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BwB Talk Series: Rowan Yeoman | [team(db)]

The BwB Talk Series is where we bring innovative leaders in impact, finance, and the environment to speak with our network around the world. The BwB Talk Series helps generate new ideas for our network by bringing experts to share their deep knowledge of sustainability topics.

For the March edition of the BwB Talk Series, BwB welcomed Rowan Yeoman, Founder of [team(db)] and an expert in innovation technology and social change, with a solid background in start-up creation and advisory. His interest in how new business models work brought him to the field of Web3 and crypto, back in 2017. Most recently, Rowan has been advising the UNDP on the opportunities created by the Web3 world and its impact on the SDG space.

Together with his partner, Kate Sutton, he shared with BwB the outcomes of a report, titled “#Web3for2030: How can Web3 help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”, developed for UNDP.

Rowan kicked off the conversation with a brief introduction to the fundamentals of crypto. He shared a mental model, which maps how technologies unfold across time into new paradigms, and how Web3 could also evolve in a similar fashion.

To illustrate this, he made an analogy to the historic development of the invention of the steam engine, which started as an existing infrastructure for existing scopes - pumping water out of flooded mines as an alternative to using human or horse force. Yet, it was unreliable, dangerous and expensive so what started from not good enough turned into a real solution for real problems. Gradually, as its adoption grew, the technology developed, becoming a more reliable and cost-effective solution and enabling its adoption for further developments which made it essential to the industrial revolution we all know.

“Now that we have started with the first use cases of Web3,” emphasised Rowan, “let us assess the rise of 4 new paradigms - financial, economic, governance and innovation. There is an abundance of opportunity in these spaces. We go from specific use cases until it becomes an enabling context which changes the environment. At its inception, we used bitcoin to transfer money. Now it has become a million different things. Code and money work well together. You have rules, smart contracts and others. Now money and tokens move, and they follow such rules.”

Rowan discussed the importance of open protocols for their call for innovation on privacy. “We are in an open space where innovation and disruption happen really quickly.”, he commented. In the context of open networks there is this cross-pollination of things happening which would not occur in a purely commercial world operated by trade secrets and competitive advantage.

“That’s why governance is so powerful - it gets to leverage innovation.”

Rowan then presented a set of case studies:

  • KlimaDAO as a startup focusing on token issuance based on carbon credits retirement.

  • GoodDollar - a UBI (Universal Basic Income) protocol for the developing world. “It is a way of using the UBI to spin up the crypto economy in places, such as Kenya, where there are currency devaluations, instability, and governance censorship of money.”, commented Rowan.

  • Next, he elaborated on his broad experience in working with Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs). Rowan sees DAOs as networks. “Entity thinking is deep in our bones. DAOs as networks free us from this legacy. We move from business model to a network economy. We think of DAOs as purpose driven networks of small autonomous teams”.

One of the most engaging segments of our Talk Series is the Q&A session between our speaker and BwB. This talk’s Q&A segment was filled with insightful moments, a few of which we have captured below.

BwB Managing Director, Global Head Retrofit & Built Environment Finance, Rufus Grantham commented that, intuitively, there is a feeling that this new governance model should lead to a better decision making and asked if there a body of evidence that proves that.

Rowan answered that there is lots of evidence around the scales at which decisions are made. “We work on a three-scaled model. The collaboration scale where a small group of people makes high context decisions. The coordination scale with people making decisions of no urgent context to each other. And the constituency scale. The problem with DAOs now is all go to constancy scale. You want the small cells, which are operating close to reality, to be making decisions based on that reality which they are interacting with. Then you want the kind of mechanism that brings the system together to create the kind of intelligence and then that direction setting which is coming from community governance. Operational governance meets with community governance. So yes, there is a bunch of research, but a lot of this is still novel.”

Rufus further commented that a lot of the environmental work BwB is place-based. “We are looking at communities which are rooted in physical assets like housing, etc. Has there been an example where the ownership or membership of DAO is rooted in physical collective assets rather than individual? Could you have a DAO that sits at community ownership level so property-linked rather than individual linked?

Rowan answered that there are indeed a lot of opportunities on ecological restoration and how a group of people collectively govern a land or an asset or an ecological resource. “Almost everything you can imagine is potentially possible. The question is whether those dynamics are actually going to make something possible which is not possible now" he commented.

BwB Managing Director, Global Head Sovereign Sustainable Finance, Chris Smith, commented next: “At BwB, a lot of our work focuses on cities around circular economy. A particular project, called the Circular Innovation Collective (CIC) is a community consortium of connected companies within the textile industry which a city is part of and want to scale and replicate. What is the application of DAOs to create a collective value? How do we attract impact investor value from the community-based thinking which these particular DAO-based scenarios create?”

Rowan answered that this relates to the simple concept of tokenisation where a token represents the value of a network. The more the separate elements participate, the higher the value of the collective increases. “Ultimately, it is about building markets and market connectivity.”, he summarised.

BwB Vice President, Christine Zhou, went into discussing that the value of bitcoin, lately, has been very volatile, which makes Bitcoin still being treated as speculative assets. She wanted to find out what was Rowan’s view on the sceptic opinions around Bitcoin and what are the latest use cases of the crypto currency.

Rowan answered: “Bitcoin is a bit of an outlier because it was the first and because of the unusual story around its creation. But it is proof of work. But also because people think about Bitcoin as digital gold. While Ethereum is digital finance. It is the utility token used for buying block space and compute on the Ethereum network. You can still invest in it and expect for its value to go up, but it would only increase if people use its network more and pay for that block space.”

BwB Senior Analyst, Tommaso Buso, inquired about the application of blockchain for tokenised carbon retirement and beyond the simple use of blockchain for trading. Can Web3 transform the initial standards of how carbon credits are used?

Rowan argued that what we should focus on understanding what value each technological advancement would create and stressing whether there is a market for it.

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