By Rachel Wolfson
This year’s campaign theme for International Women’s Day is “BalanceForBetter,” a message that is focused on ways of creating a more gender-balanced society. Recognizing women’s achievements certainly helps when it comes to raising awareness for gender equality, especially in industries that are primarily male dominated.
The finance and blockchain industries, for example, are two of the most imbalanced when it comes to the gender divide. According to McKinsey, women account for only 19% of C-Suite positions in financial services companies. In regards to blockchain, women represent only 9% of the engaged blockchain community and almost 85% of blockchain companies have been founded by men.
While these statistics demonstrate the small percentage of women’s involvement, it’s important to highlight the women leaders who are responsible for shaping the blockchain landscape.
Getting Blockchain Projects Off The Ground
Kathryn Harrison, Director of IBM Blockchain, and Eillen Lowry, Global Director of the IBM Blockchain Garage, are both playing a major role in shaping the blockchain landscape for startups, small businesses and enterprises seeking to get blockchain projects off the ground.
Lowry, who leads the IBM Blockchain Labs team, helps clients understand business problems where blockchain can be applied.
The IBM Blockchain Lab focuses on lab and garage services that are highly client facing. We speak with clients about businesses network problems and help them understand how blockchain can be used. We work with customers in all capacities, from startups to large enterprises, bringing them all together to help solve network problems that lack trust and transparency. For example, we just finished an initial prototype with a small real estate startup focusing on interaction points to reduce the time for a commercial real estate sale to happen,” said Lowry.
Harrison, who works closely with Lowry, heads product management at IBM Blockchain. She leads a team that is making contributions to the open source community through Hyperledger Fabric. Harrison also oversees the team that has built the IBM blockchain platform, which is a set of tools and deployment capabilities to make it easier to set up, govern and grow enterprise blockchain networks.
As we build hundreds of client engagements across different industries, we are learning what it takes to start a blockchain network, including how to govern and run it when you have nodes across different organizations with different requirements. What we are doing specifically is taking all the lessons we’ve learned through these engagements, and building this into the IBM blockchain software, so anyone using the platform can benefit,” said Harrison.
While both Harrison and Lowry understand that blockchain technology may still be just an idea for some organizations, both women aim to educate and execute to turn blockchain technology into a reality for a number of companies in different sectors.
“The reality is that technology can go very far, but there is still the human element of governance with blockchain. We’ve been able to take that from our conversations with clients and push it into the technology capabilities in the IBM blockchain platform,” explained Harrison.
Furthermore, through the creation of developer tools, open source capabilities and contributions to Hyperledger Fabric, Harrison and Lowry are ensuring that blockchain is more accessible to developers.
We are making sure all the features of Hyperledger Fabric are available in the IBM blockchain platform, to provide a simple way to deploy and manage the key components of blockchain. We are also innovating around the operational and governance tools that it takes to manage a multiparty network, as this can be more complex when dealing with real organizations. That’s how we are driving innovation across the IBM blockchain platform,” said Lowry.
Driving Adoption For NFT’s
Anne Ahola Ward, CEO of Veritoken Global and IBM Futurist, is also shaping the blockchain landscape by building tools to help drive adoption of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Ward, also known as the “Mother of Startups,” has always been passionate about emerging tech.
“As a former database administrator and developer, blockchain technology intrigued me early on. It was one of those emerging technologies where I immediately saw the possibilities to scale so many different industries. In particular, I saw interesting things happening with blockchain early on,” said Ward.
Specifically, Ward recognizes huge potential in using blockchain technology to prevent human trafficking.
There are 1.7 billion adults worldwide that do not have access to bank accounts or the sort of things that most people take for granted, like photo IDs. Blockchain technology is scalable in a way that once we get the usability issues knocked out, it will be huge. Prevention of human trafficking is the most important thing blockchain can do for the world and this can be done through the unique data built into NFT’s, since this provides for data sovereignty and privacy,” explained Ward.
According to Ward, while NFTs can do everything cryptocurrency promises, the tools aren’t there yet. She aims to accelerate the adoption of NFT’s through the creation of developer tools to help deploy, understand and educate the community around NFTs.
“Right now, the only other people really interested in NFT’s are gaming companies. What we need to do is unify, collaborate and bring developers together. Furthermore, in light of International Women’s Day, it’s important to point out that the Veritoken C-Suite is two-thirds female. It’s a passion of mine to bring more women developers into the company,” said Ward.
Finding The Right Product Market Fit
Ella Zhang, Head of Binance Labs, is yet another leading innovator in the blockchain space. Zhang oversees a group of blockchain developers and experts at Binance Labs, helping them better understand correct product market fit for blockchain projects. Since its launch in October 2018, the Binance Labs incubator has grown into the strongest network of early-stage blockchain developer teams.
Binance Labs was initiated by the fundamental problems we see in the blockchain industry. The first problem is that most projects lack real product market fit to engage more users. We also saw the hype of the crypto market last year, which distracted the developers from building. As a result, we initiated this incubation program to help early stage founders and developers find the right product market fit, while providing the resources to help build their projects,” said Zhang.
According to Zhang, Binance Labs is primarily focused on helping teams discover the correct product market fit since this is a critical aspect most projects lack due to a number of reasons.
Many blockchain projects lack product market fit since this is such a hardcore technology, consisting of many different layers. Also, the technology itself has a lot of roadblocks in terms of providing usability to end-users. As a result, many developers and engineers are creating advanced, cutting edge technology, but they sometimes forget the real benefits provided by blockchain. For instance, are these projects really essential or necessary to the applications they are building? We often see engineers start to build a project with a strong tech infrastructure, but experience a gap when it comes to servicing end-users. Through mentorship and guidance, we help teams solve these problems to ensure that they are building the best possible blockchain projects,” said Zhang.
Educating The Public
Monica Long, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ripple, is also a driving force in the blockchain sector and aims to educate the general public about the capabilities of blockchain technology
As head of marketing at Ripple, my number one job has been centered around education and helping the world understand what blockchain technology is really capable of solving. What’s really unique about blockchain and crypto is its ability to change the way money moves around the world. I believe that blockchain technology is now laying the early foundation for the next generation of the Internet,” said Long.
Long is particularly passionate about Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI), a program in which the company has committed $50 million to help lead development for blockchain focused research and academia.
In addition to raising awareness for blockchain through education, Long has become a mentor for Ripple’s female employees, guiding colleagues in establishing Ripple as a market leader in blockchain and digital assets.
“At Ripple, we recognize the opportunity to prioritize diversity and inclusion. For example, one third of our leadership team and company consist of women. Within Ripple I’m also a part of the women at ripple internal initiative to help empower the women here and encourage them to recruit more women in the space.”