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Blockchain unchained: How crypto can empower women

How can blockchain help women gain financial independence? And how can female participation be boosted? Social entrepreneur Wendy Diamond explains

Web3 technology has frequently been hailed as a means by which to promote inclusion, yet gender barriers remain conspicuous in the crypto space. According to a survey last December, less than 5% of crypto founders and less than 10% of crypto fund partners were women, and other data from crypto platform Gemini showed that women made up only 26% of crypto holders in the U.S. 

If all the technology that’s disrupting the way in which people live and do business is to live up to the claims made for it, women’s participation is a necessity in the future economy it is shaping. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO), a global non-profit dedicated to helping and raising awareness of women in poverty, says crypto might be just the thing to foster female empowerment.

“Our foundation was founded on helping the two-and-a-half billion unbanked, who are mostly women … And so when I learned about Bitcoin, I was like, ‘What?’ I was, like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ I’m not a techie. I’m not like one of these people. But I just was fascinated by this global currency that was enabling (people) — especially these people in high-inflation areas — to have financial inclusion. So, when you look at Bitcoin and the usage and the millions of people using it in Venezuela and Zimbabwe and Botswana, Nigeria … that aligns with what our belief is, with our foundation,” entrepreneur and WEDO founder Wendy Diamond told Forkast in a video interview.

Diamond first learned about cryptocurrencies in 2014, when she was introduced to Alakanani Itireleng, dubbed the ‘BitcoinLady of Botswana,’ who created the country’s SatoshiCentre to teach her community how to make money from crypto. Spotting the potential of crypto assets to empower unbanked people, WEDO is encouraging women all over the world to participate in, and benefit from, the crypto economy, one of its recent efforts in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan standing out as an example of its work.

Together with Bitcoin-based decentralized application network the Stacks Foundation, WEDO launched an aid program to distribute crypto donations to women and their families in Afghanistan that applies rigorous standards of transparency and accountability. And beyond offering financial relief, the program also aims to offer them exposure to crypto.

“Let’s create an initiative to fund 100,000 women in Afghanistan for a week’s worth of food,” Diamond said. “But what’s really important before we give them (that) is that it takes them two minutes to set up … What we did is we finished our pilot, so that now these women have it. They then have to watch a quick little video about learning about crypto and creating an NFT (non-fungible token), and then they receive the tokens … We’ve also connected with the e-commerce companies within Afghanistan … to enable those women who receive these drops of coins … to spend them in these e-commerce companies within Afghanistan, they create a package. So those women, when they go on, can just pay for it with their crypto.” 

From animal rescue to female empowerment, social entrepreneur Diamond has been keen to identify real-life needs and map out solutions, and crypto technology has turned out to be a particularly powerful tool to advance her causes. Watch Diamond’s full interview with Forkast Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau to learn more about WEDO’s vision for crypto technology, and how to increase women’s participation in the crypto space.

Highlights

  • Empowerment through crypto: “In 2014 … I was introduced to a woman in Botswana that was a goat farmer who couldn’t afford health care for her son … This woman created the Satoshi Center in Botswana, like in her little hut … and to educate the people of Botswana about Bitcoin … That’s how I started to see that what Bitcoin is about is what our foundation is about. Our foundation was founded on helping the two-and-a-half billion unbanked, who are mostly women. We have that same mission. And so when I learned about Bitcoin, I was, like, ‘What?’ I was, like, ‘This is unbelievable’ … I just was fascinated about this global currency that was enabling (people) — especially these people in high-inflation areas — to have financial inclusion.”
  • Bitcoin for the unbanked: “Bitcoin is, to me — if you look it up and you kind of look at the history of it — the most high-integrity deflationary instrument ever created in history that isn’t controlled by a government or a few people, which is run by the people and decentralized, to enable peer-to-peer transactions in an immutable, transparent and traceable (way), and providing this. So, it enables the two-and-a-half billion unbanked financial inclusion. All they need is their account.”
  • A crypto community in Afghanistan: “‘Let’s create an initiative to fund 100,000 women in Afghanistan for a week’s worth of food so everyone can contribute US$10.’ That’s all it is, by the way. They get their rice, they get all the stuff, their necessities for the week. But what’s really important before we give them (that) is that it takes them two minutes to set up … So, what we did is we finished our pilot, so that now these women have it. They then have to watch a quick little video about learning about crypto and creating an NFT, and then they receive the tokens, and we’ve brought on Stacks coin. Solana now is looking at how they can participate in this … We’ve also connected with the e-commerce companies within Afghanistan … to enable those women who receive these drops of coins … to spend it in these e-commerce companies within Afghanistan, they create a package. So, those women, when they go on, can just pay for it with their crypto.”
  • Changing the world: “We should do what this whole ecosystem was created upon doing, and it’s enabling financial inclusion … If you just read between the lines like BlackRock doing their Bitcoin chart and all this stuff, you’ll see it’s going to happen. It’s just going to take a lot longer because the fact is, we’re 13 years old. And I know, like, Gen Z and millennials, like, need it yesterday, need it quickly, but you know what? Patience, because it’s happening. There’s some of the most incredible minds behind this whole thing. And it’s — truly, to me — I’ve never been so excited about some of these projects that are really going to change this world for the better.”
  • Getting an education: “What’s so amazing about this ecosystem is that there’s so much opportunity … It’s about education and enabling these women to understand that they’re capable and that they should apply. And it’s also as simple as just attending Meetups in the space … I mean, there’s so much education out there for Web3. Every protocol, whether it’s NEAR, whether it’s Solana, whether it’s Polygon, Ethereum Foundation … There are all these free ways to learn about blockchain, about all these protocols and how you can be a part of it.”

Transcript

Angie Lau: Numbers don’t lie. One in three college-educated women don’t believe that they have equal access to financial systems in their own country, and 93% of them think that technology will have an impact on finance in the next decade. So there’s a huge disconnect here. Well, what can we do about it? Does the solution to a more inclusive and gender-diverse financial system lie with crypto?

Welcome to Word on the Block, the series that takes a deeper dive into blockchain and all the emerging technologies that shape our world at the intersection of business, politics and economy. It’s what we cover right here on Forkast. I’m Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau, and today I’m thrilled. We’re in conversation with Wendy Diamond, CEO and founder of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization, more popularly known as WEDO, which is trying to bridge the gender chasm here that we’re really seeing in the world. And that is where we come to next. We’re talking to Wendy, what her story is, and how she thinks crypto is really engaging us in a higher way. Wendy, we do, yes, we do.

I’m thrilled that you’re here. You’re a media goddess, I would say, a media guru who started the first pet lifestyle media company, to enormous success. And now you’re in blockchain, you’re in crypto, you’re in Web3. How did this all start for you?

Wendy Diamond: I grew up in a small town in Ohio — like 2,500 people. When I grew up I had horses and dogs and cats and the whole thing. And I just really loved community, because we were a small community, but we were all, like, together, and animals played a big part in my life. And when I moved to New York City, I adopted my dog and cat from the shelter and I learned 12 million animals were euthanized a year that year. And also that year you’d go into the media and you never saw, like, celebrities or pop culture, or you never saw anybody talking about adoption or rescue. It was very bizarre. 

So, I knew that by creating a media company and bringing celebrities and pop culture to the animal rescue world, we could teach everyone, ‘You could adopt any breed, any size, any age.’ And literally because of starting animal welfare — Vanity Fair, the New York Times, Forbes, Fox, etc. — we brought celebrities and pop culture to the animal rescue world, that number today is down to less than 2 million animals euthanized a year.

We go around the country and promote and do events and support the local animal rescue groups around the world, around the United States, but also the world. And what happened was I ended up getting a crazy stalker who completely ruined my life, literally. And by 2012, my whole life of what I created, literally — I had to step back from public life and figure out what was going on. And what happened was I ended up on vacation in Honduras, the murder capital of the world. When I booked the trip, I didn’t know it was the murder capital of the world, but I booked it and I was, like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ But I’m an adventurer and I’m not hanging out with the drug lords. And what I say to people about my story is embracing life. Whatever’s put in front of you, there’s a positive — you might not know it in a day, a year or 10 years.

Well, the guy who ran the hotel said, ‘There’s an amazing organization that provides micro-loans for poor women. Why don’t you go check it out? It’s safe. I know the development director. Go check it out.’ So, I ended up on this journey where I learned all about the statistics of women. This was 2013. So, when I went on this journey to go to this organization called Adelante with this development director, I was supposed to spend a few hours. I spent three days — literally dirt floor, the whole thing — and met all these incredible women that were receiving these US$100 micro-loans.

I met this one woman — she was 72 years old and she had three little kids. And I’m, like, ‘How did you have these three little kids? Whew, it’s a miracle.’ And she’s. like, ‘My daughter passed away, the husband ran off.’ And she got a US$100 micro-loan and was able with that US$100 to open up a window in her one-room hut (that) she shared with these three little grandchildren on a dirt floor and sell Cokes and toothpaste.

And literally, around the world, there are millions of women receiving these loans. So, they’re paying it back at a 98% rate — 90% of that goes to educate their children, provide for their families. One out of eight women in America are living in poverty. I’m like, ‘Wow, why is nobody talking about this?’ So, I went back to our governor and our mayor and I said, ‘Can we create a day in the world called Women’s Entrepreneurship Day?’ — to bring awareness to empower, celebrate and support women economically. Because if we support women economically, we know 90% of that money goes to educate the children, provide for their families, and uplift the entire community. And when women are a part of business, they have self confidence, they have dignity, they don’t allow human rights violations.

In 2014 — the team in Africa — I was introduced to a woman in Botswana that was a goat farmer who couldn’t afford healthcare for her son, who had really serious health issues, and sadly, the son passed away. But on that journey she learned about Bitcoin. I learned about Bitcoin in 2014. And why is that? Because this woman created the SatoshiCentre in Botswana, like, in her little hut. You know what I’m saying? And to educate the people of Botswana about Bitcoin. Fast forward today — she’s advising the government of Botswana on crypto. She’s being funded by (Twitter co-founder) Jack Dorsey.

So anyways, that’s how I learned about it, and that’s how I started to see that what Bitcoin is about, is what our foundation is about. Our foundation was founded on helping the two-and-a-half billion unbanked, who are mostly women. We have that same mission. And so when I learned about Bitcoin, I was, like, ‘What?’ I was, like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ I’m not a techie. I’m not like one of these people, but I just was fascinated by this global currency that was enabling (people) — especially these people in high-inflation areas — to have financial inclusion. So, when you look at Bitcoin and the usage and the millions of people using it in Venezuela and Zimbabwe and Botswana, Nigeria… that aligns with what our belief is, with our foundation. So that was how I originally got into it.

Lau: Damn. I’m going to say, damn. Here’s why — you built up through simply identifying a need and asking the question why. And then you did it. That is by definition a founder. That is by definition an entrepreneur, That is by definition a change-maker. Now, you did this for animals and animal welfare and really connecting the dots and creating this powerful voice. You go to Honduras. Happenstance, and boom — you meet somebody that makes a click for you. And you mentioned that about crypto. What is it about crypto that speaks to you in the same way that you identified a need, a problem, and you go, ‘Hey, here’s a possible solution. Why not this?’ Why is crypto that for you?

Diamond: We think about, like, Web3, and we think about the metaverse and NFTs. Let’s not forget the mother of this whole system, the ecosystem — Bitcoin. And Bitcoin is, to me — if you look it up and you kind of look at the history of it — the most high-integrity deflationary instrument ever created in history that isn’t controlled by a government or a few people, which is run by the people and decentralized, to enable peer-to-peer transactions in an immutable, transparent and traceable (way), and providing this. So, it enables the two-and-a-half billion unbanked financial inclusion. All they need is their account.

My whole thing was to bring awareness towards animal rescue, bring awareness towards empowering women economically who are impoverished from a ground-up approach. It’s never been like ‘me, me, me’, it’s all about ‘we, we, we’. WEDO. And so I feel, like, the founders, Satoshi (Nakamoto) of Bitcoin, they didn’t care about the money or power. And they’ve never sold or transferred any of their Bitcoin. And they’re worth billions and billions of dollars. That says something about the integrity of this whole ecosystem. And I think that’s what I care most about, because, when you think about  it — especially in the United States with what’s happened with bailing out all the banks and who really benefited from that and who did it and the whole thing — this, to me, is that I love it, I believe in it. And I’d like to say that, sure, like anything in this world, there’s a few bad eggs. But when you think of why this was created, it has such high integrity that we must embrace it.

Lau: You’re an adviser on numerous interesting crypto funds, including Perceptive Capital, just to name a few. There’s a significant gap between running a charity organization and supporting blockchain start-ups. So now you’re in this space, what are you looking for? What do you think still needs to be supported in this space? Women in crypto. Are there enough of us?

Diamond: So, I’ve been in this space for a long time. I’ve been through the ICO (initial coin offering) stage, where I lost a lot. And I was just so excited because everyone was disrupting everything. I was like, sure, sure, sure, so I decided to start investing in funds. So, I’m currently an investor in five crypto Web3 funds, also (in) start-ups that are impactful. So, my whole goal is to support the underdog. And the underdog is those that don’t have a voice. So, that includes women, that includes animals, that includes climate change… everything.

So, I believe by being part of these funds, it’s my responsibility to bring awareness towards the women founders in this space and to enable and have a voice for them within these funds. So, I do invest in funds to be a part of that. Because when you look at it, most of these crypto funds are founded by men. But how do we then bring those really great projects to them that really are impactful?

So, a few of the projects that I’m in. One is called Animal Cloud, which is a Web3 platform for animal rescue, bringing data and adoption to Web3 so that you can track the life of these dogs and be able to figure out ‘How do we decrease the adoption rates by enabling responsible breeding?’ and etc. And these are the kind of projects I’m in. I’m also part of BlockTower Capital. I’m part of CoinFund, early in Rarible and Dapper and a lot of the early successful Web3 projects.

Lau: Lots of successes … I want to talk about how crypto is making a difference in times of distress, and what WEDO is doing actively in Afghanistan after power reverted back into the hands of the Taliban … And you, Wendy, are funding — what is it — 100,000 Afghan women with crypto. Your organization has been active in Afghanistan since 2014 and now — wow — more important than ever before. Tell us about the impact you’ve had and the decision to stay as the government fell in Kabul … and the Taliban took over.

Diamond: So again, our foundation — we’re an all-volunteer movement. So, we look for, like, successful women that want to give back to their communities. So, yes, we were in Afghanistan during this whole transition period, etc., and our team there were forced to leave. And what I learned is, like, what was crypto really created for with this type of situation.

So, I just started reading a lot about some of these incredible women there. A lot of them were Gen Z and stuff like that. And I would go find them, whether it was on TikTok or Instagram, and I’d be like, ‘Hey, are you guys into crypto? Have you thought about this?’ And so then I was, like, ‘Ok, let’s do this. Let’s create an initiative to fund 100,000 women in Afghanistan for a week’s worth of food so everyone can contribute US$10.’ That’s all it is, by the way. They get their rice, they get all the stuff, their necessities for the week.

But what’s really important before we give them (that) is that it takes them two minutes to set up. So, out of the 40 million people there, half of those people have mobile phones, whether it’s a flip-phone or mobile. And so we guessed about 5 million of those were women. So, what we did is we finished our pilot, so that now these women have it. They then have to watch a quick little video about learning about crypto and creating an NFT, and then they receive the tokens, and we’ve brought on Stacks coin. Solana now is looking at how they can participate in this. So we’re basically testing it out, and we’re going to ask the entire Web3 community to get behind this. We’ve also connected with the e-commerce companies within Afghanistan. Now, there are e-commerce companies — there’s an Amazon of Afghanistan. They’re only doing 30,000 packages, but to enable those women who receive these drops of coins are able then to spend it in these e-commerce companies within Afghanistan, they create a package. So, those women, when they go on, can just pay for it with their crypto.

So, it’s my goal to get this community — of which even though we’re in a winter right now, have done phenomenally well and in honor of Satoshi, who created this movement, we should do what this whole ecosystem was created upon doing, and it’s enabling financial inclusion, and the majority of the two-and-a-half billion unbanked are women. So, this is one of these projects that I think is very important, and I think that it enables everybody in the community to support.

Lau: What you’re also showing is really you’re conducting a case study, a real-life pilot trial that shows off the ability of this peer-to-peer payment system to help in a humanitarian crisis, in any sort of event of need, where we can see the power of digital currency being actively used to help on the ground.

Diamond: There is such a need for projects like this in the world. By the way, talking about Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, it’s an official day on Nov. 19. And since Nov. 19, falls on a Saturday — the one that we do in New York at the United Nations, — it’s going to be held on Nov. 18, and that day is celebrating the impact of Web3 and crypto and what they’ve done in the world. Because there are so many projects around the world, for instance, like the Ukraine DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) and Unicorn DAO, and all these people that have really contributed to the betterment of the world. I think it’s important that we bring this to the forefront.

Lau: Are there other spots in the world where you see that people have been marginalized, and you’re very aware of these spots and they exist even in our own countries? Where do you see the application of crypto beyond what we’re seeing right now? I mean, everybody’s hearing the obviously scary headlines — crypto winter contagion, wealth destruction and its enormous impact.

Diamond: We’re up against the naysayers. We’re up against so much. But if you just read between the lines like BlackRock doing their Bitcoin chart and all this stuff, you’ll see it’s going to happen. It’s just going to take a lot longer because the fact is, we’re 13 years old. And I know, like, Gen Z and millennials, like, need it yesterday, need it quickly, but you know what? Patience, because it’s happening. There’s some of the most incredible minds behind this whole thing. And it’s — truly, to me — I’ve never been so excited about some of these projects that are really going to change this world for the better.

Lau: Ok, Wendy, we’ve talked about so many things, but inclusivity — you’re actively doing something about it with Women Entrepreneurship, WEDO. We do more, we can do. WEDO. And how can we all do it? Not just women, but male allies and women allies in this space to include more. And why is that important?

Diamond: And that’s another thing. We’re not, like, we love men…

Lau: Of course we do.

Diamond: Yeah. Like, we’re not male, any of that.

Lau: I’ve got a five-year-old son. I’ve got to love my guy, and I’ve got to love my guy who gave me my little guy. So, yeah.

Diamond: I mean, that’s the whole thing. It’s about education. And I’ll say, like, some of the greatest men in this ecosystem are supporting our movement. Everyone from Seth Ginns, one of the heads of CoinFund, to Tom (Thomas) Lee from Fundstrat, to James Johnson, etc., are really big supporters. And I think that the key to this is to really bring a lot and support these initiatives, whether it’s being part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day all over the world and supporting our ambassadors all over the world that are creating our movement and participating. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is going to be celebrated in the metaverse, so everyone can participate this year. Be part of it.

It’s about also supporting all these DAOs that are out there that are supporting women, whether it’s AllStarsWomen DAO or whether it’s H.E.R. DAO, or whatever it might be. There are so many women that are really fighting to support women in this space, and to help the developers create different companies and partnering and collaborating so that everyone can make a difference. Everyone can participate. Whether you’re still in Web2, you can participate. Whether you’re young and you don’t know what you’re doing, you can participate.

What’s so amazing about this ecosystem is that there’s so much opportunity. I mean, all the companies that I’m in and all the funds I’m in have so many job opportunities. It’s about education and enabling these women to understand that they’re capable and that they should apply. And it’s also as simple as just attending Meetups in the space — there’s Meetups everywhere in the world… just being able to be educated. And a lot of people are fearful of it. And what I always say to them is, like during the pandemic — I’ll tell you, it was hysterical — I literally probably spent hundreds of hours watching YouTube.

Lau: YouTube University.

Diamond: I would go to something or I’d watch something and someone would say something and I’d be, like, ‘What the heck is that?’ And there I am, two minutes later, when I’m done watching five YouTube videos to get it. Because at the end of the day, it’s super-exciting. I mean, there’s so much education out there for Web3. Every protocol, whether it’s NEAR, whether it’s Solana, whether it’s Polygon, Ethereum Foundation… There are all these free ways to learn about blockchain, about all these protocols and how you can be a part of it.

Lau: So, a lot of women, I think, (know) the 90-10% rule. We all know what that is. For women, we have to feel 90% capable before we raise our hand, and for the guys in the room, it’s 10% capable. And ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go. I can own this space.’ How do we flip that thinking? What do the women who are watching this — and the male allies who are watching this — need to recognize? How do we flip that thinking and have every woman raise their hand? If they’re interested in the space, really, you are capable.

Diamond: Like, when you say that, I kind of was thinking, ‘That’s me kind of too.’ I’m not the one who’s like, ‘Oh, even though I’m kind of experienced and I’ve had a lot of experience in life and I’m just totally in all sectors and understand how to make things happen.’ I think you really need to do this at a young age. So, it’s about at a young age, enabling your children to have jobs, and to be able to be self sufficient and to be able to open their minds and to become entrepreneurs. Because in our society today, people are not graduating college and working for somebody for 20 years. They have to be an entrepreneur. 

You can never lose your inner child of excitement of always wondering, ‘Wow,’ or, ‘How?’ and ‘How can I do that?’ or “Let me try.’ When you were younger, you were, like, all about that, and always remembering that will enable women to just — whether you’ve just lost your job and you don’t know what you’re going to do — it’s, like, take that journey, go down that rabbit hole of YouTube, look at all the videos, watch it. What excites you? Is it the metaverse? Is it gaming? And if you’re really interested in something, do one Google. If you’re interested in real estate, there’s a ton of blockchains for real estate. If you’re interested in education, there’s tons of that. And then just do your research. Because I always say to people like, ‘I had no idea.’ Honestly, like my whole life, I’ve been an entrepreneur. I never had a job. I applied for, like, 100 jobs after college. No one hired me, so I always had to create my own thing, and I was not a good student.

And so I think it’s just really understanding what’s the worst that could happen. And the worst that could happen is someone says no, but I can promise eventually someone will say yes. And I think it’s just so important for people just to have it inside them to try and ask.

Lau: Well, you’ve said yes to so many people, and I think you’ve flipped the equation. So, we might only know 10%, but there’s 90% of people like the Wendy Diamonds of the world. And hopefully what we’re doing here at Forkast, and this incredible community of people who will say also, yes — all you have to do is know that they’re there and you seek them out. You know, 90% of that equation is you simply asking for help and getting guidance, because the yesses are all around us.

Diamond: I think you’ll agree, Angie. I’ve never seen a more passionate group of people in wanting to educate people and wanting people to be involved. So, wherever you are in this world, I can guarantee you there’s probably a crypto community on Meetup or somewhere, or you could find it. And, again, just do some research, because there are so many people working on such impactful projects, and it’s so important for people to have purpose in life. It’s just like, ‘Wow, I’m making a difference because I’m helping X, Y, Z.’ And I think that’s kind of like with me — with all the projects I work on, it’s always, like, it’s not about me. It’s the bigger problem that we’re facing and that we’re trying to solve.

Lau: Your story is incredible, and I can’t wait to join forces with you. It would be an honor, and I can’t wait to see the stories that we’ll write together and the stories that we’ll write about what you’re doing and continuing to do. It’s been a privilege and great to just chat with you in this Word on the Block episode, and I can’t wait to do more of it.

Diamond: Angie, thank you so much. So grateful.

Lau: Thank you, Wendy, for joining us today. And thank you, everyone, for joining us on this latest episode of Word on the Block. I hope that you’ve been inspired and go nudge that woman in your life — your daughter, your sister, your mother, your grandmother — to get into this space. It is world-changing, and that’s why we’re all here in it, after all. I’m Angie Lau, Forkast Editor-in-Chief. Until the next time.

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