Bruce Hughes spoke to BlockLeaders about what it means to be a cryptopreneur, how blockchain can bring transparency and confidence back to African society, and also about two very important issues: Freedom and faith.
Faith is a powerful force. Unseen and intangible like the wind, but just as mighty and ever present all around us.
Faith has driven men into conflict since the beginning of time, but it has also led to great discoveries for the greater good of mankind.
But what is the meaning behind such vague concept? You probably know as much as about faith as the most studious of scholars out there, to be perfectly honest. Faith is the eye of the believer, I'd say. Faith means whatever you want it to mean.
And if one looks at Hebrews 11.1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Faith is the substance of things hoped for. That is a powerful statement, is it not.
We now live in the third millenium. The world has moved on, but faith remains as strong as it ever was. Only for some, its focus has shifted. In the era of cryptocurrencies, some have put their faith on blockchain technology.
Believing on blockchain as a crytopreneur
Bruce Hughes defines himself through a clever portmanteau: Cryptopreneur.
He explains what this means.
"A cryptopreneur is someone who looks at all potential applications of blockchain, and dives into as many conversations as possible in order to really wrestle through the future of this incredible opportunity.
"Sometimes we are prone to championing a company, or a certain application or product, but I'm on a mission to find like minded individuals to drive the education of this technology.
"This all began back in 2016, I had been looking at crypto for about 2 years. I looked at past movements in the crypto space, the volatility of it, etc. And I took this time to really understand the technology behind cryptocurrencies.
"In early 2017, I had a conversation with a gentleman, Andrew Eaton who represented an independent crypto-mining company, and this really got me into the journey of blockchain technology. It's been a roller coaster ride since, meeting with really influential people here in Africa and working with a lot of communities. That's how I became involved in blockchain."
Blockchain for the African continent
Bruce lives in South Africa, a country known both for its stunning natural beauty and the deep inequalities that exist among its society. Blockchain technology can make a great difference to this class system, bringing transparency and fairness to what's a deeply unfair societal landscape.
There are many challenges ahead, however, and Bruce was keen to explain the motivation for adopting blockchain technology for the betterment of South Africa.
He said that "there are a few different narratives here, or storylines that are being played out both in South Africa, and Africa as a whole.
"There's a failed government narrative that is playing out at the moment. What I mean by that is that a few people with a lot of influence have got into government, and these people are hurting politics and development, so there is dissatisfaction with the government amongst ordinary people here.
"And a second narrative is the perception of external corporations exploiting and diverting South African resources elsewhere, away from South Africans. This sentiment can be traced back to colonial times.
"So these two narratives, one being internal to the country in terms of perceived government failure, and a second, external narrative personified by foreign corporations are the main reasons why blockchain can help people take back what is theirs, and instill transparency on governance and distribution of resources.
"So it now feels like there's a Renaissance, almost like pressing a "Reset" button, and I think that blockchain is going to play a big role in that reset over the next couple of decades.
"But right now, we are dealing and interacting with a large number of governments, and also with a large number of blockchain associations throughout Africa. What we are trying to achieve is a cohesive solution for the continent. We are talking to communities to ensure that there is no duplication of projects, etc.
"We're in the first 15 months of this enterprise, and what we want to do is create unity."
Africa certainly does have its challenges. From arid climates that hamper agricultural development, to dictatorial governments that oppress and suppress its people. Blockchain technology cannot alter the weather, but can help people to circumvent artificial barriers set up by government institutions bent on maintaining the status quo.
I wanted to know more about this thirst and willingness for change among African societies.
"There is a hunger, and appetite, and more importantly, there is a common goal to use blockchain for two main reasons: One, to track and reclaim resources and to help better allocate these resources. And two, create better governance systems. Those are the two main narratives that we keep hearing during our conversations."
Life as a man of faith: On being a pastor in the Olive Tree Church
And so we come full circle to the issue of faith. Bruce served as one of the Lead Pastors of the Olive Tree Church in Durban for about five years.
I found this aspect of Bruce's life particularly intriguing, as I had never before encountered a blockchain enthusiast with such peculiar past.
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The Olive Tree Church website states that the church's goal is to love people, release potential, and impact community. What I find the most fascinating about these statement is how much one can extrapolate those concepts to blockchain.
Blockchain technology is very much people-driven. It is about empowering people, and enabling them to regain and retain control of assets and data. And blockchain releases the inherent potential within communities, creating networks of people with the power to disrupt long-established services and institutions, which in many cases do not have the best interest of the community in mind.
And in many ways, Bruce Hughes embodies the power of blockchain through knowledge, and his own personal faith in people, and in change.
Bruce said that "what Olive Tree Church managed to do in a very short space of time, they set up a separate entity, running parallel with the church, that audited all the main non-government organizations dedicated to help people. Whether it was shelters, orphanages, food banks, etc. There were over a thousand different NGOS and charities setup to serve the city of Durban.
"So through We Are Durban we would audit those organizations, and train the people to run and administer them better. So again, we'd try to create a cohesive solution for all these communities serving the city.
"That was the key mandate of Olive Tree Church, to create unity through the existing infrastructures, in order to release the right skill sets to help the community."
Keeping the faith on cryptocurrencies
The great Martin Luther King Jr. said that 'Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase.’
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies have been around for some time, but the technology is still in its infancy. There are a number of blockchain projects currently in development worldwide, but they won't bear fruits for yet another couple of years.
But the point here is that a lot of these entrepreneurial people working in blockchain and crypto have taken the first step, even though the future is far from certain. They have shown faith on something that may very well work or lead to a crash bigger than the dot com bubble of the 1990s.
I asked Bruce if he holds faith on cryptocurrencies.
"You know, that is a great question. So, God gives us the power to step into certain areas, and create change. We have that power inside of us. So I think that blockchain is the technology, and cryptocurrencies are the reward mechanism that enables the creation of a change and a rennaissance that it's badly needed worldwide.
"I think we have been stuck in a 70-year long lending cycle that can only be described as 'evil'. Excessive lending only leads to more poverty and disparity between people. Blockchain can help break that cycle.
"There will always be people who use blockchain as a mechanism to do bad things, but I hope that more and more good people adopt blockchain and cryptocurrencies to enact change for the better."
On the impact of blockchain in communities
The country of South Africa presents a rather divisive dichotomy. On the one hand, South Africa features amazing sights and incredible tourist spots, for example. There is a richness of culture there, and a great diversity of things to do and see.
On the other, South African society is deeply divided, and conflict and unfairness is rife. This is in no small measure a residue of the dreadful Apartheid regime, which oversaw and supported the systematic oppression of the black population. The Apartheid officially ended in the early 1990s, but its ghost still howls loudly in the form of a legacy of economic and social imbalance.
So the question I wanted to ask is how blockchain can help to fix such broken society.
"That is such a great, multi-dimensional question, and the answer is not easy. Here's my take on it, nevertheless. Something special is born out of every conflict or struggle. A pioneering spirit, if you will, that is nurtured in that space.
"What South Africa is currently sitting on, is a massive disparity between the haves and have nots, and one the main reasons for that is that resource allocation is deeply askew.
"Blockchain would enable a brand new way of managing resources that would allow the have nots to build a foundation from which to take a step forward. Right now, many people cannot access financial aid or support, or borrow money to develop ideas, for example. I think that through blockchain we'll see that people can have an asset they can use to launch a business, as blockchain allows for better asset ownership and management, and this is desperately needed here in South Africa.
"So here's another idea. Usually, people have to wait for their government to take up and support a particular enterprise or regulation to move forward. But I think what we're going to see here in South Africa is that instead of people waiting around for the government to fix something, the people themselves will use blockchain to come up with solutions to the problems they face, and the government will have to come to them instead.
"I think that would lead to a much healthier relationship between the South African Government and its people."
Bruce's gentle soul shines through his words and actions. From his past as a pastor, to his involvement in blockchain projects to benefit his own country and the African continent as a whole, Bruce Hughes is kin to people.
My last question to him was about his own personal motivation, and the answer didn't surprise me.
"Freedom. As a man who believes in God and is here to do what He sent us to do, which is to set us free, I think blockchain enables us to create even more freedom that we previously had the ability to do. That really is what gets me up in the morning.
"I'd like to add the following. To all people reading this, be ok with organic growth. What we see in blockchain today is not what we'll see tomorrow, or next year, or the year after that. So let's be very comfortable with being uncomfortable, and see where this goes."
You can follow Bruce through his LinkedIn profile.