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This article is part of a "Reporter's Notebook" series, wherein CNBC journalists submit tales and observations from the field.
Many unsung heroics took place during last month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers' summit in Hanoi. There were diplomats and officials working feverishly behind the scenes to keep globalization alive — and then there was a small group of technology developers.
While the trade debate raged on behind closed doors in the cavernous National Convention Center, technologists in a nearby hotel brain-stormed ways to get e-commerce dollars and cents flowing within Asia. APEC organizers, Google, the Asia Foundation and the government of Vietnam offered them a challenge: deliver an online platform to help small retailers build a digital presence and ultimately access markets beyond their borders.
Call it a hackathon of sorts or the "Game of Apps," Australians Chris Gough and David Elliot came out on top with APEC Connect — an app aimed at enabling even the smallest business owners to build an online identity globally and a trading reputation using blockchain technology.
Here's how it works: Business owners can register an export identity on the platform for the cost of an SMS. Invoicing and receipting is recorded and archived using a blockchain, helping to build credibility, scalability and security.
"We thought about the technologies that are currently being leveraged by the biggest end of town and thought: How can we bring those technologies and technologies like the Blockchain …to the smallest businesses in a way that was super simple, to get them online trading at a cost of an SMS?" Elliott said.
Blockchain — a sort of public ledger where transactions are confirmed and unalterably recorded — is central to making the app secure and building an online reputation.
APEC Connect creates proof of commerce and customer feedback on the blockchain, Gough said, so that smaller retailers "can build the foundation for relationships overseas and they're going to take their product into other markets."
Not content with APEC Connect in theory, Gough and Elliot stress-tested the app in the high-streets of Hanoi before hot-footing it back to the competition: "We made a quick dash across the old town with the app, we stood up the very first version to see if it would travel in the main street. And we found that after we had explained that if they simply tracked their commerce with this tool that they could attract further business from other Australian buyers, they were on board."
What's next? The creators of APEC Connect plan to collaborate with "a corporation of economies or corporation of governments" to roll out what they hope will be a "digital railroad running between all economies at the same gauge … so it's equal access to all," Elliot said.