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Possibilities for Bitcoin’s social value in developing world discussed at SXSW

A US non-profit charity is using Bitcoin to build on Mpesa’s existing infrastructure, making the transfer from US Dollars to Kenyan Shillings that much easier.

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Connie Gallippi is the founder and director of BitGive, a California-based charity that raise donations solely in Bitcoin. With over a decade’s experience in working with non-profits, Connie was attending a conference on Bitcoin in 2013 when she realised there could be an opportunity to demonstrate Bitcoin’s social value.

One charity that was already accepting Bitcoins as donations was the Water Project, a non-profit building water wells in Kenyan communities without running water. In partnering with them, Connie was amazed to learn what an integral part Mpesa plays in the country.

Read more: How Mpesa disrupts entire economies

“[In Kenya] they already have mobile payments and Bitcoin can just very easily be built on top of that to open it to a global audience,” Connie told an audience at a SXSW panel discussion on Bitcoin’s potential in the developing world. “You can save 30% in sending money to Sub-Saharan Africa by using Bitcoin [instead of traditional methods]. Leveraging things like BitPesa, cashing out and build things happens much faster.”

While services like Western Union and MoneyGram includes various charges for sending money abroad, and could take up to five days, BitPesa transfers happen on the same day and charge a small 3 percent fee for international transactions.

Connie crowdsourced all the money raised for a water well near Kakamega in Kenya (pictured) through Bitcoin before BitPesa came onto the scene. With BitPesa securing US$1.1-million (nearly R13-million) in funding recently, it can now continue working with charities like BitGive and many other startups eager to disrupt cross-border money transfers.

Read more: Kenya’s BitPesa announces $1.1m investment led by Pantera Capital

“There are a lot of opportunities,” Connie says about the new ways in which charities like her own would now be able to reach more people. “What Bitcoin brings is busting it wide open, money coming in from anywhere instead of only Shillings dropping on your phone.”

So what’s next for BitGive, BitPesa and Bitcoin?

“There is a lull in the Bitcoin price but there is also investment going into companies [like BitPesa]. There’s a huge focus on the first world right now. But to me the beauty of Bitcoin is how it could impact the developing world. Until it hasn’t built out to that, we can’t make it a functional system,” Connie tells a room in Austin filled with founders eager to develop more Bitcoin startups. “In Silicon Valley there’s millions going into Bitcoin companies but it’s very focused. It’s very focused on building apps. That’s just not what it’s all about.”

Photo via TheWaterProject.org

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