Company Name: Mi Primer Bitcoin

Founder: John Dennehy

Date Founded: August 2021

Location of Headquarters: El Salvador

Amount of Bitcoin Held in Treasury: Approximately 0.5 BTC

Number of Employees: 21

Website: https://miprimerbitcoin.io/

Public or Private? Private (Non-profit)

John Dennehy wants to change the world — and he believes that Bitcoin education is a means to do so.

Dennehy sees Bitcoin as a tool to help individuals reclaim agency in their lives, and he understands that education is integral to helping people use this tool.

So, in late-2021, he created a Bitcoin education platform called Mi Primer Bitcoin (My First Bitcoin) as a means to empower everyday Salvadorans.

He believes that for the Bitcoin revolution to truly succeed, Bitcoin users must thoroughly understand the technology with which they’re engaging.

“Education naturally will push back against any attempts to co-opt the revolutionary spirit of Bitcoin,” Dennehy told Bitcoin Magazine.

And while Dennehy doesn’t hesitate to think of greater Bitcoin adoption as anything less than a revolution, keep in mind that his approach is more like Gandhi’s and less like Guevara’s.

Dennehy is a soft-spoken, introspective and kind-hearted person who’s notably thoughtful in his approach.

Some of the earliest Mi Primer Bitcoin team members at the Adopting Bitcoin conference in El Salvador.

The Inspiration For Mi Primer Bitcoin

In early 2021, like many of us during the COVID lockdowns, Dennehy was concerned with how powerless people felt and wanted to do something about it.

“I was in New York during the pandemic, and I spent a lot of time on long walks contemplating the state of the world and the direction that society was heading in,” said Dennehy.

“My conclusion was that the root of the problem was that we had collectively lost agency, we had lost sovereignty — the individual had lost agency in their own life — and that had a lot of negative second and third order effects,” he added.

“The solution was Bitcoin education. The solution was to bring more people into Bitcoin and do it in a way that empowers and encourages people to think for themselves, to think critically, and to take control of their own life and their own future.”

Riding the wave of inspiration, Dennehy booked a flight to Ecuador, a country in which he’d previously lived and a place that “wasn’t well served by the current system,” as he put it, to begin his Bitcoin education mission.

A First Attempt

Dennehy arrived in Ecuador in June 2021. There, he tried to educate friends about Bitcoin, but struggled to get people to meet in person because of the pandemic. Without in-person meetings, he found it difficult to connect with people.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” said Dennehy of his experience in Ecuador.

While in Ecuador, though, Dennehy got word of President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele’s announcement that bitcoin was to become legal tender in El Salvador.

After snapping out of his near disbelief, Dennehy booked his next flight, a one-way ticket to El Salvador, to help the country make history.

“I decided to sell my possessions, get a one-way ticket to El Salvador to try to see how I could help make it successful,” Dennehy recounted. “As the first nation in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, for better or worse, El Salvador was going to be an example for the world, and I thought it was of the utmost importance that it was a good example.”

Humble Beginnings

Dennehy landed in El Salvador and quickly drafted Mi Primer Bitcoin’s mission statement as well as some lesson plans. He also began to recruit both students and teachers.

“The tactic was to talk to every Salvadoran I met — the Uber driver, the waitress at the restaurant, the person standing next to me waiting to cross the street — about Bitcoin,” said Dennehy.

“Before the first class, there were a couple of meetings of this very random group of people. They came to my Airbnb and talked about [Bitcoin] as a group,” he recounted.

“Of that group, a couple of people would volunteer with the project.”

Despite his years of experience as an ESL teacher and bicycle riding instructor, Dennehy knew from the onset that he wasn’t the right person to teach in the program he aimed to create. Instead, he wanted locals to play that role.

“From the start, one of the founding concepts was that it should be community led, which means that the teachers should be able to relate to their students in a way that I just never would be able to,” Dennehy explained. “So, as a hard and fast rule, all the teachers here in El Salvador are Salvadoran.”

The first class was taught in a yoga studio between classes and had a whopping total of one student attend. But by the end of the first month, a total of five had attended classes, which were held in that same yoga studio or in cafés or restaurants.

Developing Mi Primer Bitcoin’s “Bitcoin Diploma” Program

By February 2022, Dennehy and the growing team at Mi Primer Bitcoin started to build a proper curriculum, which it would term its “Bitcoin Diploma” program.

“We went through the 2022 calendar year with three versions of [the program],” said Dennehy.

“We were just iterating very quickly. We didn’t start to build it until February, and the third version was complete in September,” he added.

Dennehy also shared that feedback from students on what was and wasn’t working greatly informed the process.

In speaking with Dennehy, I got the impression that building a curriculum was hardly one of the biggest challenges the organization has faced.

Bitcoin Diploma graduates in El Salvador showing off their diplomas.

The Challenges Of Running Mi Primer Bitcoin

A persistent challenge Mi Primer Bitcoin has faced since its early days has been establishing the non-profit’s independence and impartiality.

Dennehy discussed how many Salvadorans associate Bitcoin with the Salvadoran government, an institution about which many in the country have polarized feelings.

“Early on, there was a strong association here in El Salvador with the government and Bitcoin,” said Dennehy.

“People that liked the government tended to like Bitcoin. People that didn’t like the government tended to not like Bitcoin. There were even people that thought that Nayib Bukele invented Bitcoin. That was a common perception in these early days,” he added.

“So, there is a strong association that Bitcoin had with the government. An early struggle was to show people that Bitcoin is separate. Bitcoin is independent. And so are we.”

Dennehy pointed out that this challenge still remains, especially as Mi Primer Bitcoin now works within the public school system in El Salvador.

“We’re always trying to assert our independence and not just in deed, but in perception,” he explained.

“Working with the government just amplifies that challenge of separating ourselves in the perception of others from the government,” he added.

“One of the ways that we meet that first challenge of not being dependent on the government is, as a point of principle. We never accept funding from the government.”

International Bitcoiners administering an exam to Salvadoran students before their graduation.

Another challenge Mi Primer Bitcoin faces is keeping its 21 employees paid via a donation-based system, a challenge that’s amplified by the fact that the organization doesn’t accept donations that come with strings attached.

“We turn down most offers for sponsorships,” said Dennehy. “Four out of five offers for sponsorships we turn down, because four out of five come with strings attached.”

However, notable institutions in the Bitcoin space have begun to alleviate some of Mi Primer Bitcoin’s financial burden.

“We get grants from HRF, OpenSats and Block,” said Dennehy.

“All of those come without strings attached, which is great,” he added.

“I think grants might start to take up a bigger slice of the pie, but from the start until now, the majority of our funding has come from grassroots support.”

Mi Primer Bitcoin Goes Global

Mi Primer Bitcoin’s education materials and curriculum are free to download and use. This has made it easy for teachers around the world to adopt the non-profit’s curriculum.

And Mi Primer Bitcoin also supports its international teachers that head Bitcoin educational efforts in their respective home countries, members of Mi Primer Bitcoin that the organization refers to as “Light Nodes.”

“We have 33 nodes in 22 countries, and we all get together and share best practices,” explained Dennehy.

“Maybe a teacher in Argentina will guest teach for a project that started in Columbia. We have a node in Cuba and a node in the Dominican Republic, and they’re actually co-teaching,” he added.

When I asked Dennehy how quickly Mi Primer Bitcoin’s model is spreading on a scale of one to 10, he responded with a “10,” with little hesitation. He also pointed out that trying to expand Mi Primer Bitcoin more quickly would only cause the institution to stray from its mission.

“I think the only way that this spreads faster is if we compromise our values, if we centralize and dictate rather than decentralize and empower,” Dennehy stated.

“We are trying to reimagine what’s possible for the next generation and that often means we have to forge a new path. If we are trying to teach others that a different future is possible, we must demonstrate that ourselves,” he added.

“What you say isn’t important, what you do is everything.”

Dennehy went on to explain that Mi Primer Bitcoin has received 4 Light Node applications in the past 48 hours and that he’s amazed by how quickly things are accelerating.

Never in his wildest dreams did he see Mi Primer Bitcoin growing so quickly.

“I’m a dreamer. I’m an idealist. That’s why I’m here,” said Dennehy. “But if you told me two and a half years ago we would have taught tens of thousands of students in person, and we would have inspired and helped facilitate this in dozens of other countries, I’d be like, ‘No way. Maybe in like 10 years.’”

The first graduating class of the Light Node network in India.

Remaining Mission-Driven

As Mi Primer Bitcoin progresses, Dennehy believes that the organization must continue to emulate Bitcoin itself if it’s to remain true to its mission of empowering others.

“Everything that we do at Mi Primer Bitcoin, we try to learn from Bitcoin itself,” Dennehy shared. “And decentralization is really important to us, because we want to empower others rather than control them.”

And his view on what this empowerment looks like seems to be more refined than ever.

“Bitcoin education is a means to an end, and that end is empowerment,” said Dennehy.

“Once you realize that you have control over your money, that you could have more control over your present, it flips the incentive structure. In the fiat world, we’re disincentivized to look into the future, to build, to create, because the rules of the game might change. I could start a business today, but the rules of the game that will greatly influence whether it’s successful or not are not up to me and could change at any moment. So, it encourages us to be followers rather than leaders,” he explained.

“Bitcoin is something that flips a switch that ‘Okay, I could have more control of my money, which gives me more control of my present which makes it easier to build out into the future, because I’m not relying on the whims of someone else.’ The more we can insert ourselves into defining our own destiny, the more we are encouraged and incentivized to look into the future — to build and create. That’s the end, and Bitcoin education is the means to that end.”

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