Can the Lightning ⚡ Network be successfully adopted by a rural Village in Africa? And if that were to happen, what would the resulting impact be?
Well … there’s only one way to find out. Explore the possibilities, try to get some funding, then just go for it! That’s what’s so great about lightning - 100% permissionless.
This experiment is only possible today, following significant improvements made to lightning ⚡ in the last few years. We hope to raise donations from various sources, including a very interesting concept known as the Geyser Fund. It’s a brilliant place with a managed lightning node that also acts as a crowdfunding platform. Simple solution, but a huge and positive impact on people’s lives. We’ve also been inspired by Anita and all the work she’s been doing with BFF. Our goal here is to try something very specific like a startup focused on one area. Thus by starting on a small scale and if it succeeds, let it expand organically. This could also be done without funding from the lightning community, but at a much slower pace and would be difficult to scale.
African villages usually have a few things in common. One of those is a vibrant marketplace. Regardless of the country, scenes such as the one in the image above are quite common. Plenty of market stalls with traders selling fruit and veg, typically grown on their land. Local villagers come here daily or a few times a week to purchase their fresh produce. They also sell other essentials, such as soap and depending on the size of the market some even stock a few clothes. In the past, all commerce was done with cash. However; in some places; this has almost completely been replaced with Mobile Money, whereas others are still frequent users of cash as well.
So, the first question is – where do we start?
If we started with the local villagers and just sent SATs to their phones, they would see a balance in their wallet and may think ‘oh great, I've got some SATs now … I guess? But what do I do with them? I can't buy my daily groceries because the local shop owner does not accept lightning ’. So in order to solve that problem, we probably need to onboard the shop owners before we onboard the local community.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. A holistic 30,000-foot view enables these types of problems to be tackled from multiple angles, all at once by different groups, working on different solutions at different times.
Machankura for instance does it by removing the need for the internet which is a remarkable, amazing piece of innovation. But as most engineers know, every solution requires trading off one problem for another. For instance, their wallets are custodial. A different approach could be to make smartphones cheaper and simpler. If we can create a Raspberry Pi that can run the same OS as a laptop, surely we can create a simpler, stripped-down version of a smartphone? Do we even need Android and iOS? What if the entire hardware and software stack was built specifically for lightning?
In this case, we’re going to have to make a few assumptions. First of all, we’ll pick a community where most people have smartphones. They might be Chinese-made, they might be running Android instead of iOS and they might be models from 5 years ago, but they should be good enough for our needs. We’ll also pick a community that has at least some access to the internet, so it needs to be close to a town and not too remote. Whether it’s slow or unreliable is not that important. We’re not streaming Netflix, so hopefully, the phone can perform the requested functions at the time when they’re needed by the user.
What’s in it for them?
So how do we convince the local shop owner to download a lightning wallet and start accepting lightning payments alongside fiat money?
There are real-life advantages to all of society, but these would only become self-evident if lightning was used worldwide. That’s how network effects manifest themselves. Without widespread adoption, the true value of a network can never reach its potential. In any case, that doesn’t sound like a convincing argument for a struggling shop owner as it’s more of a top-down approach. Therefore, getting into a discussion about inflation and central banking might not be the best starting point. Think micro, not macro.
Why not just start with something more tangible? So-called, low-hanging fruit. One advantage of this type of environment is that they already use mobile money for all types of payments. That could definitely help our cause when it comes to trust as receiving payments by mobile is something completely normal to them. So the tech or the concept of “paying with the phone” should not be an issue. However; in terms of motivation to start using it; one of the key selling points with regards to lightning is that they will save a tremendous amount on fees as Mobile Money is an additional source of revenue generation for the MNOs (mobile network operators) in Africa at the expense of the low-income population. Regressive pricing structures often mean that those with lower incomes, who are more likely to make small transactions, end up paying higher fees on a percentage basis. On top of that, additional taxes have been added to transactions that are made via mobile money.
Since the shop owner is frequently trading and traveling back and forth, they're making multiple payments both for transport and goods on a daily basis. So even though they might not be able to spend the SATs at their wholesale merchants, just the mere fact that they understand the importance of saving money on daily transaction fees could turn them into an evangelist that wants lightning to succeed. They could see how the value of getting their customers to pay using lightning could be a catalyst for their business, as that would provide an incentive to convince their suppliers to adopt lightning and everyone will benefit from the “fee-saving ecosystem” as a result.
In addition, a shop owner will have access to more resources than the local villagers; such as more frequent use of the internet; social mobility and a better understanding of the broader use of money from an entrepreneur’s standpoint. Hence, they should be able to convert their lightning SATs into local currency via a service like Paxful, which is peer-to-peer. This is required in the beginning, otherwise; they might fear; ‘so … these SATs (whatever those are) that you’ve suggested I accept in exchange for my real physical goods, do they have any real value? Or is this just a magic mobile money game that people play on their phones?’. The answer could then be, ‘no, you’re free to convert them to local currency at any time you want and we can show you how ’. The key word here is ‘free’, derived from freedom, and no need to call it fiat when explaining. Better to use terms that people are familiar with, at least initially. Once they are regular users of lightning and notice how efficient it is, there will always be plenty of time to go deeper into more education depending on the situation. Remember that lightning in Africa is not competing with banks, it’s competing with mobile money which has already made significant improvements to commerce and banked the unbanked. The situation is completely different when compared to the west.