Benevolent Biocapitalism? Um, no.

This piece expands on my previous post about IXO Foundation’s development of the Amply DApp, a proof of concept for a social impact token on Blockchain developed in South Africa’s preschools. It is an open source protocol designed to leverage Internet of Things monitoring to “prove” impact for those investing in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of which “equitable education” is number four.

Tracking “impact” is central to the deployment of predatory “social impact bonds” or “development impact bonds.” See the screenshot below describing use of benchmark testing to assess the efficacy of SIBs in the Indian education system. I think you can see similarities to the roll out of interim benchmark testing here in the United States.

Smart Impact Bonds UBS

In the fall of 2017, the Texas Education Agency brought on Andrew Hodge, an alumus of Teach for America and KIPP and who had previously worked for Deloitte and Salesforce, to be the state’s Director of Social Impact Bonds and Math Innovations Zones. I imagine we will see more SIB coordinator positions being created in other states very soon.

Andrew Hoge SIB TX

IXO has other proofs of concept coming online to track carbon off-sets using Internet of Things cookstoves. In the minds of the global impact investment community, there is not much difference between the management of toddlers and appliances. In the end it is simply about turning life processes into data that can be aggregated and manipulated to improve their bottom lines. Below are images from Nextleaf Analytics, showing one of these stoves and the device used to capture and analyze the data. To me it embodies digital colonialism, the lives of the poor managed through devices imposed upon them by wealthy, often foreign, interests (funder list here).

Stove Trace 1.jpg

Stovetrace 2

On a dying planet where wealth is concentrated in the hands of an elite few, the economic value of humanity, especially the humanity of black and brown people, will be less in the products they consume (because their purchasing power will have become so limited) than in the data they generate. Most of this data will come from interactions with interventions designed to “fix” them. And now with predictive analytics, algorithms can make pronouncements of “future” problematic behaviors well in advance, setting up device-wielding non-profit partners to continually enforce behavioral and psychic compliance with the structures designed to oppress and contain them. The legacy of colonization and white supremacy will continue in digital form, magnified through the actions of social impact investors.

The data that defines the lives of the global poor will be gathered through Internet of Things connected devices: smart phones, apps, and wearable technologies. They will be managed via their DIDs, decentralized digital identities. When accessing healthcare, education, housing or transportation, data points will be generated that shape the “risk” profiles of those receiving services in real time. The process of collecting and evaluating this data to prove “impact” will largely be automated with limited opportunity to appeal an algorithmic ruling. These interventions will be sold as necessary steps to save the planet. Meanwhile corporate foundations will “manage” the death spiral of climate change in such a way as to extract the very last drops of profit, all the while pretending they are benevolent actors.

The images below depict funding dashboards for a variety of projects related to the UN Sustainability Goals. Because these impacts are designed to be captured via apps, there is little nuance or humanity in the metrics or how they are analyzed.

IXO Donor Dashboard

IXO Water App

Below is a transcript (slightly edited for length) of a video interview with Anne Connelly, CEO of IXO Foundation, by Ameer Rosic, a self-described serial investor and Blockchain evangelist. Connelly previously worked with Doctors Without Borders in Africa and serves on the faculty of Singularity University in Silicon Valley. A native of Toronto, she earned an MBA from McMaster University with a certificate in Fin-Tech from MIT.

“Connelly: So, essentially our passion is helping solve some of the world’s grandest challenges, looking at issues like climate change and access to water and access to healthcare, a lot of the issues that the UN is trying to tackle through their Sustainable Development Goals. When we look at the problems that are tackling this space, one of the biggest ones is access to trusted data.

So when you’re looking at all these organizations, all these people around the world trying to solve these problems, they’re very much going into it blind. They don’t have information they need to make informed decisions about their work and to actually optimize their work. So, for us at IXO (Foundation) we’re creating a Blockchain-based protocol that enables organizations to make impact claims.

So you can claim that you taught a hundred kids or that you planted ten square kilometers of trees, whatever it is as long as it’s in the impact space. Then, that claim gets validated by an evaluator, either a human or a data source of some kind, and you have a validated impact claim that is essentially proof of impact, that what you say you’ve achieved has actually happened. This is really exciting, because the proof could open up access to social impact bonds, social impact investments, and a whole impact economy that we’ve never seen before. The data that is collected as a part of these claims becomes a part of an open data commons, a global impact ledger that organizations and researchers around the world can use to actually make the work they are doing more effective.

So, the main two issues are a lack of funding for sustainable development initiatives and then a lack of effectiveness of those initiatives. When you look at the sustainable development space there’s a lot of fraud, which I’m sure you’ve all seen it in the headlines and that kind of thing (“trust issues”).

For impact investors, for them to want to be switching from a traditional investment vehicle to the impact space, they have to have these evaluation mechanisms to prove that what they are investing in is legitimate, and the problem is that is very, very expensive. So one of the things that we’re tackling is how you can use data to drive down the cost of that evaluation and make impact investing a much more attractive investment vehicle for investors that are out there. So this is a massive market. I mean right now there is more than a trillion dollars that goes into the sustainable development space every year and if we can get more impact investment, it’s upwards of 25 trillion I’m looking at.

So we’re looking at it from a couple of different perspectives. We’re using data schemas to ensure the actual quality of the data is good. In terms of trying to determine whether the impact is quality or not, we leave that up to the users of the protocol. We’re very much an infrastructure operation, where if you as an organization say it’s good enough if someone says that they cleaned the beach and take a picture of it and that’s good for you then that’s great. For others they may want to have an IoT (Internet of Things) scale that connects the weight of all the garbage that was picked off the beach and you know subsequent levels of funding are given as a result. So we were really leave it up to the users who are building out on the protocol.

What you would be able to do would be to build out an application. So a really good example is actually the first one we built out called Amply. Amply is looking at the early childhood development space in South Africa. So, in South Africa preschool isn’t free. It costs a lot of money and most parents can’t afford it. So there’s incredible government subsidies for over 800,000 kids across the country, but in order for preschool teachers to actually access them they have to fill out attendance every day on paper and it’s an insanely inefficient process.

So what we’ve done is built out this application that allows them to take attendance through a mobile app. It’s very simple and very basic, but each attendance will essentially create an impact claim that a child was taught and down the road we hope these impact claims will enable them to access automatically these government subsidies. So the government knows their legitimate and it makes it a lot easier on the teachers. So we’re in 72 schools across the country, more than 55,000 attendance records taken so far. It’s very exciting.

We have a few exciting projects coming up in terms of proof of concepts on the protocol, but I can’t make any exciting announcements yet. But we’re looking very much at issues around climate change and one of the projects we’re very excited about is in the area of cook stoves. So, in the developing context will cook and heat their homes with fire, and this is bad from both an environmental perspective where they’re burning trees and cutting down forests, but also from a health perspective where they’re breathing in all of this particulate matter.

So there are a lot of projects out there that would provide with cook stoves, these little mini-stoves that they can use instead. That’s great. But say from the perspective of an impact investor who wants to know how many tons of carbon have I pulled out of the atmosphere because of these stoves, the only information they can really get is that the stove was delivered or that it wasn’t. And with applications like the IXO protocol what you can end up doing is say getting an IoT (Internet of Things) cook stove that can transmit data every time it’s being used, every time it’s turned on or off. Then the impact investors can know exactly how much carbon they’ve eliminated from the environment and they then have access to carbon credits and health credits as a result of this.

Rosic: So your major play is to try to evolve and integrate all these IoT with things…

Connelly: Yes, that’s the goal. We really want to try and take humans out of creation of the impact claims and evaluation of the claims as much as possible, and this is for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it enables you to get a higher quality and a higher volume of data. We call it high-resolution data, and it also helps eliminate fraud in this process. And so as much as you can try to incorporate data into things, and it becomes a great feedback loop, too. Where you get this amount of data that can come back and help with the evaluation of future impact claims.

Rosic: But you also mentioned when you and I were talking in Mexico that it’s a massive market for impact bonds. I think they have been in the UK; I think they had them in Canada, but like you said it is very difficult to track. So let’s say the target at the beginning is looking for investors for impact bonds, or can a regular person say like my father or my mother over there participate in this network?

Connelly: Yeah, at the end of the day anyone can participate. We want this to be a real community effort in terms of trying to solve some of these sustainable development goals. Now in the early stages we do want to target impact bonds, because of their scale. You can get one set up and the amount of money and the amount of impact you can have as a result is enormous. But as I said, this is infrastructure. We want everyone to build out on it and we want everyone to try and tackle some of the challenges they are most passionate about, whatever those are.

…We’re working with a lot of partners to bring in their data sets, particularly in the early stages to build up the volume of data we have. So again looking at UNICEF, they have access to some data from Google and form Telefonica and a few other sources. So being able to leverage what we already have to make as effective decisions as we possibly can while we build up a much larger decentralized database is what we want to do.”

The image below is from an earlier post I did on digital identity. They REALLY do want to connect trillions of devices to billions to humans. Impact investors will DEMAND the trillions of dollars in economic value to which they feel entitled.

The proof of concept has arrived in the form of Amply.

Where do we go from here?

PTB Venture Capital Digital ID

Digital Colonialism: South Africa Puts Preschoolers on the Blockchain

With the debut of their Blockchain transcript, Southern New Hampshire University’s “College for America” and Learning Machine are in the vanguard of innovative digital credentialing for adults. At the other end of the “lifelong learning” spectrum, Trustlab’s IXO Foundation has staked out the early childhood space with a Blockchain DApp called Amply. Amply, an online attendance-taking system designed to track “impact,” is being piloted through SmartStart a South Africa pre-school franchise.

This proof of concept, financed in part through UNICEF’s innovation venture capital fund, had registered over 3,100 students across 85 centers as of spring 2018. Innovation Edge, a South Africa based social impact investment portfolio manager specializing in ed-tech, IoT health, and early childhood education, is another Amply funder. Remember Ready Nation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood? The one coming up in New York this November that I blogged about here? The one where early childhood educators and policy advocates were specifically EXCLUDED unless they came with a vetted group of four business people? Well, Cynthia McCaffrey, director of UNICEF’s office of global innovation will be speaking at that event, and Innovation Edge is listed as a sponsor.

While at first glance Amply may look like many other smartphone apps, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. In South Africa the government reimburses preschool providers based on the number of children attending school each day. With Amply, providers take attendance digitally rather than on paper. Proponents of the app say the old-fashioned approach is inconvenient and lacks “trust.” The tone they use when talking about this lack of “trust” in the development aid space is steeped in a racist, colonial mindset. The “trust” issue provides cover for their real agenda. Pen and paper methods don’t capture enough data, and digitized data is what they most desire.

Unicef Trustlab SmartStart

A blog post from the Amply website describes the importance of the meta-data captured by the app, which ensures that the information collected on each child is both “high-fidelity” and trustworthy. In order for Amply to work, a Blockchain identity must be created for each child. Because all the data is tied back to an authenticated identity, “Valuable derivative data assets, such as risk scores, can be derived from this personal information, to benefit the individual and generate population-based data analysis to benefit ECD (early childhood development) programmes.”

Take a moment and re-read that last sentence. In South Africa they are using a school-based app to track, monitor, and generate risk scores for low-income black toddlers. Decentralised Digital Identity, which I wrote about here, is central to this enterprise. All of the data flows must be channeled into an individual’s Blockchain “ledger,” using a system of public keys.

The protocol uses something known as a “smart contract,” which is the translation of a legal contract into computer code that runs on the Ethereum Blockchain. This profile of Amply on github goes into detail about how it works. In short, the Amply app captures meta-data via the smartphone that verifies a claim that a particular child attended school on a given day. The fact that someone checks the box that they “attended” is sufficient “proof” for investors that said child was “educated.” Once an attendance claim is verified on Blockchain, an impact token is created. This token represents financial value for the provider and is transferred to the school’s online digital wallet where it can be exchanged for payment. Each school is also required to have a digital identity linked to their digital wallet. Analytics can be applied to the attendance transactions to assess the “impact” of pre-k services on the population being served and this data is used to evaluate returns for social impact investors.

IXO Foundation describes itself as an open-source development foundation working to create data infrastructure for the impact economy. The foundation employs Blockchain to generate digital assets from what they call “crypto-economic proof of impact.” This process is manifested when a Cape Town pre-k teacher scrolls through a student list, checks a box next to a child’s name, and in doing so generates value for those investing in education outcomes for poor children as defined by industry-determined metrics.

I first learned about IXO Foundation while watching the October 2017 World Bank Group-BTA (Blockchain Trust Accelerator) Summit, which was hosted in partnership with New America (see this link for New America’s funders, lots of tech and impact investors in the list). Shaun Conway, IXO’s president, was featured on a panel about using Blockchain for “social good.” Watch a clip of Conway speaking here.

Conway New America

IXO recently entered into a partnership with SocialSuite, a Melbourne, Australia-based enterprise that has worked in “evidence-based” program evaluation and is expanding into the area of smart contracts for social impact investments. SocialSuite was awarded $100,000 in seed funding from Salesforce Venture Capital this past March after they won a pitch competition. According to a company press release, CEO Brad Gurrie noted “Winning Salesforce PitchComp is another step in the momentum of the SocialSuite business. With the recent announcement of the IXO Foundation Partnership and winning Pitchcomp, there is significant interest from the industry on how SocialSuite can help non-profits, impact investors, and consultancies measure outcomes.” The company’s location is interesting given that Learning Machine is doing a Blockchain credential pilot in Melbourne, too.

A lengthy slide share describing the integration of IXO, Amply, and SocialSuite is viewable via this link.


SocialSuite 2

In closing, I invite you to watch this brief two-and-a-half minute video in which you see the world through the eyes of IXO. Imagine yourself transformed into an impact investor who sees the world a merely a sea of ones and zeros, data to be compiled onto a dashboard and managed for speculative profit.

“To count what matters, we need high-definition data with crypto-economic proof of impact.”

“The IXO protocol ensures impact claims are verified with intelligent evaluation oracles.”

“Verified data is a valuable digital asset that is minted as an impact token.”


Important follow up post here.


Edu-Blocks Arrive in New Hampshire

Roughly two months ago I discovered Southern New Hampshire University had become the first academic institution in North America to issue a diploma credential / education transcript on the Blockchain. It surprised me. I knew Learning Machine (MIT) was working on this in Malta, but I had no clue there was a domestic trial underway. I dove in, did a lot of research, and created the map below. To view an interactive version that is actually readable click here.

Blockchain Credentials

Then, after I was done I found myself mentally exhausted. I let it sit, but with summer winding down, it’s time to get back to it. There are many, many stories that can be told with this map, too many. I have a friend who tells me I tend to bury the lead and go in too many directions all at once. Honestly, I can’t disagree with her. I struggle with holding too much in my head and trying to put in down on paper in a way that makes sense. So, with that in mind, I’ll start with a short version and then, if you want to dive deeper into the map with me, keep reading.

The Short Version:

Blockchain, a ledger/permanent record of transactions that document our lives, is a concept we’re going to have to grapple with in the coming years.

There is now a proof of concept for a digital Blockchain wallet that will hold and allow instantaneous permissioned access to a person’s education credentials.

The test case for this technology involved an institution that is among the largest providers of online higher education in the United States.

SNHU’s test case focused on their “College for America” program, a competency-based model that eliminates seat time and face-to-face instruction. Gates and Lumina funded this model. It is one that maximizes profit for companies at the expense of the people providing the instruction.

“College for America” delivers a workforce-aligned curriculum. It favors “stackable credentials” and certificates over formal degree programs. It is closely linked to human capital development.

While Blockchain digital credentialing is starting in higher education, the Ed Reform 2.0 plan is to break down the walls between all levels of schooling. Sooner or later this credentialing will seep into K12 education. Remember micro-credentials and badges? Blockchain is perfect for them. Are you paying attention to developments like the Mastery Transcript Consortium? Blockchain is designed to hold that data, too. Badges are already being issued in K12 for after school, summer and Out of School Time programs. It won’t be long.

The people developing alternative credentialing come from the global fin-tech, social impact investment, and national security sectors.

Block-certs will pave the way for online learning lockers and digital portfolios. They will combine credentialing and digital payment platforms. They will usher in machine searchable credentials to facilitate the expansion of automated hiring (or non-hiring). They will also permit access to aggregated data to assess “impact” on pay for success outcomes-based contracts, while supposedly preserving individual “privacy.”

We have crossed a threshold, but as the new school year starts only a handful of people (other than the investors and those coding this new world) realize it.

We are not prepared, not by a long shot.

Paul Leblanc Blockchain

The Long Version:

Southern New Hampshire University is a private college in the southeastern corner of the state about an hour’s drive north of Boston, a nexus of digital technology, Third-Way public policy, and innovative finance development. The 3,000 people who attend classes on SNHU’s campus represent a fraction of the total enrollment. Under the leadership of Paul Leblanc, Senior Education Advisor to the merchant-banking firm Ridge-Lane, SNHU vastly expanded its virtual reach. Over the past fifteen years the school’s online enrollment grew to nearly 100,000 people. 2,700 faculty members spread across the country, most working part-time, deliver SNHU’s instruction.

In June 2018, SNHU became the first institution in North America to issue education transcripts on Blockchain. This was done in partnership with Learning Machine, an initiative spun out of the MIT Media Lab. An innovation hub at SNHU, the Sandbox Collaborative, has functioned as a space to facilitate discussions about the future of higher education at SNHU since 2015. Michele Weise left the Clayton Christensen’s Institute to run the space, moving on to Strada Education in 2017. She was replaced by Brian Fleming formerly of Tyton Partners, an investment banking and education strategy firm based in Boston. Below is a lecture given by Learning Machine’s CEO Chris Jagers on Blockchain delivered at the Sandbox Collaborative in February 2017.

Learning Machine worked in partnership with the MIT Media Lab to design an open standard to issue digital credentials called Block-certs.

Phillip Schmidt pushed the project forward at the MIT Media Lab. Schmidt helped launch Peer-to-Peer University, an online open education program with a deep list of funders that included Hewlett Packard, IMLS, the Knight Foundation, Dollar General, and the Siegel Family Foundation. P2P University grew out of a 2007 meeting hosted by Open Society and the Shuttleworth Foundation based in South Africa. The meeting resulted in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration that promoted the adoption of Open Education Resources and Internet based instruction across the globe.

P2P Founders

Interactive version of above map here.

David Siegel founder of the Siegel Family Foundation, one of P2Ps funders, is a co-founder of Two Sigma Investments and former Managing Director and Technology Advisor for Tudor Investments, Paul Tudor Jones’s (Robin Hood Foundation) company. John Overdeck, David’s partner at Two Sigma, has poured money into ed-tech, blended learning, SEL, and pay for success initiatives through his Overdeck Family Foundation.

Siegel : Overdeck Funding

Interactive version of above map click here.

Prior to his involvement with P2P University and the MIT Media Lab, Phillip Schmidt worked with United Nations University, Mozilla, and Accenture (involved in the ID2020 program).

It is notable that the Chicago Public Library, Creative Commons, MIT, and Mozilla were all collaborators on P2P University, since the MacArthur Foundations’s pilot LRNG badging initiative was launched in Chicago’s library system via the YouMedia and Chicago City of Learning programs. Mozilla worked closely with MacArthur to develop  digital badges. Badges laid the groundwork for the digital credentialing on Blockchain we now see emerging.

P2P Partners

Interactive version of above map here.

The first issuance of credentials on Blockchain took place at MIT in October 2015 in conjunction with the Lab’s 30th anniversary. All celebration attendees were awarded a digital certificate (badge). In 2016, certificates were issued on Blockchain for those who completed a boot camp and a workshop run by MIT. A challenge of the technology is that it requires people to use a combination of public and private keys to secure and verify certificate information. The average person doesn’t have that level of technical expertise, so Learning Machine devised a smart-phone app / e-wallet to make the process user-friendly.

Blockcert 2

Kim Hamilton Duffy, CTO at Learning Machine, was the architect for Block-certs. Duffy started out as a software engineer for Northrup Grumman, moved on to Microsoft, and then did stints in software engineering for Usermind and Visible Technologies, a company that provides real time analysis of social media content to the US intelligence community. In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA was an investor in that software. Chris Jagers, CEO, and Natalie Smoleski, business development, are Learning Machine’s other two staff members. Neither has extensive experience beyond running a company called Slideroom, which uses online portfolio software to inform education applications, proposals and hiring decisions.

Learning Machine entered into blockchain education credential pilots with the nation of Malta (fall 2017), the University of Melbourne in Australia (fall 2017), and the Bahamas (summer 2018) where funding support came from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Learning Machine Staff Funders

Interactive version of above map here.

The company has obtained financing from Learn Capital, Omidyar Network, and PTB Ventures. Learn Capital (Tom Vander Ark was a partner from 2008-2016 and now serves as an advisor) has extensive holdings in education technology, as does Omidyar. Omidyar Network also has considerable investments in social impact sectors involving digital identity and fin-tech. PTB stands for Project Trillion Billion and focuses on early stage investment at the intersection of digital identity and Internet of Things. David Fields, founder of PTB, went to school at the Booth School of Business University of Chicago (Richard Thaler), worked in venture capital and as an analyst with Citigroup, and serves on several boards of digital identity and encryption companies including Element and Callsign. Element is a biometric digital identity authentication company launched by Yann Lecun, former chief AI scientist for Facebook and founding director of the NYU Center for Data Science. Callsign is a digital authentication system that relies on analysis of biometric data, keystroke and swiping techniques, online habits and location data to provide secure acess.

Element Digital Identity

SNHU piloted its Blockchain transcript program with 1,200 students who graduated this summer from their competency-based, alternative education program “College for America.” College for America was launched in 2012 with money from the Gates Foundation channeled through an Educause Next Generation Learning Challenge Grant. The following year it became the first higher education competency-based education program approved to receive Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) funding. The program is one of 30 colleges and universities that are members of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), an initiative begun in 2014 and funded by Lumina to promote and scale competency-based diplomas nationwide.

Rather than obtaining a specific number of credit hours, SNHU students are expected to demonstrate competencies in 120 different areas. The program offers Associate of Arts and Bachelor of Arts degrees and certificates. The competency-based education courses are all online and aligned to the following industries: healthcare, insurance and financial services. SNHU has built partnerships for human resource development with companies including Aetna, SEIU, McDonald’s, YMCA, Scholastic, the Gap, Sodexho, ConAgra, K12, Comcast, and an array of state and municipal governments.

They’ve also partnered with Davinci Schools, a California-based charter organization funded by Gates and HP that promotes an online home-based and school based blended learning model. In 2016, Davinci and SNHU teamed up to craft a proposal for the Emerson Collective’s XQ Superschool competition. Their project, Rise High, was one of ten new school models awarded funding from Laurene Powell Jobs’s $100 million contest. The model targets foster youth in the Los Angeles area, offering “flexible access points” for wrap around services, a structure that is well suited to generating profit for the social impact investment sector and their non-profit partners.

The image below is from one of Leblanc’s 2014 slideshares introducing the self-paced CBE concept, viewable here.

College for America Slideshare

A blog post from College for America posted this week aims to inform HR professionals about the potential of Blockchain credentials. The benefits SNHU touts are portability; trust in the credential without verification (fraud prevention); and perhaps most notable, the potential for HR staff to utilize online searches of credentials to screen candidates. According to the post “Rather than reading each resume, HR will be able to find the most relevant candidates as easily as if they were typing a search into Google.”

In a previous post from April 2017 I describe a future where a person’s “resume” becomes a never-ending collection of skill codes, not unlike healthcare codes. To even qualify to apply for a job a person would have to have a minimum of ALL the required skills logged on Blockchain. If they didn’t, a program like College for America would offer them the opportunity to pay for an online class to earn the skills they lack. Of course there is no guarantee that after signing up for an online course, that person would complete it. Or that if they successfully completed it, they would end up getting the job. Meanwhile whatever debt the person took on to pay for the tuition continues to mount.

Google recently issued a $1 million grant to SNHU to develop “soft skills” assessments for “opportunity youth,” young people ages 16-24 who are not enrolled in school and are unemployed or underemployed. According to Google’s website, “SNHU will develop the Authentic Assessment Platform (AAP), a competency-based assessment mapped to in-demand soft skills. Results from this platform will feed into a facilitated job placement process to help inform a just-in-time training model for young jobseekers. SNHU will also address the lack of credentialing by providing those who complete this assessment with an SNHU badge.” According to this post on SNHU’s website funders are looking to develop an assessment that can identify such traits as grit, teamwork, and trustworthiness. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll remember these are exactly the traits labor economists like Jim Heckman intend to document and manipulate in order to generate profits for social impact investors like JB Pritzker.

SNHU Google Grant

The school launched a massive advertising campaign and is vying with Western Governor’s University in Utah to unseat the University of Phoenix as the country’s largest online education provider. When I was in Boston earlier this spring, the entire interior surface of Boston’s North Station was branded with SNHU advertisements. Targeted growth areas include non-traditional students and DACA recipients. Leblanc has also initiated partnerships with community colleges and high schools in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Utah, co-signing dual enrollment classes delivered by high school teachers when parents pay an associated $100 fee.

Sadly, another growth market is global refugees. In the fall of 2017 SNHU received an anonymous $10 million grant to scale their competency-based education program for the UN High Commission on Refugees, Connected Learning in Crisis, SOLVE at MIT and the American University of Beirut. Connected Learning in Crisis is comprised largely of Catholic-affiliated institutions. The program delivers instruction using a blended online model through their partner Kepler. Former DOE Secretary Arne Duncan is an advisor to the program. They are currently working with two sites in Rwanda and with the New Hampshire YMCA to deliver education services to refugees in the state.

Rwanda SNHU

College for America Refugee


Interactive version of the above map here.

Ed Reform 2.0 is veering away from traditional two-year and four-year degrees, replacing them with stackable credentials and badges that students (aka human capital) will be forced to acquire to compete for jobs in a shrinking labor market. To sustain this model SNHU needs to have a “trusted” system capable of logging “competencies” students acquire, since retention, always an issue in higher education, is especially challenging in the online education market. The ephemeral nature of gig economy employment will require continued re-skilling, what the reform/venture capitalist crowd attempts to euphemistically frame as “lifelong learning,” so the ledger or permanent record is key.

The cyber education model is suited to this period of extreme austerity and dehumanizing financialization. SNHU developed a product line that can be delivered 24/7 “anywhere,” “anytime.” The online classes, after a modest initial investment, can be repackaged and sold over and over to a wide range of clients yielding a significant rate of return.

Arizona State University has developed a similar initiative, EdPlus. ASU president Michael Crow, also an advisor to Ridge Lane, is advancing this program leveraging partnerships similar to those pursued by Leblanc. EdPlus has teamed up with corporations that rely on precarious employment like Starbucks, and is eyeing the refugee education market as well as dual-enrollment online courses for high schools. ASU was touted as a great model at the August 2018 “Imagine: A Better World, A Better Education Global Conference” hosted by Amazon Web Services in Seattle. Online education creates data, and data is the new oil. Data creates value for companies; data profiles people; and data is used to refine the AI many see eventually replacing human instruction.

ASU Rwanda

Matthew Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment, is on the faculty of ASU. He moderated a panel on Blockchain credentialing at the May 2017 ASU+GSV conference that is viewable below.

Parchment, founded in 2003, is a digital credentialing company financed in part with venture capital from Raine Group. Jeff Sine, Partner and Co-Founder of Raine Group with Joe Ravitch (son of Diane Ravitch) serves on Parchment’s board. Sine formerly worked for UBS, a Swiss bank that has been doing considerable R&D on blockchain identity and development impact bonds (like global SIBs). Raine Group led two rounds of funding for Parchment in 2012 and 2014. Details here and here. Pittinsky and ASU have not yet jumped into a Blockchain certification pilot, but with SNHU moving forward, I’m sure they have something waiting in the wings.

So, the days of “Learning Is Earning” have now arrived, perhaps earlier than anticipated. I see the NPE Conference is coming up in October, their fifth gathering. When the event came through my social feed, at first glance the line-up looked not much different than what it had been back in 2014. I’m not going to make it to Indianapolis, but for those of you who go, maybe ask Diane when Blockchain credentialing and impact investing are going to be put on the front burner. The clock is ticking and we need to strategize what our options are in this post-Janus moment.