The weekend before last week's Bitcoin2014 conference in Amsterdam, 22-year-old Matthew Kenahan had a choice to make – one that he said was “probably one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make”.
Here was his dilemma: attend graduation after slogging for four hard years to get his degree in International Business and Marketing, or skip it to attend the Bitcoin2014 conference, where he and the organization he heads, the Bitcoin Society, were nominated for a Blockchain Award or 'Blockie'.
“I had my 91-year-old grandmother travelling up from Mississippi [to my graduation],” he told CoinDesk. He eventually chose Amsterdam, and was rewarded with not only winning the award for ‘Most Impactful Charity’, but also for ‘Bitcoin Champion’ after Andreas Antonopoulos was unable to accept the prize due to a conflict of interest.
My sincere thanks to anyone who voted for me in the blockchain awards. I apologize for not being able to accept due to conflict of interest
— AndreasMAntonopoulos (@aantonop) May 16, 2014
Tool for charity
Obviously, Kenahan's ‘problem’ is a lighthearted tale, and nothing like the hard choices faced by people who are living hand-to-mouth in many regions of the world.
In fact, he sees bitcoin as a tool for helping the less well-off and, under his leadership, the Bitcoin Society has sought to explore the charitable uses of bitcoin and to promote a positive image of bitcoin in contrast to its association with the drugs trade.
“The main idea behind this is to show people that you can use cryptocurrency for something other than Silk Road. We're creating a global community, we're trying to connect people,” Kenahan explained
As befits a prize for charitable work, Kenahan pledged to donate his 1BTC winnings to the Women’s Annex Foundation, which aims to build women’s digital literacy and increase access to the Internet. He tweeted confirmation of the donation that same day.
For Kenahan, that transparency in donations is appealing from an accountability point of view:
“[Bitcoin] allows you to create a unique address, for a very specific cause [...] we see both the incoming and outgoing transactions, and we can see that it’s used for a very specific cause.”
Perhaps more famously, dogecoin has become a veritable charity fundraising machine, including the $50,000 Doge4Water campaign.
More generally, the Bitcoin Society is devoted to challenging what Kenahan calls “misinformation” in reporting on bitcoin and to improving perceptions of bitcoin.
“One of the biggest issues with bitcoin, and one of the things that hindering the development of our community, is we have this fundamental image problem that oftentimes stems from misinformation or slanderous articles,” he argued.
As part of that challenge, the Bitcoin Society is planning a number of projects over the next year, including a new website called bitcoincourses.org, which will help to educate people about bitcoin, and a textbook buy-back scheme for US students.
“Instead of selling your textbook back to the bookstore … and getting grossly underpaid," he said, "what we would do is redeem that textbook for bitcoin. That provides a low-risk – it’s money you’ve already spent – way to get involved into a community that has more and more legitimacy every day.”
Currently, Kenahan has big plans for expanding the Bitcoin Society team and is recruiting representatives from his alma mater Washington University.
“We’re going to be set up in Shanghai, New York, India, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago,” he said.
For this self-funded bitcoin champion – Kenahan said he previously traded in the bitcoin markets – 2014 is proving to be a very exciting year indeed.
Schoolgirl with computer image via Shutterstock