BY LAVINIA D. OSBOURNE FOR ADELLO MAGAZINE
Blockchain technology first rose to prominence in 2010 when the Bitcoin whitepaper was published. While many still associate blockchain with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, it is actually the underlying technology that is really exciting and has captured the imagination of a huge global community.
This wasn’t just because it was seen as a great investment opportunity, but because the ideals of the technology resonated with many who felt like traditional systems were either failing them or failing those on the edge of mainstream society. The technology is built with inclusion and a lack of elitism programmed in, but 12 years on we’re seeing the same exclusionary practices that we’ve struggled with in tech and finance starting to creep in. So what can we do to change this?
Blockchain was designed to open up access to finance and services to everybody. You need to look no further than traditional finance to understand why this has resonated with so many people. About 1.7 billion people worldwide still don’t have access to bank accounts — while this is something many of us take for granted, not having a bank account can prevent people from participating in many of the key elements of daily life. With no bank account, it becomes difficult to send and receive money, create and contribute to a savings account, access credit, or secure insurance. And without these things in place, it only takes one emergency to ruin everything.
This is where blockchain comes in. The global population has been left behind by the traditional financial system, a system that is already low on consumer trust following the financial crisis in 2008. Blockchain turns the system on its head by removing the need for trust entirely. The technology is best understood as a large database that can record transactions in a secure and transparent way without the need for a central party to verify those transactions. This is because it doesn’t have one single copy, but rather multiple identical copies that live on and are confirmed by every computer in the network, and all update in real-time. All recorded transactions are immutable, transparent, and encrypted. This allows us to remove the middleman from any transaction, while still keeping security, transparency, and efficiency.
The applications for this are huge, from legal agreements to financial transactions, and even global supply chains, but what it has at its core is inclusivity. Those who have previously been unable to access finance due to factors like geography, social or financial status, will finally be able to participate in global systems.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way that ideal of inclusivity has been lost, or at least deprioritized. At a time when the wider technology industry rightfully faces criticism for having workforces composed of about 33% women, a study showed that number slips to just 14.5% within the blockchain. For an industry designed to open up global financial and social services to a more diverse range of people, this lack of diversity is disappointing.
So what can we do to fix it?
For many people, regardless of where they come from, exploring careers or investing in blockchain-related areas is still seen as a no-go zone. This is because the industry is still young, not fully regulated, and somewhat of a ‘Wild West’, particularly when it comes to the newer applications of technology like NFTs. Even the most experienced people in the industry still suffer from hacks, scams, and mistakes which means they lose their assets.
And with newer assets like NFTs, regulators are still playing catch up, so there’s no guarantee that stolen assets will be returned. This is something I experienced firsthand in January, when my two “Boss Beauties” NFTs, digital artworks which use profits to create opportunities for women through mentorship programs and scholarships, were removed from my digital wallet without my knowledge or consent. This was more than just losing investment to me. As someone who has built their career on championing diversity in blockchain, losing Boss Beauties NFTs, was a real kick in the teeth.
With hacks, scams, and theft still a very real possibility, it’s no wonder many don’t feel empowered to participate in the blockchain. So how can we change this, and ensure everyone can access and understand the space? If we’re going to see mainstream adoption of blockchain and all the brilliant things that come with it, reducing risk for investors is essential.
Rather than accept this, I took my case to the High Court and managed to secure an injunction to freeze the NFTs that were taken from my wallet while proceedings took place, preventing them from being moved from the wallets where we knew they were being held. Not only did this come as a huge personal relief, but it is also the first time NFTs have ever been recognized as legal property. This case will hopefully be instrumental in making the blockchain space a safer one, encouraging more people to interact with exciting and meaningful assets in the emerging digital economy.
In order to encourage people from different backgrounds to participate in the industry, we need to find ways to amplify the experiences and achievements of marginalized or underrepresented groups in order to show that blockchain’s life-changing and world-shaping potential is available to all, regardless of gender, age, background or nationality.
This is why I created Women in Blockchain Talks. By telling the stories and celebrating the successes of women in blockchain, WiBT demonstrates that the technology wasn’t designed solely for a select few. Blockchain is the future of business and money and it is important that we all take our place in it. We have helped both men and women find mentors, explore opportunities and embrace new ways of thinking. Whether our participants are looking to start or build a career, learn how to invest in cryptocurrency, or simply discover how to navigate this new landscape, my team and I ensure it is done in a safe, secure, and supportive way, giving the confidence and skillset to make the most of these new opportunities.
We can’t build the blockchain industry in siloes. We need to work together to build an inclusive industry that is not only safe for all its participants but is a welcoming space for everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or background.