“I feel lucky to live in this era where blockchain is emerging,” Xiaochen Zhang, founder of FinTech4Good and keynote speaker for the February 2018 Hunt Institute Seminar Series, said in an interview following his keynote address.
He went on to compare the emergence of blockchain to the emergence of the Internet. There is a new world of possible applications for this technology. His excitement was contagious. The intersection of computer science and inclusive economics is here.
At just ten years old, blockchain is a relatively new way to think about digital records. With new technology comes the ability to empowering others. This semester, the Hunt Institute invited Zhang and Anna Carroll, a graduate student in the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, to discuss blockchain and its social implications at the Seminar Series. Chris Kelley, a Senior Fellow in the Hunt Institute, moderated the Q&A session.
Following a welcome speech by Dr. Eva Csaky, director of the Hunt Institute, Carroll explained the use and development of blockchain. Simply put, blockchain is a system of accountability. This system is currently used for projects like cryptocurrency, but has the potential to support social and environmental initiatives.
In his keynote address, Zhang invited members of the audience to picture a world with honest and accurate information at their fingertips. He illustrated this idea with the example of grocery shopping.
“You go to the store and you pick something that says ‘organic,’” Zhang said. “But what makes it organic?”
Zhang went on to explain that, with blockchain, a producer could attach a QR code to a food label. By scanning the QR code, anyone could have access to the blockchain tracking the supply chain. You could know where the fruit was grown, who tended to it, and how it was shipped to the grocery store. With a blockchain tracking this information, there would be a guarantee of authenticity.
“I’m looking for the next unicorn that can come from this,” Zhang said in an interview after the seminar. Zhang said the best part of his job is the process of “incubating and identifying” the new ideas that have resulted from the development of blockchain. The “unicorn” Zhang is looking for is an idea that can create tangible social impact. His business is blockchain for good, after all.
It is easy to appreciate Zhang’s enthusiasm for blockchain and the possibilities that accompany it. Socially, blockchain can function as a digital ID for people who would have never been able to participate in the international market before. As a financial tool, blockchain has the power to drastically reduce cross-boarder payments. Between currency conversion and bank fees, most people don’t have the option of doing international business. Blockchain has enabled currencies that exist independently of government, enabling peer-to-peer rather than government-to-government business relationships.
Existing applications of blockchain range from tackling climate change, to enabling food traceability, to empowering small entrepreneurs and farmers, to enforcing green finance regulations. Zhang also alluded to blockchain’s potential to enable automatic payment, reduce costs, increase security, and improve analysis. These blockchain-based, high-impact applications can foster inclusive and sustainable economic development.
“It was very impactful to see the relevance of blockchain,” Alejandro Dominguez Garcia, a student analyst at the Hunt Institute, said. “It can directly increase the safety of transactions and it can help several aspects of a business.”
For more information about Zhang’s work, please click here.
For more information about the inclusive economy, please click here.
Xiaochen Zhang is the President of FinTech4Good and the Blockchain Frontier Group. He leads the design and implementation of FinTech4Goods’s strategy, which aims to introduce high-impact fintech and blockchain solutions to frontier markets through incubation, acceleration, and investment.
Dr. Zhang serves on the Board of Directors of the Crowdfunding Professional Association, the UN ESCAP Digital Economy Task Force, and he is co-chair of Insurance Blockchain Lab, Smart City Blockchain Lab, and Blockchain4SDGs Lab. He is a Senior Advisor to the Inter-American Development Bank and the China Social Entrepreneurs Foundation, and serves on the advisory boards of several innovative start-ups. He brings more than 16 years of thought leadership and global experience with developing and scaling innovative social and environmental solutions in North America, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia.
Prior to joining FinTech4Good, Xiaochen advised government agencies and multinational organizations on innovation, emerging technologies, and investment in positions at the World Bank, the United Nations, and other international partnership platforms. He has also taught innovation and venture building at leading business schools and served as mentors for many innovative businesses. Zhang has studied at Virginia Tech, and has earned Master’s Degrees from Leipzig University, University of Wroclaw, and the Communication University of China.
Anna Carroll is a graduate student in security engineering at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering and is a researcher on Dr. Fred Chang’s team at the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security where her research focuses on blockchain. Carroll recently received her bachelor’s degree from SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering in computer science.
Carroll was inspired to study cyber security because she believes that it is time for security companies to stop playing the catch up game. More often than not, a security breach is announced and engineers are left scrambling to create a patch and mitigate the damage. Carroll believes in developing software with existing cyber security and keeping up with the pace of technological advances. Anticipating the need for cyber security means that breaches can be prevented instead of patched.
After graduation, Carroll plans to continue cyber security research.
Written by: Anna Grace Carey
Edited by: Maggie Inhofe
Photographer: Alissa Llort