapid transit will connect into the new Uttara project as well. Our office is in the Gulshan area of Dhaka, and to go to another office also on Gulshan, we had to have about 40 minutes of travel time “Just in Case”. This was for about 2km.

It is not just the private cars that clog the arteries, it is the CNGs, rickshaws, and now… a whole lot of motorbikes. The motorbikes are relatively new thanks in large part to a rapid proliferation of ride-sharing services like Pathao and Uber.

Bangladesh has one of the highest fatality rate in road accidents in the world. Dhaka, as the country’s largest city, also has the highest total number of accidents and accident rates with more than 2,000 fatalities annually. According to the Dhaka Tribune, “At least 4,284 people, including 516 women and 539 children, were killed and 9,112 others injured in 3,472 road accidents across Bangladesh in 2017.” The number of accidents increased by 15.82% and death toll by 25.56% in 2017 compared to that of 2016.

An interesting side note: during the student protests over unsafe transportation of a few months ago, the government shut down Internet access to quell the actions. This resulted in these booming ride-sharing services also being impacted. When you have centralized infrastructure that relies on always-on connectivity, you really need it to be always on.

In Bangladesh, one of my other observations is that autonomous, self-driving vehicles have already arrived. Well not literally, but as it is more common to have a driver than drive as a single occupant, the effect is the same. The car owner is in the back seat being driven around, and thus, they have time to browse on their phone, read the news, do work, engage with entertainment. And because one of the core product market fit questions that one always needs to ask is, “When will my customers use my product?” In most of Bangladesh, an obvious answer is, “When sitting in traffic!”

In any case, rather than parking a vehicle off the road while not in use — thanks to ride-sharing services — many vehicle owners are putting their private cars to work during the day or during off-use hours. This results in the already crowded roadways being even more congested. This is something that we should expect to happen more and more in already-developed economies as well as autonomous ride-sharing vehicles come to the city near you.

Dhaka Demo Day

When we finally did arrive into our Dhaka office, it was demo day. The team had prepared demonstrations of various technologies and applications that it had been working on since my last visit. This included a few games and several applications powered by RightMesh. When we hit Mainnet in Q1 of next year, our intent is to have several apps in market already that can showcase how the mesh functions. A few of the apps that I saw that intrigued me included:

  • A mesh browser (to browse general purpose websites and cache content for offline consumption by others)
  • An app-updating app market. As described in our initial whitepaper, we have identified that a really big problem in emerging markets is that smartphone users don’t update their apps as the cost/time calculation for the data just doesn’t make sense. A recent report covering WhatsApp cited that only 1 in 5 users in India has the most recent version of their product.
  • A doodling game to play with nearby friends

There were more apps as well, that may or may not get published, but in any case it is great to see the innovation and work of the team.

Crypto-Assets in Bangladesh

When you think about the community support we received during the RightMesh Token Generating Event, it amazes me when I take a chance to pause. We had a wonderful dinner with one of our contributors in Dhaka and received some great on-the-ground insight into doing business in one of the world’s fastest growing cities and the role that crypto-assets will play. And yes, they will be able to transform the country and the economy if those currently in power are willing to let it flourish.

This is one of the challenges with the crypto economy in Bangladesh. In September 2014, Bangladesh Central Bank said that “anybody caught using the virtual currency could be jailed under the country’s strict anti-money laundering laws”. This is quite the statement. In December of 2017, this was further clarified with a circular that stated, “that Bitcoin is not an authorised and legal currency in any other country in the world….Transaction with this currency may cause a violation of the existing money laundering and terrorist financing regulations.” However, they also agreed to study it properly over the past year and various groups are awaiting updates. As noted in the DhakaTribune:

Bangladesh Bank Deputy Governor SK Sur Chowdhury, in a recent seminar, said: “A committee will be formed by next June [2018], by coordinating with various public and private agencies. The committee will work to find out a way on how to introduce Bitcoin in Bangladesh.

Those who we met with believe it is inevitable that Bitcoin and other crypto assets will play a significant part in Bangladesh, particularly as it relates to international money transfers and remittances.

Globally, remittances to low and middle-income countries reached an estimated $466 billion in 2017, an increase of 8.5% over the $429 billion in 2016. This data was published by the World Bank’s latest Migration and Development brief. Remittances to low and middle-income countries reached an estimated $466 billion, an 8.5 percent increase on $429 billion in 2016. Global remittances also grew 7 percent to $613 billion in 2017.

In Bangladesh, remittances accounted for $13.5 billion annually.

The world is slowly making progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for remittance fees. The World Bank reported that for just the second quarter ever, the percentage of remittance had dropped below 7%. In Q3 2018, the percentage paid for sending remittance was 6.94%, while the SDG target remains at 5%.

While many within Government may be worried about the flight of money out of the country, the efficiency gains to return remittance into the country will be substantial.

Prospective Partner Conversations

IMPORTANT: The mentioning of specific entities or companies does not imply any sort of partnership or relationship with any of the companies mentioned. The possibility of working with such an entity is only hypothetical and will remain as such until formalized announcements are made.

One of the trip’s primary objectives was to engage with strategic partners or potential strategic partners and explore how our technology could integrate with other solutions and solve real problems. We believe all too often companies spend too much time locked away from potential users and miss the opportunities that are presented to them. In Dhaka, I wanted to highlight a few conversations:

A division of Swedish-based Saltside Technologies, Bikroy was launched in 2012 and means “sell” in the local language Bangla and has become the largest marketplace in Bangladesh. is one of the countries most-visited websites and their app is one of most used in Bangladesh.

Bikroy has done an incredible job tapping into the consumer mindset in Bangladesh and has created a platform to facilitate P2P transactions. Their users use the Bikroy app and site to facilitate thousands of mobile phone sales daily as well as real estate, autos, and other new and used goods.

We are interested in exploring how mesh technologies could help facilitate direct payments. We also believe that through their existing density of users, we would be able to blanket the entire city of Dhaka with a mobile mesh network creating a new telecom infrastructure.

ME SOLshare Ltd

SOLshare is a fascinating group with great technology. I had initially heard about them on a previous trip to Bangladesh about some early pilot deployments they had. Joe sought them out on this trip to learn more about them, their technology, and their vision for a more sustainable world. SOLshare describes their business as follows:

Sustainable, affordable energy access for low income rural people is possible right now. Our decentralised peer-to-peer microgrids deliver solar power to households and businesses, and enable them to trade their (excess) electricity for profit.

What interested us in SOLshare was their focus on similar customers. They are going out into remote Bangladesh villages where existing infrastructure seems to have forgotten inhabitants or has not yet caught up to a modernized world. There are unique connectivity opportunities in each of their deployments, and hopefully we can help them with some of their challenges as they expand their program.

Wednesday, Sept 19, Dhaka

Wednesday was a day that I kind of dreaded a bit. Marek, from the Decent Documentary crew, was going to be asking me a bunch of questions about RightMesh, our vision for rethinking for connectivity, what brought us to Bangladesh, and more. I didn’t really know too much about what to expect, but I knew that it would make me feel somewhat uncomfortable.

I don’t really like talking about myself, you see. I am willing to do so, of course, but I would much rather talk about the team and their accomplishments, the company and what it has achieved, or a shared vision that many of us hold dear. But talk about me? My start? My background and probing questions like that? That kind of makes me squirm a bit.

I guess that is what a good journalist does. They ask the hard questions, but in the end, they help tell the stories that need to be told.

For those unfamiliar with the DecentDocumentary and their exploratory question of, “How Blockchain Can Change the World?” watch their latest trailer below. We are so honored to be a part of this project.

Once I set aside my apprehension, Marek, Sebastian, and Anna were great to work with. Wednesday was our first of nearly 10 full days with them, and we gave them full access to our team and our project. I can’t wait to see the finished result.

I also gave a talk to our team in Dhaka about the “Robot Revolution” of which we are living in the midst of. And while this will become its own blog post one day, I don’t want to delay from the meat of this post. I did want to share a candid shot I snapped on the last day of our team hard at work, however:

Note the Canadian flags that I handed out to the team. We often try and spread a bit of Canadiana each time we visit. I am proudly Canadian, largely in part because I believe that Canada is a nation that is a true cultural mosaic in which our differences make us who we are rather than drive us apart.

Thursday, Sept 20, 2018

Today was another travel day. This time it was the journey from Dhaka down to the Chittagong Hills region where we would stay in beautiful Cox Bazar. Note the back cover of today’s newspaper from my hotel room:

Do you see the headline? A Bangladeshi scientist leads discovery of a novel quantum state of matter. Yes, that’s right. A really smart person has done something that no one else in the world has done in a field that is one of the most technically complex and incomprehensible to the majority of us.

Or perhaps an alternative headline could have read, “Look at the potential that is unleashed when you bring connectivity and education and opportunity to the rest of the world!”

I often ponder how much faster society could have advanced if we were able to tap into the collective brain power that exists elsewhere in the world in people who are not given an opportunity? How much more scientific advancement, poetry, or original thought have we lost over the years because we have historically excluded half the population (women), or today half the population (unconnected) from being their best selves?

A Deloitte study from a few years ago indicated that if you increase Internet access in Africa, Latin America, India, and South East Asia to levels seen in developed countries you would increase :

  • Productivity as much as 25% in these developing economies
  • The resulting economic activity could generate $2.2 trillion in additional GDP, and more than 140 million new jobs
  • Personal incomes would increase by up to $600 per person a year, thus lifting 160 million people out of extreme poverty
  • They showed evidence on the link between health literacy and mortality rates suggests that internet access could save the lives of 2.5 million people and 250,000 children
  • 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients could increase their life expectancy thanks to better monitoring and adherence to treatment
  • Another 640 million children may be able to access the internet and the wealth of information it makes available improving their educational outcomes.

In other words, not only would inclusiveness and connectivity help understand quantum entanglement and other hard science questions, but if we could solve connectivity, we could solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And this… this is what we are all about and why we are so passionate about our mission.

But just as we were about to fly, I saw another headline come in via CNN and a whole syndicate of other news sites:

“UN calls for genocide tribunal over Rohingya crisis”

We were literally going into the heart of the headlines… directly into the flames, if you will, of a nation in crisis. Our mission: to see if mesh networking could alleviate some of the everyday challenges of refugees and for the associated humanitarian groups; to see if blockchain could change the world. And really, we wanted to see what — if anything — we could do to help.

I was terrified.

Friday, Sept 21 Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong Region, Bangladesh

We are staying at a beautiful 5-star resort just over one hour away from the Rohingya Refugee Camp. I woke up and have been able to look out over a large swimming pool, and just beyond that you’ll find the breaking waves of one of the longest beaches of the world. This is the type of spot I would love to bring my family for a relaxing vacation. Yet, the contrast with what today is all about is jarring.

Today, we are venturing into the Kutapalong-Balukhali (commonly referred to as the “Megacamp”). This is the largest refugee camp in the world, the “home” to more than 660,000 refugees. And as the day starts, I sense the entire team is all a little nervous. Well, I know I am, and maybe I am just projecting my feelings onto others.

Upon arrival in Cox’s Bazar, we had a meeting with the ETS group of the World Food Program, and this conversation stuck with me overnight. I am glad we had those conversations on our arrival as it served to steady the nerves a bit on our first full day. One of the things they had mentioned was that, during the day, the camp is relatively safe and the Rohingya are, for the lack of a better word, “happy”, noting we will be probably be greeted by smiling children.

The reason given for this contentedness is simple: they are alive, they can practice their religion, and they have a small rations of food (thanks to the World Food Program, which they indicated was only 30% funded for this particular mission). How low of a bar is that?

Meanwhile, I am sitting here in the resort with the air conditioning on high, a large bottle of water next to me, having already nibbled on some early morning snacks prior to going down to a buffet breakfast, and feeling somewhat annoyed that my connectivity is forcing me to multi-task into multiple tabs while my ADD can’t have the patience to wait for something to download [the real definition of a first-world problem is good connectivity].

I have read enough to know a little bit about what to expect as we ventured into the camp, but this was to be still an “unknown”, and our protective DNA has coded us to be a little apprehensive when faced with situations with which we are unfamiliar. While today may hold a lot of unknowns, I know that I will learn things, the lessons from which will last a lifetime.

This apprehension grew as we were waiting for our drivers and translators. We were handed face masks from one of our handlers in case the smell was too bad.

I was ready.

John Lyotier