Introducing change is never easy, particularly when a society is entrenched in its own principles. Yet, Bonnie Crofford intends to bring about a radical shift through the use of blockchain technology to combat poverty and social injustice in South African society.
This indomitable woman recently spoke to Fernando Sanchez at Blockleaders about the difficulties faced by those who wish to promote change, how she stuck to her guns among voices of dissent, and opened up about a traumatic period in her life that only served to strengthen her resolve even more.
South Africa is a land of remarkable contrasts. From the rugged beauty of the Cape of Good Hope, with its stunning sunsets and white surf lapping at the rocky outcrops, to the wildlife of Kruger Park, this country has a lot to offer to both tourists and nomads alike.
But there's a darker side of abject poverty, violent shanty towns teeming with resentment and crime. This legacy is in no small part due to the lowest ebb of South Africa's history. The decades-long apartheid, an institutionalized method of racial segregation that legalized social disparity and inequality and entrenched a strong feeling of white supremacy.
Apartheid policies were officially abolished in the early 1990s, but the long-standing stratification of South Africa's social fabric had profound implications that are felt to this day. Apartheid casts a long and jagged shadow over day-to-day life in South African society.
Change is a hard concept to come by in South Africa, as the country changed mostly for the worse for around 100 years. But change finds a way, mostly driven by the determination of certain. Nelson Mandela was one such person. A descendant from a royal family, Mandela is largely credited with the vanquishing of apartheid policies.
Bonnie Crofford, a Cape Town native, is another rising figure driving change in South Africa. She may not share Mandela's political aspirations, but Bonnie strives for positive change in every one of her endeavours.
This remarkable woman kindly agreed to share some of her time with me recently, right at the outset of the South African summer. We spoke about change, about her sometimes difficult past, and what it means to be a blockchain advocate in South Africa today.
A world that many couldn't fathom: finding a path against traditional values
Doing things differently, and finding answers for questions which seemingly had none, have been constant factors in Bonnie's life and she admits that being understood by her family and friends was not always easy.
"I come from a traditional business background. My family were involved in retail and hospitality, so for them, the technology world is the big unknown. Also, I never got any official qualifications in technology, I never did any college or university courses on technology, I'm entirely self-taught. So my family couldn't fathom how you can make money online. But I believe you must spend time learning before you can earn."
On blockchain in cryptocurrency
Blockchain tech has spread across a great number of industries. From healthcare to entertainment, supply chain, manufacturing, and many others.
The inherent trait of blockchain is disruption through decentralization. Change, in other words. And this technology has gained traction across South Africa in recent times.
"There is a Blockchain Academy, which was set up a few years ago. The creation of this academy meant that a lot of blockchain-related events started to happen around the country. So local interest and knowledge are growing, particularly among the poorer sectors of the population; those living in unstable settlements.
"The reason for this is that cryptocurrencies enable new mechanisms of trade for these disadvantaged communities. They benefit from it the most because they don't have fiat money. During my research and conversations that I've had, I've seen that these communities are very receptive to the idea of cryptocurrencies and are excited about the crypto environment."
On change, and why it is so important
I realized that Bonnie's world had been hostile to her in the recent past, and this brought about a new outlook for her.
"A lot of things happened to me over the last couple of years that made me look at the world very differently. I come from a business, money-oriented background. I'm not the materialistic type myself, but need an income like everyone else.
"My house was burgled in 2016, and I lost my laptop and phone. I was left unable to move forward. This, and other traumatic events that happened within a short space of time made me think and I realized that a lot of the bad stuff that happens in society, particularly in South African society, happens because people have no choice. Once people lose their dignity and pride, they are left with nothing, so they drift into crime because there is nothing else.
"I began to look deeper into why this is, why this happens. I started to look into why there's so much poverty and hopelessness, and why are people unable to get out of this cycle. The more I studied humanitarian organisations at the top level, I realized that there were fundamental problems in the system. The focus is top-heavy on administration, on conferences, and discussions, but none of this actually filters down to make a difference where it really matters. So I started looking at making a difference from the bottom up."
Making a difference
Bonnie exudes a strong sense of self-confidence and a desire to make a difference for those who need it the most.
"We all need to earn money. So I've studied the emerging technologies, and how we can blend these technologies with business and education together to create uplift on the ground. Essentially, making a difference for the poorest persons going up.
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"In practical terms, I've devised an ecosystem of models from micro-businesses, education, and help, and mixed these elements together with emerging technologies. I'm at a point now, after three years of intensive research and study, when I can get seed funding for this program.
"I've made professional contacts with many organizations and individuals, founders and creators of different systems, so we can pool resources together and create a single, cohesive system.
"The intention is to develop a means of trade, which I call Pi, because it works on the Pi mathematical equation, and it's also the symbiosis in which Nature works. I've blended all these concepts together so we can start protecting our planet while uplifting the people who need it the most. Pi will have a coin based on the being-of-service metric, so homeless people who use this coin can be of service within the community, and also use it to purchase food and other necessities."
On disrupting the status quo
Bonnie's ideas are laudable and full of potential, but I figured that this libertarian attitude would probably not sit well with South African authorities. She agreed.
"I'll give you a little insight into what I'm dealing with. My website, Predictive Ideology, has been hacked at least three times because the information on the site was rather valuable in terms of how I put the whole system together. Our Government, I think, they are not public servants. I initially thought of working with the Government but chose to go down the commercial route because of many issues.
"So I've been going into the communities and talked to the people on the ground around the poorest settlements. I asked them what the best way would be to implement something that doesn't threaten the Government.
"We're creating economic value and spending power where there currently is none, so it will benefit the economy and, by extension, the Government. That's how I'm positioning my project so it doesn't encounter any further difficulties at an institutional level."
Rising against adversity
Bonnie's inner strength shines through everything she does. The burglary marked a low point but it served to stimulate her brain into different ways of thinking and approaching her reality.
"The day after I was burgled, I was walking to the shop to get a SIM card for a borrowed phone. I came across a group of black men. I thought it could develop into a threatening situation, but one of the men actually walked with me and we started chatting. He said that he and his friends had been out all day, looking for work. He said that they would usually wait at the traffic light, which was about 5km away. There, they might get picked up to do a day's work doing odd jobs. He said that no one in his group found work that day. Right at that moment, I felt the desperation of this group of people, who got up in the morning, stood around all day waiting for work, but would go home that evening with nothing. This was a Saturday, so there would be no chance for work again until Monday at least.
"I realized at that very moment that I had privilege, that I had grown up in a very privileged environment, and had received a good education both in school and business teachings from my parents. I had so much more than these people, even though I had nothing at that time because of the burglary.
"I said to him that I just got burgled and that my laptop and phone were stolen, so I wasn't sure how I'd move myself forward.
"I also promised him that I'd come back and help him somehow."
On returning to one's homeland
Bonnie lived in the UK for 12 years. She escaped the inequalities of South African society and lived in a country of relative democratic freedom. Then she returned to the land that witnessed her birth.
"South Africa is my home. I left South Africa for personal reasons, but I always wanted to come back. My father passed away suddenly in 2008, and that was my prompt. My whole family was still in South Africa, so that's why I came back.
"I lived a pretty successful life in the UK and, because of that, I assumed that I'd be able to succeed in South Africa as well, but I had no idea what I was coming back to.
"Africa is very, very tough, particularly for a single, white female. But I'm also a total sun worshiper. I need warmth. And there was no such thing in the UK.So it has been tough, and there have been times when I have regretted it, but South Africa is my home."
On the future
Now, what are Bonnie's plans for the future?
"I intend to focus on the Pi environment. I have been asked to speak at a few conferences, so I think it's time to express my voice and to educate everyone about the changes we can make with technology.
"I'd like to travel the world, speaking and helping to fix our world."