What Bitcoin represents to me is far more than just a digital currency. By combining technology, a global reach, and a clear, unyielding vision to improve lives, Bitcoin allows for a truly digital and convenient way to transact. It also represents a social movement created by a global community who want to find a better solution to remittance fees, slow payments, and legacy financial infrastructures. Bitcoin communities are springing up everywhere, and the community in Prague is a passionate and determined example of this. On my recent trip to the Czech capital, I had the opportunity to meet some of these amazing people and learn how Bitcoin has changed their perspectives on their country’s financial future.
International remittances present an exciting and obvious use case for Bitcoin. For example, remittances in Czech Republic averaged 227.37 EUR Million from 2004 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 497.50 EUR Million in the fourth quarter of 2015 (Trading Economics). Currently, this money has to be handled by several intermediaries: banks, wire services, and currency exchanges all take their cut. A recent report by Business Week noted that the average fee for remittances was 9% of the money transferred, with conversion to cash often costing an extra 5%. These middlemen have profit margins that are enormous for an intermediary, nearly 16 percent, and most of its costs are devoted to the technologies moving money from one place to another, guaranteeing the legitimacy of the transfer. In short, remittance businesses spend and earn billions to do what Bitcoin does for free.
Upon arrival to Prague, I immediately felt encouraged and challenged by the cultural and intellectual diversity and stimulation, Bitcoin advocacy, and community-building that was so evident in each member I met with. Not only did I get to mingle with the Bitcoin community there, I enjoyed the extensive historic centre of Prague that is included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The city boasts more than ten major museums, along with numerous theatres, galleries, cinemas, and other historical exhibits. Its rich history makes it a popular tourist destination, and the city receives more than 6.4 million international visitors annually, as of 2014. Prague is the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome.
Most importantly, the Bitcoin community in Prague works hard to engage the entire city in Bitcoin. Back in February 2016, we featured Bitcoin Coffee and Paralelní Polis, a bitcoin-only coffee laboratory, co-working space, and community meetup venue, serving awesome coffee and much more. I joined Alena Vranova of SatoshiLabs, Martin Sip and Jakub Sabata of Paralelní Polis, and we chatted over coffee, Club Mate, and traditional Russian gingerbread scones.
During my conversations with my new friends, I learned:
- Czech citizens regard the current situation of their national economy negatively. Only a fifth (19%) would describe the situation as quite good, whereas 81% describe it as bad. (European Commission)
- Unemployment is also top of mind for Czechs. A recent study by the European Commission reflected the perception that things are worsening.
- Due to a lagging economy, Czech citizens are interested in learning more about Bitcoin and how they can utilize it to their advantage.
- Czech students are well-versed in engineering and technology; engineering alone is the most popular major in universities.
At times, my journey was hectic and completely unfamiliar, but I am so grateful for this experience. It inspired me and rejuvenated my passion to be a bigger advocate for Bitcoin wherever I go and not just in my home city, namely New York. I appreciate and value all of the relationships formed in mere three days, a period of time, which seemed significantly shorter than I had expected. The many dreams we shared and the ideas in which we collaborated within the short period are all valuable lessons I will take with me as I continue my involvement with Bitcoin. I hope to visit my new friends in Prague soon.
For those of you planning to visit Prague soon, there is as Bitcoin conference May 19th! Learn more here.