From poker player to cryptocurrency consultant

The unusual journey of a social innovator

Jamie Klinger is a jack-of-all-trades. The youngest of a family of three, he likes to believe that his parents placed all their ambitions on his elder siblings, thereby giving him the ideal conditions to wander freely through his childhood, without the constraints of excessive parental demands. This freedom (which he considers a lever, by the way!) meant that he was able to drift from one interest to another without, like other children, getting hooked on the idea of having a great destiny or a heroic path to follow into his future (like becoming an astronaut, or being the next Messi or Einstein, for example). While he had doubts, given his inability to stand out from his classmates with his so-called “beige” ambitions and his secret hope to be told what to do, it was simply by changing the world that he has come to understand his purpose and find his way.

After collecting experiences that included being a poker champion, a student radio host, a journalist, the creator of webzine before they were a “thing”, a photographer, a member of a debate club, and after having travelled and done apprenticeships and training, including a bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in philosophy, and after launching his company Honestly Marketing, and after accumulating social experiences that were each revealing in their own way, something clicked for Jamie when he took part in Occupons Montréal (Occupy Montréal), a peaceful protest against economic and social inequality. Paradoxically, it’s there that he understood that money is not the root of all the evil. And it was there, too, that his social innovation project, Jack-of-all-trades-Universe (JoatU), was born.

Is money the root of all evil? Not with the community cryptocurrency

His immense openness to others and to new ideas, the versatility of his fields of interest, his spirit of entrepreneurship and the need to organize as a member of a united and democratic community within the Occupy Montréal movement all led him to consider the hidden, and yet essential, survival skills that everyone needs to collectively face the challenges of living together. So he questioned the management and distribution of currency. Could it be possible to redefine money, or generate a cryptocurrency and an online exchange platform to recognize and increase citizen participation? Could it be that another solution, a community-driven solution, could fill the social gaps of an imperfect system?

The production of a virtual, decentralized currency acquired through community actions taken and exchanged for other services offered by citizens is the basis of the concept of JoatU, a project selected among 85 applications in the first cohort of the MIS Civic Incubator in the fall of 2018.

Take, for example, a young person driven by the desire to volunteer to help young refugees with their homework and to learn French, or a retiree wanting to plant a small community garden for the benefit of the seniors in her neighbourhood. Could we assign a virtual unit of value to their respective volunteer actions based on specific parameters? And what if this young person then wanted to exchange his accumulated value units to have a session with a personal trainer registered with the same platform, or if this retiree wanted to exchange her units for a language course: would it be possible to give them the ability to meet their needs by paying with something other than money earned in a part-time job or by tapping into a pension plan? Could the JoatU platform meet the needs of the community differently, while promoting civic engagement, citizen participation and the reappropriation of public spaces by citizens? 

These are all principles that Jamie Klinger has explored in depth within the Civic Incubator. Digging into the issues he wants to tackle, identifying blind spots in his approach, anticipating the behaviour of users and stakeholders in his project, identifying the performance indicators that will allow him to measure the scope of the social and environmental impact of his project, planning his deployment strategy – he’ll do all of this and more, eventually leading to a prototype that is mature enough to move to the financing and deployment stages.

While he had not yet reached the mid-point of his time in the Civic Incubator, we asked him what he liked most about the program.

“The diversity of the backgrounds and expertise of the other participants is very enriching and stimulating. It’s truly inspiring and motivating to be able to share and compare our ideas with those of citizens who are as mobilized as you are around social and environmental projects. Their contribution to my own reflections is undeniable,” he said. What was his favourite part? “I haven’t finished yet, but so far, I think that the individual coaching sessions are transformative. It’s a format that really suits me and helps me to move forward. It’s also a chance for me to benefit from this learning for free.”

While the profile and path of every innovator differs greatly, it’s inspiring to exchange with each of them. When talking with Jamie, it’s hard not to let our inner social innovator run free!

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