Interview with Randy Brito from Bitcoin Venezuela: Philosophy Meets Practicality
At the heart of Bitcoin lies a philosophy that can be summed up in one word: decentralization. This idea aims to shift power from a central source to the hands of individuals. Instead of keeping individual privacy and economic freedom in the hands of a centralized organization — for example, a bank — decentralization removes the possibility of interference or regulation by giving people self-sovereignty.
You can read a lot about the philosophy behind Bitcoin and its peer-to-peer network — but how practical is it off paper? When we were recently contacted by Bitcoin Venezuela, we saw just how meaningful this philosophy is, once put into practice.
Randy Brito started the nonprofit organization Bitcoin Venezuela in 2012 as a way to educate people about Bitcoin, at a time when local currency was no longer a reliable source of value and exchange. Bitcoin could make it possible for people to work freelance and get paid in a currency that had value. Bitcoin made it possible for Bitcoin Venezuela and other charities to transfer much needed funds without facing issues connected to wire or cash transfers. Bitcoin also provides people in affected areas with a safer and less volatile storage of value than their national currencies.
We had a chance to ask Randy some questions about his nonprofit work when he contacted us at SatoshiLabs about an opportunity to collaborate. If you want to learn more about what’s happening in Venezuela, you can read this transcript of an interview with Randy, from the podcast Bottomshelf Bitcoin by Josh Humphrey.
How long have you been involved with crypto?
I heard about Bitcoin in April 2011, received my first and only mined mBTC September that year. I founded BitcoinVenezuela.com on October 2012 to teach about Bitcoin in Venezuela, by creating content in Spanish. I also translated Electrum to Spanish. Some people joined Bitcoin Venezuela as collaborators so we started making talks about Bitcoin in Venezuela in universities and meetups. After the 2014 demonstrations in the country, and the detention of Bitcoiners in the country in 2015, our meetups stopped and collaborators started leaving the country or went into hiding.
When did you begin to apply crypto to charity work?
On December 2015 I helped local collaborators buy supplies for a kids hospital; in 2016 we started cooking and giving away food one day per month to hundreds of people in the streets of a city of Venezuela. Today we help feed 1600 people daily in one soup kitchen and hundreds others daily across the country in other locations, around 300 more one day per week in our weekly activities when we visit orphanages, elderly center, special care center, and hospitals.
What have been the top 3 challenges to your organization, and how have you dealt with them?
It’s been very difficult to earn the trust of the crypto community so more people donate whatever amount they can. We’ve even run some months with total collected donations of $35-$100 only, throughout a whole month.
Today we receive enough monthly to keep our small food help operations, but we still have to come up with a way to fund and continue putting all this time and effort on the donations collecting part, public relations, logistics, collaborators on the ground, etc; as all this has been and currently is being done without any compensation, which is great that we don’t have to spend any donation on these costs, but it is unsustainable and I think it is unfair to everyone who’s putting full-time or all the spare time they have left from their jobs. So, in my opinion, we haven’t dealt with this yet.
The other difficulty is transparency, due to two things: how to deal with donators’ wish of seeing everything that is being done with the money they’ve sent while protecting all collaborators’ privacy and lives (Venezuela is a very hostile place, both for the insecurity but also because of persecution of those helping others); and how to deal with thousands of needed transactions in tens of different payment methods and even barter, so it is accountable enough for donators to trust we are using the funds the best way possible.
So, there is much we haven’t solved, probably because of the lack of experience on how traditional nonprofits survive or because we are not trying to be as the traditional nonprofits, a decision that has its advantages and disadvantages.
How is cryptocurrency helping you make a difference?
By accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies we’ve been able to collect donations from anywhere in the world, despite not being incorporated as a nonprofit in any country. People send us around $5 USD donations through the Lightning Network regularly, almost daily. We’ve also been able to achieve big improvements for some people’s lives in some locations thanks to private donators who have committed bigger donations in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Zcash, for achieving things like: a whole farm-school reconstruction with new and fixed equipment and machinery, two water wells for an elderly center and a soup kitchen, all the cookware for a soup kitchen, and even medicines and medical supplies. All this without having to go through complicated and costly KYC/AML processes for our donators or our organization, so 100% of the donated funds are used for helping people in Venezuela.
Do you think cryptocurrency is uniquely suited to your organization’s needs?
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have proven to be the best way for us to accomplish what we’ve done so far, what we do daily. It is showing its potential on helping us scale, if we manage to find a way to deal with the mentioned difficulties.
Why did you decide to contact Trezor to help with this cause?
Due to the need of an easy to use and secure hardware wallet that could be used by other non-profit humanitarian aid organizations which we, Bitcoin Venezuela, would like to collaborate with. We saw in Trezor a tool that experienced people like us could easily teach completely new to the scene people and organizations to use, so these organizations would hopefully help us with the burdens of regulations which we are being asked to comply with, in exchange for us helping them join the movement of cryptocurrencies’ borderless donations.
Created by SatoshiLabs in 2014, the Trezor One is the original and most trusted hardware wallet in the world. It offers unmatched security for cryptocurrencies, password management, and serves as the second factor in Two-Factor Authentication. These features combine with an interface that is easy to use whether you are a security expert or a brand new user.
Trezor Model T is the next-generation hardware wallet, designed with the benefits of the original Trezor in mind, combined with a modern and intuitive interface for improved user experience and security. It features a touchscreen, faster processor, and advanced coin support, as well as all the features of the Trezor One.