DAOs and Democracy. A real world example.

Over the past two years, during the course of this never-ending pandemic, I, along with roughly 1 million other New Zealanders living offshore have faced something we never, ever thought would happen. We’ve been locked out of our own country.

While border closures to citizens initially started out as a brute force measure to limit the unknown impacts of an unknown virus, over time they morphed into a metaphorical slap down to any Kiwi that ever dared to dream of exploring what life might look like beyond the borders of the hermit kingdom. Who were we to dare to follow in the footsteps of other dreamers, no less our current and former prime minister, who’s well versed stints in London adorn both their resumes? Or for us Weet-Bix loving kids, Sir Edumund Hillary, whose conquering of Mt Everest proudly graces our $5 note? We love our human exports, until we don’t, or so it now seemed.

To return home to New Zealand is now not a figurative lottery, but a literal one. Every New Zealand passport holder must compete against any citizen from any country, in the entire world, for access to their home country. To garner a spot on a ‘red flight’ back home, a quarantine voucher must be obtained from the government for a Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) spot. To get one of these vouchers, tens of thousands of Kiwis (and other non-citizens) must enter a sporadically occurring lottery. Sometimes the lottery is cancelled at the last minute. Sometimes it’s cancelled to New Zealanders from specific countries, like Australia was in the last round. It’s an abhorrent system, with a large majority of Kiwis failing to gain a voucher despite repeated attempts. Lives are put on hold, family members grieve and the New Zealand government deflects. A sorry state of affairs indeed.

We can complain or we can act. Acting is what Kiwis do when we think something is unfair, and it is exactly what organisations like Grounded Kiwis are doing. In late January, the group will launch legal action against the New Zealand government, to challenge the legality of the Government’s MIQ system in respect of the NZ Bill of Rights Act. It will be the first systemic challenge of the MIQ system as a whole. The group has raised over $186K to date, and the emotional weight of each dollar is heavy. Kia Kaha to them.

After donating to the challenge, ruminating on my anger at the unfairness of everything, and regular WhatsApp rants with family back home and friends in Australia and the UK, it struck me that there was an even bigger issue at the heart of this whole debacle – a lack of political representation for the Kiwi diaspora. Back home the government had rolled out slogans like ‘Team of 5 million’ and other nationalistic commentary to inspire unity, but had inadvertently excluded a powerful group of voices that were smart, bright and eager to raise the tide for all NZ citizens, no matter where they lived, be it London, Dubai, Sydney or Invercargill.

What if their voices could be heard? What if, through active engagement, their ideas and plans for how New Zealand could emerge out of the pandemic stronger were debated? What if instead of being afraid or ambivalent about Kiwis living offshore, the 5 million at home saw them as a vehicle for increased economic prosperity for all? Instead of being a political problem, couldn’t we be an economic and culturally diverse opportunity?

A voice in parliament is key

To do this, New Zealand could establish a Ministry of Expatriates. The idea isn’t new – Bangladesh has one! Considering Kiwis are the second highest diaspora in the OECD, it makes a lot of sense. One sixth of a population is entitled to a voice.

By having a spokesperson in parliament, it would help us build bridges with our fellow Kiwis back home. A ministerial champion could, through rational argument and debate, help the country reimagine the diaspora as a source of untapped potential economic prosperity for Kiwis, from job creation to sharing intelligence from experiences on the ground of dealing with COVID-19, or other big issues like climate change.

The diaspora needs a local spokesperson to help us build bridges with our fellow kiwis back home, who are fearful about what the pandemic could mean for their livelihoods. We need a ministerial champion that reimagines the diaspora as a source of real potential economic prosperity for Kiwis, rather than a source of fear. Because as most developed nations will tell you – now is not the time to fall into the trap and distraction of political division. All Kiwis must pull together in the same direction. We need the creative, number 8 wire mentality from every citizen, no matter where they live, to make New Zealand a better place for all. This is the ANZAC spirit Kiwis are so renowned for.

This new Ministry would:

  • Canvas and understand the diaspora, through quantitative research and grass roots engagement
  • Develop economic opportunities that leverage the diaspora to generate income producing activities in NZ that raise taxable revenue
  • Work with offshore diaspora, government and local councils to develop creative solutions to border management, that eliminate the quarantine burden on tax-payers without introducing unacceptable health risks
  • Create remote work opportunities for local New Zealanders via offshore diaspora connections, raising local wages and taxable revenue
  • Advocate for better social and economic treatment of all NZ diaspora in major diaspora hubs (AU, UK)
  • Liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to maximise diaspora engagement and economic output.

The key message to get home, to those at home, would be that establishment of this ministry wouldn’t just be about supporting Kiwis who live offshore, but would result in tangible economic benefit and opportunity to all New Zealanders. If it didn’t do that, in hard dollar terms, then it would be dissolved.

Do it with a DAO!

Good ideas are like mixed breed dogs – a little smarter, longer living and healthier. It just so happened that while I was exploring this Ministry of Expatriates idea, I was also deep diving into Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs), one of the most exciting ideas to emerge out of the cryptocurrency sector in the past few years, for a DeFi project I am building.

DAOs were originally conceived as a coordination mechanism for blockchain project contributors who resided all over the world. They are an experiment in governance that puts control of an initiative into the hands of that project’s community. There is no veto power by any one individual, simply the opportunity for anyone to submit an idea, with the best of them floating like cream to the top, through online debate, discussion and argument. DAO members then vote on proposals, and the DAO project commits to action those proposals. It’s kind of like what we imagine our Member of Parliament is supposed to do, until we realise that most simply do whatever is required for their own personal political survival. Don’t hate the players, hate the game.

(Pssst: If you’re super curious and want to learn more about DAOs, just google the term, or kick start your research here).

What if a DAO, populated with expatriate New Zealanders, had a distinct goal of establishing a Ministry of Expatriates, and could use DAO tools like Snapshot, Discourse and Discord to establish positions on core ideas that were meaningful to the community, and could then submit proposals to the community to vote on, which could then be picked up by the Ministry for Expatriates, to advocate for on their behalf in parliament? This is totally possible right now, so why don’t we create one? It’s direct action, and could lead to far purer representation than our current governance models. Maybe if we had something like this, the MIQ debacle wouldn’t exist?

It’s not a crime to be optimistic, so I decided to create the NZ Diaspora DAO, partly out of feeling like I just needed to do something, and partly because if it does work, it would be kind of awesome.

In fact, you can join the NZ Diaspora DAO Discord Server right now via this link. I’m the first to put my hand up to say I’m learning as I go, and please don’t expect me to have all the answers. If you join this DAO then I’m not your leader, I’m simple one community member who has as much say as you do. DAOs have no time for passengers, but the neat part is, everyone gets to drive.

The first initiative of the DAO is to petition the New Zealand government to establish this ministry. If you’re keen to sign and share the petition, please do so here. 🗳🕊

Parting Thoughts

I once heard a crypto native describe DAOs as allowing people to align their effort to unlock their creative energy. Learning to trust and learning to coordinate, while walking a tightrope of control and autonomy. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the MIQ process, it’s that the conversation is broken between the diaspora and its government, and that the autonomy over our lives that our passport affords us, feels like it has been cruelly stolen. But emotions cloud reality. Like Hanlon’s razor, ‘we should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity’. I’m not saying the government is stupid, but I think it’s a fair assumption to say not listening to the diaspora is fairly short sighted.

I’d love your feedback on this initiative, and I’d especially love to know how you think it can grow – if there is a way we can turn a simple blog post and an idea into action. Feel free to comment here or in the DAO’s Discord Server.

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