Blockchain Evangelists Plot Retreat to Billionaire Richard Branson's Island

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Richard Branson’s private island in the Caribbean is set to host yet another blockchain-focused gathering, drawing a range of guests from around the world including the former prime minister of Haiti and a member of the European Union Parliament.

Among the approximately 40 people attending this year’s event is Marietje Schaake, the member of European Parliament who in March hosted an event with COALA (Coalition of Automated Legal Applications) and the Dynamic Coalition on Blockchain Technologies at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to explore the prospect of coding regulation into a blockchain.

Also on the guest list are Beth Moses, engineer and astronaut for Branson’s aerospace firm Virgin Galactic; Laurent Lamothe, former prime minister of Haiti; Jim Newsome, former chairman of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and Elizabeth Rossiello, CEO of bitcoin startup BitPesa.

The event is being hosted by bitcoin mining firm BitFury and event group Mai Tai.

Now in its second year, little has changed about the Blockchain Summit hosted on Branson’s Necker Island in spite of controversy around last year’s gathering. While some argued the group of attendees was elitist in nature, the mix of education and leisure has proved productive in more than one way, according to past attendees.

BitFury CEO Valery Vavilov described the proceedings in a very similar terms as last year, though with a few tweaks, noting in a statement:

“Our emphasis for this year’s gathering is to bring some of the world’s top thinkers from diverse backgrounds – civil society, [non-governmental organizations], business, technology, government – to this extremely special place known for free thinking and cutting edge innovation.”

On the island

From 3rd to 7th June, guests will attend panels dealing with the event’s three major themes: financial technology, security and global change.

But plenty of free time is also built into the agenda. While it may be tempting to imagine margaritas on the beach filling that time, the leisure has a much more intentional function, organizers say.

Former senior White House staffer and BitFury global chief of communications Jamie Smith told CoinDesk the downtime is intended to fuel a more collaborative environment between participants.

“Once people are given an opportunity to explore new and interesting ideas and have open conversations, you never know what can come of that and that’s really exciting for us and those who are attending,” said Smith.

Building connections

In spite of the built-in free time — or perhaps because of it — last year’s event was not without controversy, with allegations of both elitism and sexism.

At this year’s event, BitFury says it will strive to help cover attendees unable to pay the price tag, and a partial guest list obtained by CoinDesk shows that was almost half the attendee list is comprised of women this time around.

As far as the actual results of last year’s event, the results are mixed. While little is known about the future of the “mining lightbulb” product unveiled at last year’s Summit, two concrete milestones were achieved.

A conversation started at last year’s event by economist Hernando de Soto about the use of blockchain for land titles culminated in April with a project by BitFury to develop a land registry program in the nation of Georgia. De Soto is now an advisor to BitFury.

Further, Jason Weinstein, a partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnston, took the concept for what is now called the Blockchain Alliance to last year’s event, telling CoinDesk that the relationships formed there were “critical” to its founding.

Weinstein said:

“The setting and format at Necker gives you a chance to really engage with all of the other attendees over the course of several days and nights and to share ideas and figure out how to turn those ideas into action.”

Photo Credit: John Dill, Mai Tai Global

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