It is International Women’s Day 2019, and a time for Bitcoin News to reflect on a year in print and celebrate women in fintech, and those women of all ages whose lives still remain largely uncelebrated.
The point of International Women’s Day is to look back over the past year and pinpoint the successes and failures in the promotion of equality between the genders. It is also a time to reflect on how to further combat sexual violence, harassment, domestic violence against women, and examine gender power structures, particularly in business.
A new UK government report has revealed that salary imbalance between the genders when it comes to business is still slow to change. Although one in three entrepreneurs are women in the UK — a hugely improved figure — many of the companies run by women are also half the size of those with male directorship. The report goes on to indicate that accelerating female recruitment into business over the next year could add an extra USD 25 billion to the UK economy alone.
One such entrepreneur is Queenslander Leanne Kemp who was named by the World Economic Forum as one of the most promising tech pioneers of 2018. Kemp’s blockchain startup, Everledger, was founded in April 2015, offering a way of tracking the provenance of diamonds; identifying them, and following their ownership history. She now has 2.2 million diamonds listed on Everledger’s blockchain and has now begun to add art, wine, watches jewelry and even natural resources to the blockchain. She maintained:
“We have a responsibility as next-generation technologists to underpin how this technology will form and inform all of us in our roles as citizens of the planet… There’s an important role to be had in re-innovating existing products in markets to bring transparency and provenance and then also the tracking of their second lives.”
Another Australian, Katrina Donaghy, co-founder of startup Civic Ledger, took her talents to London in 2014 to explore how she could integrate Bitcoin and blockchain into business. She told the Australian Financial Review that on arrival she was surprised to see the degree to which these technologies were already being utilized by London’s large financial institutions.
“If you just look at the companies that have done ICOs, there are very few women, but if you look at the ones that have been built based on customer validation and actually have sales, well most of the good blockchain companies that are still around were co-founded by women in the early days.”
In the US in 2018 ConsenSys teamed up with Black Girls Code, a non-profit organization providing tech training to young black women between the ages of 7 and 17. This established the first blockchain training program of its kind in the US which has plans to branch into US states and beyond. The program will eventually be available in Oakland, California, Atlanta, Georgia and in New York City, with plans to run in Johannesburg, South Africa. Black Girls Code CEO Kimberly Bryant commented:
“The ConsenSys team has consistently impressed me with their commitment to creating pathways for access and inclusion within the blockchain ecosystem and their passion for introducing these tools to the next generation of coders.”
The organization wishes to train a million girls by the year 2040, becoming a high-tech version of the Girl Guides. One aim is to ensure that minority groups in fintech have a space to grow and flourish encouraging innovative outside investments into such groups.
Amber Baldet is a household name in fintech, co-founder of Clovyr, well known for her work at JPMorgan as a leader of blockchain products, and developed the Ethereum based Quorum software designed to accelerate financial databases. Baldet left Wall Street to develop her own software by founding Clovyr and get startups on the road to using blockchain technology more effectively. She says:
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people who see things very differently… Being able to transition back and forth, I can help people understand each other and build stronger products together.”
Of gender diversity in the tech world she suggests, “People have tried to call out crypto as being better or worse…Diversity is a challenge across all tech subcultures.”
In the UK last year, the number of women showing an interest in investing in cryptocurrencies leaped from 6% to 13% over a six-month period. A City Am conducted by cryptocurrency firm London Block Exchange, showed that cryptocurrency was most popular with women in the millennials group. Another survey conducted by Reddit at the end of 2017 indicated that one out of five women had considered investing in cryptocurrencies with a huge 96% of Ether users being males.
What then of the uncelebrated names of the past year? Since last year, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed cryptocurrency-based food vouchers to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, bypassing bureaucracy and getting aid to where it’s needed. The new project initiated by the WFP and UN Women was announced supporting the UN Women’s “cash for work” program running at both camps.
The cash for work program was organized by Syrian refugees to support local communities, offering them the opportunity to put something back into their new homeland. Typically, paid tasks included collecting waste, assisting with projects building homes, roads, and local schools, and in some cases working in education and the health industry as assistants. In areas which have seen destruction due to conflict and have since been liberated, refugees also participated with repairing heavily shelled infrastructure.
Cash transfers as part of that scheme enabled women assisting in the UN Women cash program to access their funds directly without a third party with accounts securely stored on a blockchain network. Women were thus enabled to pay for goods at participating supermarkets in Jordan by using one of a network of eye-scanners at their local supermarket, linking their cash to the Building Blocks program which was introduced for refugees at the Azraq camp in 2017.
UN Women continued its program to increase financial literacy rates among women by offering seminars at their “Oases”, encouraging recipients to examine their Building Blocks accounts online. Oases are safe spaces for women and children to congregate in the camps, where they can meet others and learn. They are usually funded through overseas aid and the host nation. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka explained the thinking behind its plans for women refugees in Jordan:
“We know that women in crisis situations and displacement settings tend to have lower digital literacy than men, and often lack access to the technology and connectivity that are so critical in today’s world.”
Ngcuka adds that such projects are designed to accelerate, as she put it, “progress towards women’s economic empowerment on a large scale”.
Humanitarian organizations have pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by such crises and consequently are often forced to become the primary breadwinners while taking care of their children and families as an extra burden.
Robert Opp, Director of Innovation at WFP, points out that it is a desire for “social good” which is driving the current use of blockchain technology by the organization:
“Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger. Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies… using blockchain can be a qualitative leap, not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community.”
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