“If we can get these people beyond survival mode, then they won’t have to choose between renting a child out for the night and feeding the others,” Richard Swisher, Motiv President told me in an interview. He offered that bitcoin is helping do just that.
Motiv is a nonprofit working to empower communities and reduce dependencies with bitcoin. Their goal is to drive economic independence in underserved communities. In doing so, Swisher says that these efforts will reduce vulnerabilities in the area.
According to analysis provided by The World Bank, 70% of Peruvians are either poor or at risk of falling into poverty. Between 2004 and 2019, poverty fell 66% due to strong economic growth. Poverty rates have since increased 26%, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic fallout.
Peru is now experiencing poverty risks not seen since 2004, putting large swaths of their populations in a vulnerable state. According to a 2019 Reuters report, Peru has become a hotbed for human trafficking in the face of increased pressure from economic shortfalls.
The article states that poor and hungry girls and women are most likely to become victims of sex trafficking in Peru. These individuals are typically lured in by false offers of free travel and well-paid work as waitresses, dancers, or cooks. Desperation in areas like this, driven by poverty induced vulnerabilities, are a significant concern for countries across the region.
Building Communities With Motiv
Swisher said his journey started when him and a friend discovered a nontrivial percentage of kids in a Peruvian village were dying from exposure due to inadequate foot ware. “If it wasn’t so cheap and easy, we probably wouldn’t have done it. $2500 solved the entire thing,” he said about the start of Life Saving Steps, the program that preempted Motiv.
After the kids received quality shoes however, Swisher noted a positive feedback loop in the community and economy. Kids could now stay in school. They were also able to provide more help with agricultural work in the mountains, fixing the village’s food shortage. Shortages soon turned to surpluses, allowing the village to bring food to market, increasing net economic activity in the village.
Motiv is now focused on empowering individuals in order to improve communities. The program includes education on health and life skills, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, according to Swisher. Their target population is predominantly women, especially mothers, as a means to improve the lives of the children in the area.
Students receive scholarship money in bitcoin and use that bitcoin to pay for their classes. Swisher claims that making the women pay for their classes results in them being more engaged. “We want them to realize that things of value are not given to you,” he added.
He described a skeptical woman who now has her own baking business after participating in the program. She was then able to expand her house, and added a wall to protect kids, allowing them to play outside safely.
Swisher also spoke about a rural pizza maker who was able to invest in a portable oven. Their business has now expanded into a traveling catering service. The ability to serve more wealthy clients outside of the village has positively impacted the entire community.
In remote villages like the ones Swisher works in, people may not have any way to prove their age or citizenship. This makes the traditional banking system unrealistic for many in the area.
By leveraging bitcoin, Motiv is able to create burgeoning economies in un-bankable areas of South America. “People are realizing the impact is beyond finance; it’s changing their minds about the future outlook,” Swisher concluded.
Bitcoin Is Spreading In Latin America
Bitcoin focused journalist Joe Hall has spent the past few weeks in Peru, exploring some of the communities which Motiv has impacted. “People with no hope and awful economic opportunity are using a tool that connects them not only to their local communities but globally,” Hall said about his experience.
Hall has been documenting bitcoin’s impact in Latin America on his YouTube channel. In September, he published a short documentary on bitcoin usage unfolding in Cuba. Though bitcoin is often characterized as a speculative risk asset in the West, it is increasingly considered a lifeline for those experiencing high inflation and government instability.
In countries like Argentina, bitcoin has already surpassed it’s 2021 all time high when priced in the Argentine peso. Unsurprisingly, prominent Artentine Presidental hopeful Javier Milei is a staunch bitcoin supporter. According to U.S. News, Milei is leading in the most recent election polls, a sign the Argentine people are opening up to change.
Though bitcoin remains volatile, educators like Swisher and Hall remain optimistic that their separate approaches will continue to make a positive impact. With El Salvador already recognizing bitcoin as legal tender in their country, it may be only a matter of time before other Latin American countries follow suit.