George Siosi is the founder of Faiā Corp, which is well underway towards conducting one of the world’s most ambitious digital transformation projects – moving Pacific Islanders (and other communities around the Pacific Rim) towards a world of continuous interconnectivity, using modern tools such as blockchain technology.
Faiā is currently working with Pacific Island countries and businesses. One such project is Tuvalu’s National Digital Ledger (TNDL). The project harnesses blockchain technology to solve current problems for the Tuvaluan government related to identity and data management, but also sets up centralised e-government services and prepares the island for future digital economies.
What makes George and Faiā different, is that culture is at the forefront of every conversation they have and every action they take. Its for this reason we have split this interview over two separate parts. The first part of our interview with George gives a short explanation about how modern technological solutions (such as blockchain) work with Pacific culture, and our second part of the interview gives a unique perspective on how blockchain can alleviate the challenges faced by Pacific Islanders.
Part 1: An Intro to Blockchain and the Pacific
Q. Where did you grow up and what lead you to establish Faiā? What do you see as the force driving your work in the Pacific?
My upbringing was incredibly diverse. I was born in Suva, Fiji, to a Tuvaluan-Samoan mother and Fijian-Indian father. I migrated to Australia when I was 2, then moved to Bangladesh when I was 8. I attended an American international school and eventually graduated there, moving back to Australia for university in 2005. I then moved to Singapore in 2018, which is when and where I set up Faiā. I chose Singapore because of its startup-friendly laws, but also because of the inspiring story of Lee Kuan Yew, who transformed the small island nation from a “third world” to a “first world” status within just a few decades. This I saw as a successful model many island nations in the Pacific could learn from, so I wanted to be as close to that energy as possible.
Q. What is an important thing the Pacific has taught you?
Pacific culture is what I grew up with, through my mother, even though a lot of my time was spent outside of my ancestral homelands. The traditional values of family (kaiga), love (alofa), and community have served me well, even in my professional life. Wherever applicable, I’ve always tried to see everyone as one big “family”, to express “love” through the work that I do, and to create a sense of “community” through emerging social technologies.
Q. You’re Bitcoin SV’s Ambassador to the Pacific. Why do you think businesses and countries are hesitant about blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies? What is your elevator pitch to get people onboard?
Since being in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space since 2013, I’ve seen all the different narratives that have evolved. I’ve seen Bitcoin split into three versions (BTC > BCH > BSV). I’ve seen the politics. When average users feel empowered to start doing what governments have been doing - which is essentially print money at will - it makes them do all sorts of wild things. Businesses and countries have justifiably been hesitant about cryptocurrencies due to its association with money laundering, scams, and the Dark Web. Cryptocurrency hasn’t had a great reputation as a result.
Blockchain, however, is a term that’s been less loaded. Even though the technology alone isn’t the be-all-and-end-all (since it’s the application of blockchain across projects that makes it special), it is “safe” enough to be used in conversations at higher levels. This is why I often talk about the importance of “culture” in the context of blockchain or any emerging technologies - it’s the glue that enables or hinders the rate of technology adoption.
When it comes to “elevator pitches”, I don’t usually lead with the technology itself. I ask what problems people are trying to solve, why they think blockchain is the solution, and then see how they align. If it’s a fit, great! If it’s not, I’ll give my honest opinion. There’s a timing aspect to all this. Since it is still early days, not every business or nation is ready to leverage the technology. The space is still maturing. However, those who have the vision and courage, will certainly go far.
Q. The Pacific Islands are known collectively as the Blue Pacific Continent. Why is blockchain technology so important for the Blue Pacific Continent?
Blockchain is accessible for Pacific Islanders because of culture and history
Few people know about the story of the Island of Yap in Micronesia. Around 500 AD, Micronesians were experimenting with “distributed ledgers” before they even had the technology available to make it scale. They used large rai stones as a form of currency, but had no way of easily dividing or transporting them. So, they divided it mentally and memorized transactions for the entire village. For the full story, check out this explainer video from Westpac Bank. It took a few good centuries before we had the technology to really make the concept work, but it goes to show how certain ideas can sometimes be ahead of its time.
The other part about blockchain technology that makes it suited to Pacific Islanders is that it’s based on transparency and accountability. In Pacific Island cultures, our culture is the real-life blockchain. What you do unto others, you do to yourself. Elements of praise or even shame in Pacific Island cultures are ways of keeping everybody more “honest” (but it, of course, doesn’t mean that dishonesty doesn’t exist). It just means that, when you have everything out in the open (e.g. think even of the Samoan open fales), it makes it difficult to hide or do questionable things. If you do, you get called out and reprimanded for it. Again, this does not mean bad things don’t happen behind closed doors, but when things are out in the open, it makes it more difficult to do nefarious things. And when this is in place, people usually feel safer to operate within an environment. But it still requires social acceptance. This is why right now, globally, the competition between blockchains is part of the process of figuring out which one can truly be trusted, even though the technologies are all about being “trust-less” (not needing to trust a third-party intermediary). I suspect 10-20 more years before we see true mainstream adoption. But, like the Internet, it may just organically take over our everyday lives.