Fighting for a better Brazil

Published October 30, 2019

Leonardo Menezes.

Leonardo Menezes

Leonardo Menezes has no reservations about saying his country is rife with bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption. He believes blockchain technology is one answer that can help Brazil “get back on its feet.”

So convinced is Menezes – and ready to do his part in rectifying the issues – that he walked away from the corporate world earlier this year. A formal education in his home country, plus gaps filled in by the University at Buffalo, are part of his path to realizing a higher purpose.

The 37-year-old is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at the nation’s most prestigious institution, the University of São Paulo.

“I always felt that information technology could highly increase overall quality of public services and increase efficiency. When I was introduced to blockchain technology, I saw an innovation that was totally fit for this purpose,” he says. “I saw that I could only deliver the change from within the system.”

He chose academia as the route because the government operates Brazil’s top colleges.

As a cryptocurrency user, Menezes’ knowledge of blockchain was limited. He needed a deep dive of the innovation that enables peer-to-peer transfer of digital assets without any intermediaries. Finding no courses at the university, an advisor suggested searching for a robust online program.

The answer was UB’s four-course Blockchain series.

Menezes calls the courses “amazing.” He points to the clarification of concepts and applications, practical exercises including code implementation, and guidance in implementing Ethereum smart contract solutions.

He is using the knowledge gained as the foundation of his thesis on blockchain applied to government structures.

Brazil’s civil law system mandates that paper trails accompany any official transaction. Menezes explains that a large percentage of public monies fund this paperwork and oversight – monies that could alternatively go toward meeting needs like education, health care or security. Private notary offices store these paper trails and cost $4 billion annually.

Menezes says high rates of fraudulent practices are common among notaries. For example, federal police investigations of a real estate registration office in Bahia state found employees unlawfully charged extra money to accelerate a process.   

Or, corrupt offices collude to approve forged documents that claim ownership of what is actually public land. The false papers derive from a practice called grilagem, whereby documents are placed in a drawer with crickets; insect droppings produce an aged effect. This land-grabbing technique of unscrupulous farmers and individuals is contributing to the recent peril in the Amazon.

“My thesis is that most of those processes could be replaced by direct relationship between parties using a distributed open ledger, with government oversight, without the need of any third-party direct involvement,” he describes. “Since it [blockchain] is immutable and transparent, inefficiency, corruption and excess of bureaucracy should be highly discouraged and operational costs highly reduced.”

Menezes aspires to teach the innovation at the collegiate level and continue applied blockchain research after earning his degree.

The Blockchain series was developed by the UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE) in coordination with the UB Computer Science and Engineering Department and industry partners.