Building Bitcoin Communities From The Ground Up In The Philippines (2022)

This is an opinion editorial by Dustin Watchman, founder of the bitcoin community educational group Cloud 21 Siargo.

What if we could recreate the elements of a big city that we all love but on a much smaller scale? What would those elements be that we would seek to replicate? For much of history, cities have been places that provide opportunity, hope and connection to others. Cities hoped to bring together the best and the brightest to work hard and build things the world needs. Then, along came El Zonte, better known as Bitcoin Beach. A massive paradigm shift occurred and posed the question: “What if we could provide opportunity, hope, and connection to others by building education and knowledge around bitcoin in smaller communities?” And, just like that, the idea has spread across the globe.

El Zonte was not only the community that inspired President Nayib Bukele to envision the first bitcoin legal tender country, but they have inspired many smaller communities by their vision and success in execution. We can now see bitcoin inspired communities being built from the ground up with Bitcoin Ekasi in South Africa, BTC Beach Camp in Thailand, Bitcoin Lisboa in Portugal, Harlem Bitcoin in New York and many more! The common denominator in all these communities is the bitcoin educators willing to tirelessly dedicate their time to educating their surrounding communities. Because of the lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions of the past few years, people have searched for a purpose and for many this purpose was found by building bitcoin communities in their own backyards. The hope for a better future derived from bitcoin has led many to make positive changes in their own lifestyles and to contribute more in giving back through community growth initiatives.

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One such project is known as Cloud 21 Siargao on a small island on the southeastern side of the Philippines. It is a beautiful and up and coming island that for years secretly held a hidden gem of a surf spot named Cloud 9, hence the nod to this epic surf spot with the name Cloud 21 Siargao. In December of 2021, the island was ravaged by the massively destructive Super Typhoon Odette. For the first few months after the destruction, the rebuilding was slow. Supplies were hard to come by and there was debris everywhere. In short, opportunity and hope was near an all time low, and this is where bitcoin usually succeeds. Fast forward to about nine months after the storm and the local communities are buzzing with energy as businesses have reopened and tourism was quickly pouring back to the island. With this onslaught of growth and tourism, the knowledge of bitcoin began to quickly grow alongside it. Cloud 21 Siargao set out to assist local small businesses in learning how they can accept bitcoin as payments to drive further growth in tourism, similar to what El Zonte has done the past few years.

Through Twitter Spaces hosted by Paxful and Global Bitcoin Fest, we were able to collaborate on commonly found issues in regards to bitcoin adoption in Southeast Asia with bitcoiners in these regions . Through these talks, I shaped my approach to further educating about bitcoin to overcome some of these common hurdles. The largest hurdle is probably the gambling mentality that many people have in these regions. It’s sort of an all-or-nothing mentality that they just go all in rather than taking a more moderate approach of slowly incorporating bitcoin into their lives for long term wealth building strategies. Further obstacles to bitcoin adoption here is proper education on what sets bitcoin apart from the other 20,000-plus altcoins, and also just general brand recognition of bitcoin as a whole. These are the main points Cloud 21 Siargao has set out to work on.

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For people that don’t often maintain much savings, going all in could potentially get them rekt, pushing them to never fully benefit from bitcoin. The greatest need for small businesses here is that they still need pesos for daily expenses, but are open to the added benefits of converting just a small amount into satoshis. Slowly dipping their toes into the bitcoin waters is more likely to get them to see the potential as we slowly shift from the 2022 bear market towards a bull market. Locally in the Philippines, they do have a digital cash app called G-cash that they are familiar with and the Pouch App (a Lightning app) has similar functions, but gives them the additional added benefit of converting some of their pesos into satoshis. Basically leveraging their previous knowledge of digital money apps, locals can now begin to safely further their education about bitcoin by actually holding some.

To tackle these issues of brand recognition, proper education about bitcoin’s unique qualities and how to properly use and secure bitcoin, Cloud 21 Siargao has launched a multi-prong campaign. Through social media, I reach out to all the local small businesses to let them know they can use Cloud 21 Siargao as their go-to for any bitcoin related education. Many business owners have asked great questions and are actively looking into accepting it soon. I have also embarked on community art projects that involve beautifying different concrete walls around the town with Bitcoin themed murals. In any small community, reputation is also quite important, therefore actually speaking with many of the owners and patrons in person often produces the greatest discussions and potential adoption. There are currently a handful of Bitcoiners living in Siargao, and they have provided great feedback on the localized issues to bitcoin adoption, as well. Volunteering with local NGOs has also provided fruitful results in helping organizations that revolve around a lot of fundraising understand how bitcoin can assist them in that drive. Lastly, talking with local government officials and opening discussions about how their social programs that often provide a small income for locals in need of financial assistance can also benefit from bitcoin payments.

Building a small bitcoin community from the ground up will only continue to grow if the proper resources are provided for further education. As Siargao continues its path towards being the next Bali and a digital nomad hub, locals and expats will continue to come and go. The key to maintaining sustainable development while building a bitcoin community is that the resources stay on island for all to access and use as needed far into the future. Passing the torch of knowledge on to locals is needed, so they themselves can stand up and be community leaders continuing to teach their neighbors and friends on bitcoin is what will ultimately push the bitcoin community beyond the locals and expats that come and go like the seasonal tides.

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In response to this need I have written multiple books discussing how to use bitcoin within your family unit, on a community level and why small businesses should start sooner than later in offering bitcoin payments. The last book coming to publication is a community leaders guide book that new bitcoin educators can use as their go to resource for education others far into the future. These books can be found at the Cloud21Siargao.com website.

Siargao has so much potential to be the perfect mix of Bali and El Zonte, and I personally look forward to welcoming much more bitcoin tourism here as bitcoin adoption grows! If you are a bitcoin tourist, put Siargao, Philippines, on your list of must-see destinations. You won’t be disappointed!

This is a guest post by Dustin Watchman. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

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