Indeed, curiosity is what led Emma Garnick into the world of emerging technology, specifically blockchain. She’s a current MBA student at American University’s Kogod School of Business, and her interest was sparked during an information technology course taught at the school.
“One day we had a speaker named Nikhil Shenoy,” she recalls, “who left his marketing career to start a blockchain company that was focusing on changing government processes.
“His passion about the technology and the opportunities blockchain could create in a multitude of fields was catching, and I have been deep-diving into the technology ever since.”
American University pioneered its first class on the technology—Blockchain in the Global Economy—this semester, taught by professor Ayman Omar. Next semester will see the launch of the Survey of Blockchain course.
Emma says she feels incredibly lucky to be focusing on blockchain in an environment that is at the vanguard of the technology. Indeed, in an effort to consolidate a hub of knowledge around the topic, American University is hosting a Blockchain Forum on November 7th.
The forum will include speeches from industry thought leaders, discussions around current live projects, and practical ways to incorporate the technology in a multitude of sectors.
“This is a big moment for the university and for the DC community to share in the experiential learning and research platform being created here,” Emma explains.
Blockchain, Emma says, is going to have an “astronomical” impact on the business world. More and more organizations, she adds, are using the technology to smooth out internal processes, and reduce friction within their supply chains.
Emma has a wealth of non-profit experience and is currently interning for The Future of Privacy Forum, a non-profit organization that explores the challenges surfaced by emerging technologies, and looks to develop privacy protections, ethical norms, and workable business practices for the future.
She adds that there is the potential for blockchain to seep into the non-profit and social enterprise space, too.
“From banking the unbanked, collaboration between humanitarian aid organizations, accountability of funding, identity, and property rights, blockchain has the ability to fulfil many social missions,” she says.
Ayman, who is also a research fellow at the Kogod Cybersecurity Governance Center, says that the potential for the technology in this space is huge.
He cites the example of someone displaced who is looking for a bed to sleep in for the night. Through blockchain that person can not only identify shelters where beds are, but can also receive real-time information on where beds are still available.
That trust is coupled with the avoidance of fraud, relatable to meal supply for those affected by natural disasters, or the homeless in cities around the world.
“[With any current system], you could show up as Thomas the first time, then the second time you are Jim, then Ayman,” he says, “and you get all of those meals and sell them on the black market.
“With blockchain you can add security and trust to that. No one can go into the system, as the information is in the ledger forever.”
The potential may be clear for all to see, but the implementation of the technology is easier said than done. Ayman explains that it needs to be clear that blockchain must fit around current business practices; it is counterproductive for a company to change its ways for the sake of implementing the technology, he says.
It is for that reason that the structure of the Blockchain in the Global Economy course is geared towards experiential learning. Students learn by doing, the only way to truly get to grips with an “emerging phenomenon”.
They participate in group live projects with clients in the space, relaying their feedback at the end of the course.
For MBA students, globally as well as those at the Kogod School of Business, getting over the initial hurdle of wondering why blockchain is so integral to entire business processes is tantamount to their own and their employer’s successful implementation of the technology.
“Understanding blockchain fundamentally could enhance a lot of business processes in the future, and if you’re an MBA student, how could you not want to know something like this?” Ayman asks.
“What’s critical and where the biggest gap is out there is people who can come into an organization and understand and talk about [blockchain’s relation to] the business processes, and that’s where our MBAs will be heading.”
The American University's Kogod School of Business Blockchain Forum will take place on November 7th 2018