July 16, 2019 By Tim Levent Yurdum 5 min read

Every new product that enters a country is pushed and swayed in success levels by factors ranging from market need to purchasing power to social dynamics. The same is true for new technologies, like the internet. In the data visualization below, we see that countries with a high need — defined by the absence of diverse methods to move information — for the internet’s primary use, communication, such as the vast and relatively remote Russia, trailed many countries in adoption. This is a clear indication that more than just market need is at play. In this instance such factors may have included literacy rate and other factors at back-of-mind upon initial thought.

I ask in this blog post, what are the sociological factors that influence blockchain adoption, and how do they personify a country in a digestible manner? In other words, if we were to think of each country as a target customer for blockchain technology, who is the early adopter?

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Poor work history

If a blockchain-adopting country were a person by analogy, this person’s first trait is that they have a poor work history. Much of their career has been spent hopping from day job to day job, and as such they have failed to build a strong network. For these people, blockchain is an opportunity to move across the country and launch their own business — a thrilling, if relatively untested, source of revenue. We see that many countries adopting blockchain are small countries that have primarily relied on single sources of revenue in the past. Examples of such countries include traditionally natural resource-rich countries.

In the case of Venezuela, mismanagement of these resources among other factors has led to widespread societal poverty and triggered a storm of near-hopelessness among ordinary citizens. Venezuela has (without results) pressed for its Petro cryptocurrency to be used in international trade with OPEC countries, but more relevantly, it has encouraged its discontented society to adopt the Petro as a currency for daily transactions.

Iceland is harnessing its year-round geothermal energy potential (and cool temperatures) to tempt foreign cryptocurrency miners. Estonia, having a troubled past involving dampening of its economy by the Soviet Union, has also implemented thoroughly deliberate incentive programs to attract foreign blockchain investors and entrepreneurs, such as its e-residency program. It also internally supports this program with the operational use of blockchain in “national health, judicial, legislative, security and commercial code systems, with plans to extend its use to other spheres such as personal medicine, cyber security and data embassies.”

Blockchain technology is being used in these countries to construct a compensatory economy in relation to national economies built off unsustainable dynamics such as oil sales or fleeting service industries. It is a new front for such countries to become competitive on, and improve on, the quality of life for their societies as a result.

Trust issues

But what turns our metaphorical early-adopting person to cryptocurrency and not another globally morphing new field like AI? The answer lies in having been cheated out of rights before, by an employer, parent, spouse, or even government. The resulting trust issues have pushed the person to not trust individuals around them, but the collective honesty of their social sphere. A country that displays this trait is Turkey, which recently went through its widespread Çiftlik Bank scam, in which ordinary citizens were promised non-existent assets in exchange for their investments in a “get rich quick” scheme.

Almost certainly under influence of such threat, the Turkish treasury is now paving the way from a regulatory standpoint, for crowdfunding platforms to allow for actual shares to be promised as opposed to just pre-launch incentives like brand t-shirts and laptop stickers — and they are doing this through blockchain. In other words, they are focusing on encouraging STOs over IPOs and crowdfunding. What’s more, the recently released government mid-term development plan has explicitly called for the encouragement of ICOs as a form of economic expansion.

In 2018, two years after the Çiftlik Bank scam emerged, Turkish investors had the highest estimated cryptocurrency ownership rate in the world.

Good learner

Finally, a blockchain early adopter is also an avid and diversified reader and learner. They have interest not only in a certain topic of business dealings but in finance, product management, marketing and others. The rapidly changing field of blockchain means countries need vast learning resources maintained by a dedicated group of people to keep up with the almost hourly slew of new information related to the blockscape. What’s more, these learning resources cover different dimensions of blockchain, from its underlying architecture to its applications for different social groups.

It is possible for any country to adopt blockchain efficiently through having learners in its society who dedicate time and effort to keeping up with, and producing, learning resources. These learning resources come from independent content creators on platforms like YouTube, but also companies like IBM, and governmental institutions like NIST, while organizations like the Government Blockchain Association help liaise between individuals and organizations through services ranging from networking to training.

While many countries are joining the blockchain wave, there are some sociological traits that help set their respective countries ahead of the curve apart by spurring “the development of the necessary regulatory frameworks, legislation, and industry standards that are required to move from pilots to production,” as Deloitte describes in their 2018 global blockchain survey.

These traits are that the countries in question have previously been economically downtrodden and look to enrich their discouraged societies, that their societies have issues with trusting many governmental, organizational, or individual entities due to previous trust-harming events such as rigged elections or ponzi-schemes, and that the societies of these countries are enthusiastic learners, pushing the boundaries of productivity and educational material consumption.

From time to time, we invite industry thought leaders, academic experts and partners, to share their opinions and insights on current trends in blockchain to the Blockchain Pulse blog. While the opinions in these blog posts are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IBM, this blog strives to welcome all points of view to the conversation.

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