Gerard Dache is an enthralling and remarkably interesting man.
He’s also got a fascinating job and has led the most extraordinary life.
As founder and president of the Government Blockchain Association based in the modest city of Fairfax in northern Virginia, the USA’s approach to the adoption and use of blockchain will be shaped by his hands.
It’s one of the most important cornerstone roles within the industry. But Gerard’s climb to the upper branches of modern technology’s tallest tree has not been without some catastrophic falls that have seen him come crashing down to the very ground where he began.
He’s also wonderfully engaging and, as an interviewee, easy to get along with – something he demonstrated within ten minutes of our relaxed conversation.
“You know what,” he interrupts in a way that some people do when they’re about to call a halt to your interview before swivelling round and making a break from the discomfort of questions.
“I’ve done hundreds of interviews – genuinely hundreds – but I’ve never had questions like this.”
Fearing I may have unwittingly caused offence, my pen is lifted from the notebook. Before I have the chance to offer a bemused and stuttered apology, Gerard jumps in again.
“Seriously, I’ve done a whole bunch of interviews but I’ve never been asked stuff like this – so I’m going to give you a story that I’ve never revealed to anyone.”
A pause is punctuated with a deep intake of breath. As he slowly exhales, it’s obvious that he’s steeling himself for the emotional rollercoaster of telling an uncomfortable story that he probably doesn’t like to hear himself.
A very personal story
“I haven’t told anyone this stuff – I don’t think I’ve even told my wife half of this very personal side,” he begins.
“My dad died when I was 16, and that hit us real hard.
“We came from a low economic background, and he was the breadwinner – it quickly put my mum through a nervous breakdown.
“I was left with trying to pay the mortgage at school – I had five jobs.”
It’s a startling revelation about a situation that would easily have broken any teenager. But instead of allowing himself to descend into a trap of despair, Gerard created his own father figure to look up to – someone who would inspire him to help pay his mother’s mortgage and get him through high school.
“I chose a good man – someone who could face evil head-on, never give in, but always triumph in the end,” he smiles.
“I decided to take on John Wayne as my father figure.”
Juggling multiple jobs, Gerard limped through his education and helped his ailing mother.
Eventually, he left school and settled down with his wife and started a family.
The struggles that had burdened his teenage years, however, did not disperse.
There was an economic downturn around the corner, and money was hard to come by.
“I sold our car to pay for diapers, and at one point I was wiping roaches off the kids’ bed sheets,” he sighed.
“My wife was strong though – she was there for me.
“We were in poverty, and I had a poor job that I was clinging to. I didn’t even like it. The bosses offered me a better job that would take three years of training but it was expensive training.
“Eventually, I was offered something where they needed me for something so important that they basically told me to write my own pay cheque, but it simply wasn’t something I felt I could be happy doing, and yet it was an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty.”
Gerard was facing a crossroads. Continue living with little money or earn more doing something he wouldn’t enjoy?
He turned to his father figure for inspiration. What would ‘The Duke’ do?
Doing the right thing
“All those years of watching John Wayne movies and seeing his characters do the right thing without thinking about the money had conditioned me for that moment,” he says, passionately raising his voice a little.
“So I turned it down. I thought all about the diapers and the roaches, but I still turned it down.”
Despite feeling empowered by his principled stance, his employers clearly weren’t fans of Westerns. A few weeks later he was fired. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the US was buckling under the oppressive weight of an economic collapse.
“I sat in the parking lot and thought ‘what am I going to tell my wife?’ – I’ve really blown it,” he recalls.
“I didn’t know what to do other than go and visit my mum. I was lost.”
Call it fate, call it destiny or coincidence – call it whatever you believe in, but after sitting in a car park holding back tears for five minutes, his phone rang.
“It was an old friend of mine,” he smiles.
“A friend called to say his boss was hiring and needed someone immediately to help with doing company appraisals.
“It went so well that, a few weeks later, I had a cheque for $10,000 in my hands.”
Sense of fairness
The job involved a lot of travelling. He headed off to countries he hadn’t been to before, experiencing cultures and practices that were unfamiliar. It alerted within him curiosity about a sense of fairness and inequality across the human race.
“As I was travelling the world I started to notice a pattern of corruption,” he said.
“We were going to places like China and not actually doing a good job because many of the people we were working with were simply full of fraudulent appraisals. None of it felt good, you know? It just didn’t sit well with me.
“I went back to my employers to discuss how we could work towards tackling corruption.”
During a meeting about his concerns, Gerard sensed unease.
“It didn’t go well,” he remembers.
“After 15 years with the company, they called me one day and said ‘this won’t be pleasant’ – they had decided to terminate my contract.”
Once again, the hard work he had put in to elevating his career up the tree broke a few branches on the way back to the ground.
Soon after, though – in October 2016 – he was talking to a friend about blockchain and the applications of the technology that could bring about change in the world. It resonated with his sense of wanting to defeat corruption.
His friend showed him a way into the industry.
“I just thought okay, we’d better make this blockchain thing work.”
Now, here he is, heading up the Government Blockchain Association. But why is it necessary for such a thing to even exist?
“We’re clearly in a paragon shift in technology,” he explains.
“The GBA really applies blockchain principles. We are essentially a machine. We are not officially a DAO (Distributed Autonomous Organization) – that’s our goal and objective. A DAO still needs structure – which we’re building and working towards. We’re in the process of launching a coin – but we’re not applying old thinking to new technology – it’s not an ICO.
“We’re going to use it to incentivise communities. It’s a reward token from an exchange. We’re writing the whitepaper right now and that will be reviewed.”
For most people involved in blockchain and cryptocurrency, their daily immersion in the space makes it feel as though it is already mainstream. Yet gather a hundred people together and ask them about the technology and you’ll get a surprisingly poor response.
On the one hand, the sensation amid those involved is that we’re working in one of biggest industries on the planet, but on the other it’s hard to see how the masses who are yet to adopt the opportunities offered by the technology are going to swarm to it.
It’s a sobering thought. But not one that concerns Gerard. Instead, his pragmatism shines through like a constant theme.
“What did it take for http to go mainstream?” he scoffs.
“I don’t think the protocol ever goes mainstream – blockchain will never go mainstream in the general public’s eyes is because they’re going to be looking for a public consensus.
“No, I really don’t think blockchain will be considered mainstream. It’s like fuel injected pistons – they never ‘went mainstream’, but they’re in every car.
“Cryptocurrency will go mainstream, and people will begin to understand that. You know, 18% of college kids own cryptocurrencies – so that’s already heading mainstream.
“New apps, new wallets etc will come thick and fast to make it easier to use cryptocurrency.”
The speed of adoption has, and always will, generate plenty of discussion. One point for that discussion is drawing ever nearer – the next presidential elections. Could the Government Blockchain Association see blockchain playing a role during proceedings as the US hurtles towards Tuesday November 3 2020?
“Not really,” he sighs without revealing if it’s a groan of lament at blockchain’s anticipated absence from the election process or incredulity at the question.
“It’s 2018 now. If you separate it from election integrity and candidates then I think there are too many political issues.
“From an integrity perspective, West Virginia has adopted a blockchain solution, but for 2020 we’re still trying to figure it out – maybe next time.”
There is, of course, the question of where the GBA fits in to the fabric of the USA’s technology-laced future. What’s on the horizon for Gerard Dache and the people around him?
“Jimmy Crickets – I wish we knew!” he laughs.
“In my imagination, I see it becoming a DAO – global international fabric. I think the GBA is going to take all those people who want to be global standard management and bring them together.
“We want to become an authority that people can trust and collaborate with like a global foundation that people can connect to.
“We’re very distributed and consensus-driven, so eventually we could become a dApp that allows organisations to communicate.
“That’s the plan anyway.”