BlockW X The Bigger Pie – Ireland Blockchain Week – Part 1

Ireland Blockchain Week 2021

The European Commission defines Sustainable Finance as “the process of taking environmental, social & governance (ESG) considerations into account when making investment decisions in the financial sector, leading to more long-term investments in sustainable economic activities & projects.”

BlockW & The Bigger Pie are delighted to present this partnership event during Blockchain Ireland Week 2021.

Join us as we discuss real world projects with Founders, Investors & Advisors – those doing the work – in the field harnessing blockchain & a variety of crypto protocols, digital assets, as well as other emerging tech to fundamentally change how finance is traced, collected & distributed amongst SMEs in emerging & developed economies, the unbanked & underbanked, through P2P networks.

 

Here is part 1 of the conversation:

Joyce O’Connor:  I’m just going to say a little bit about BlockW for those of you who don’t know who we are. We’re a female led network whose mission is to create awareness about blockchain and other emerging technologies and promote equity and diversity in its use and application.

We foster inclusivity by helping to provide pathways and access to education, training, and skills.

We are delighted to be in conversation with a group of amazing women, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, leaders, and our panel will be introduced to you by Bridget. As you can see, there’s Bridget herself, Sorcha, Sofie, Jannah and Dr. Jane Thompson. We’re really delighted to have this international group who are based in Australia, UK, Denmark and Ireland.

Following today, our discussion with the panel and our audience, we’re very pleased at the Minister with responsibility for financial services in the department of finance. Mr. Sean Fleming will join us on video to give his closing address to blockchain Ireland week.

Minister Flemings’ closing remarks will leave us I think, with a clear view of his department’s intent to build financial services within the European framework with the help of frontier technologies like blockchain. But I would like to take this opportunity if I may to thank the Blockchain Ireland Week team for all their hard work, I’m sure they’re absolutely exhausted and delighted that it’s the end of the week. Well done Dáire, Paul, Amber and Mazena it was a tremendous success and I know you put an awful lot of work into it.

Our focus today is timely.

Digitalisation is the foundation of inclusion into revolving, networked inter and interconnected lives from agriculture to healthcare to financial services.

Tomorrows and today’s and dates strongest performing financial services are likely to find new value at the intersection of digital technologies and sustainability provided by these two engines of growth.

We are five times more likely to outperform our peers.

Our colleague and friend Sanjay Podder from Accenture during the week said that that was two and a half times pre pandemic, but now post pandemic it’s five times more likely. It’s not just the right thing to do. It is successful business.

Digital financial inclusion is defined by the European commission as the process of taking environmental, social and governments’ considerations into account when making investment decisions in the financial sector, leading to more longterm investments in sustainable economic activities and growth.

This perspective resonates with our panel who will discuss real-world projects. Our panel, our members, our founders, inventors and advisors and they are harnessing the power of blockchain and a variety of crypto protocols, digital assets, as well as other frontier technologies. Their work and that of others is pioneering and will fundamentally change how finance is traced, collected and distributed among SMEs in emerging and developed economies, the unbanked and the underbanked for peer to peer networks.

We’re absolutely delighted to be with you here today to have Bridget as our moderator from The Bigger Pie.

The Bigger Pie is an organisation founded on supporting women in blockchain and further technologies. I’ll hand over to Bridget now to introduce our panel and to moderate the event.

Thank you very much.

Bridget Greenwood:  Thank you so much, Joyce indeed.

You’ve covered a lot in terms of framing what we’re going to be talking about.

I just want to say personally,

I founded The Bigger Pie in 2019 because I saw the opportunity that this technology had to be able to change the way that we interact with each other, to change business models and to be able to distribute global solutions.

But having come into the industry in 2017, I saw incredible women in the space, but there’s just not enough. I think if we’re going to be shaping our global futures, then we need everyone at the design, development and deployment table.

The Bigger Pie is very much focused on making sure that we have visibility of the women who are pioneering in the space like we have on this panel, that we can support them, that we can have conversations around getting these women funded.

I was speaking to somebody yesterday and I was actually recording on a podcast around them, “investing into female founders” and we should be investing for diversity and looking in spite of it.

And this idea as well, “sustainable finance” that often, I think people seem to think that type of purpose or profits. When you have a look at something like Kapor Capital, they are a top core tile fund that has in their 102 companies at the last report led by over 50% of women and people of color. They focus on addressing educational inequity, climate change, quality job creation for formerly incarcerated people, alternatives to predatory loans and other critical inventions. And they’ve made more money than those who are just focusing on profit.

I’m really excited. I’m not going to take up anymore of everyone’s time because I want to hear from the panelists about what problems that they identify, how they’re solving them and how the sector of technology is allowing us to be able to radically change our business models and to, I think lead and be able to deliver on that new leadership.

Sofie, would you mind introducing yourself please?

Sofie Blakstad: Sure. And thanks very much for asking me to speak today.

It’s great to see so many familiar and new faces as well.

I’m Sofie Blakstad, I’m CEO of Hiveonline. We’re a Danish impact FinTech company rolling out in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a community finance platform that’s based on blockchain.

We support the bottom of the pyramid, communities of farmers. Many of whom don’t have access to technology, literacy and electricity anything very much.

We help the the whole community to get digitised by the community-based hub, which doesn’t require everyone to have a device.

Everyone can have an identity wallet and build a digital history of their commercial activity without needing a phone.

It’s based on blockchain.

We have a three token model, which is based around a stable coin that we also have a share token and a debt token. We can manage relatively complex financial fund structures and transaction structures. But obviously all of this is non transparent to the users who just see it as money and lending and buying into the community that they’re a member of.

We started it for savings groups in Niger a couple of years ago, working with care international and as a consequence have built it for very high resilience with very, very low literacy, because Niger for those of you who don’t know is the least developed country in the world. We’ve got corporatives in Mozambique, savings groups in Zambia and Uganda and we’re about to start working in Nigeria, with returning refugees, helping them to build communities farms there and also in Kenya.

We will also be working on a project in Ireland with Tokenomics, that’s again where the Irish connection comes from, us bringing our experience of working with communities of farmers to the Irish ecosystem.

As well as doing transactions and savings and things, we also do traceability and crop quality, building markets and helping farmers to get access to seamless markets for. Which is a problem in Africa bits. I think it’s a problem everywhere as well.

In terms of the challenges we faced, having to deal with customers who don’t have access to things that we take for granted has been a big learning curve for us. But it’s been, I think very valuable for us because it’s enabled us to really start building distributed infrastructure, where there is no infrastructure. Another big learning is that, some of the things that we thought would take three to five years to really get people excited about are starting to happen now partly because of COVID. Because

people are beginning to recognise the need for alternative financial structures and things like tokenised assets

which we were planning to do later on. We’re now starting to deliver next month.

That’s been a really exciting thing.

One of the big challenges we face is actually just working with organisations in Africa because things tend to be very slow.

Technology can be quite behind the curve, the financial sector is very conservative.

But at the same time, I’m very excited about the opportunity to reach customers that they literally can’t see today. It’s a very different set of challenges to the typical ones here.

Although of course, regulation is always very high on the agenda and managing in a way that is protecting customers and compliant with regulation. Of course that’s different from country to country.

We’ve been with five countries, more on the way. That’s all, it’s a bit of a challenge. But I think one of the really key things that the technology has enabled us to do, is to start to build the rails of a distributed economy, where there is no infrastructure. That to me, is the really exciting thing about this technology.

I spent most of my career building international banks for a living.

When this tech came along, I saw the opportunity to fill in the gaps where the big banks have really failed to reach.

Bridget Greenwood:  I know that for each of you as panelists, we could spend a whole session just absolutely. Victoria, please. Would you mind introducing yourself?

Victoria Thompson:  Yeah. Thanks, Bridget and thanks for the invitation to come and talk.

Who am I? I’m Victoria Thompson. I’m a lawyer by background and training. I’ve spent more than a decade and we’ll just leave it at that number, inside financial institutions thinking about innovation inside those organizations and what that really means.

Up until the global pandemic, I was quite happy in that role. And then I picked up a phone and answered a call from one of our other panelists. The delightful Jannah Patchay who is my partner in crime, and a lot of things that I get up to. We started a bit of a passion project, which has now turned into Orora and I am the founder and CEO of Orora.

And really what is Orora?

Orora is about creating and reinventing the future of money, about making sure money flows where it needs to go the most and has the most impact.

It’s about putting people and humanity at the center of every decision that that organization makes and tackling the hardest business problems that we’ve got.

It isn’t a charitable institution. It’s about exactly what you’ve said is a good growth. It’s a good growth company with profit that comes and flows back to where it needs to, to do the work that it needs to do. We’re at the moment, where we’re developing a distribution platform and our wallet, which is about financial inclusion because there is a shockingly alarming number of people in this world that don’t have access to financial systems, which has largely been addressed by Sofie in her introduction as well.

There are 1.3 million people in the UK that don’t have access to any form of bank account. And we’re a developed nation supposedly. There are 1.7 billion globally. As a result of the COVID pandemic, the world bank estimate that and another hundred and 50 million people will be pushed into poverty. That’s going to have a tremendous impact. At Orora, we really want to think about how do we help people deal with those situations? How do we get people that are homeless banked?

 

How do we get the women that are fleeing domestic abuse and have been subject to coercive control of their financial history, into a safe space have access to cash when they really need it?

We’ve come up with a nifty little way, courtesy of a little bit of money that we got from the UK government, by their sustainable innovation research fund, to develop our wallet with NEM and leveraging the NEM symbol blockchain protocol and the tokens that they have, how we can create something that enables corporates to sponsor financial inclusion.

Starting off with the charitable sector, if you imagine how charities like Big Issue and Refuge could support the people that they want to take care of and get into the right situation. How we can get them into the system and then into a place where they can develop good credit history, they can then develop access to systems and entitlement and benefits.

Because right now,

if you haven’t got all of the lovely things that you need to rock up with either online or in a branch, the bank will say, “no. “

AML, KYC all the things that are suppose to stop financial crime are actually barriers to financial inclusion. What we’re about to do with Orora is have an engagement process with the regulators with government to think about, “can we come together to actually properly solve this?” Because the technology is there.

This is not about technology. This is not actually about how hard it is. This is about values.

This is about understanding that technology and actually applying it into a real world to solve real world problems.

And that’s what Orora is really about. That’s me.

Bridget Greenwood:  Amazing.

I think the other thing that I understand is a 1.7 billion of unbanked people is actually under-representative because it’s the head of the household. There are other people within the household.

Victoria Thompson: It’s really scary.

When you look at those numbers, when you really analyze the numbers that the UNDP put up about this, about financial inclusion, and also when you go drill into the equality angle for women.

The amount of women that don’t even get paid for jobs they do, they get paid in “kind” is scary.

Then the exposure that women have to the manipulation because they are in a cash based economy. I mean, I was involved in a world health innovation summit around the impact of wellbeing and access to cash and financial coercive control.  And this is the shocking statistics.

When you look as well what’s happened in the COVID pandemic specifically to women. It’s really, really scary that the system at the moment just isn’t set up. There aren’t products out there, there aren’t safe spaces for women to go to get the support that they need.

As somebody as a junior lawyer who spent a long time volunteering in women’s refuges and helping with care orders with children and various other aspects.

There’s a real need to allow those safe spaces in communities to exist and help women and young girls know that they can have financial independence.

That they can have financial literacy and that they can have those skills to be able to get themselves into that position. And that’s what we want to do.

We want to use our Orora wallet as that conduit, working with community partners to get those that are the most vulnerable into a space where they can feel like they can take control of their financial destiny, that they don’t have to rely on food banks.

They don’t have to rely on benefits and age.

You can get them to a place. Because when you give access to cash, whether it’s in real form or digital form, most of the time, people end up doing amazing things with that. When you look at also what the future of universal basic income could be for people and the pile ups that have happened all around the world. When you give people that access, you see tremendous growth in entrepreneurial development, you see tremendous growth in people being able to do great things in their community. That’s something that we’re also very passionate about in Orora about making sure people get the things that they are entitled to, to give them that space because access to cash and the fear of financial insecurity is a massive mental health crisis that we’re going to face in the next decade.

Bridget Greenwood:  Very much so. And Jannah, Victorias’ partner in crime.

Jannah Patchay: Yes. Thanks Bridget. Aside from being Victorias’ partner in crime, which I will get onto as well.

I am the founder of a consultancy called Markets Evolution, which specialises in financial innovation, regulatory strategy and market structure, which may sound like seemingly unconnected things.

But they actually are quite connected.

My background is entirely in capital markets and that’s where I’ve been working for about the past 20 years.

The major part of my career has actually been in working with large institutions such as banks, trading venues and exchanges and helping them deliver their strategy.

Market structure is basically about how different market participants interact. What happens if you change something like introducing a new regulation, or how do you build up new markets and new products and services that you want to launch.

What kind of market participants do you need to engage? What kind of intermediaries do you need?

And things like that.

It was about a year and a half ago, it was an afternoon in January last year that, I went for a coffee with Victoria and I remember having rant to her about how I just read the latest of many really depressing papers, mainly produced by consultancies and the future of capital markets.

I’ve always been quite passionate about about creating financial markets that are fit for purpose for everyone, not just the tiny number of beneficiaries that they actually serve today. I think capital markets at the moment only serve something like the top 1% of all companies. Everyone else has to go somewhere else for financing.

And that’s before you even get to retail consumers and the financially excluded, which Victoria has spoken extensively about already.

I’ve been reading all these depressing papers, usually put out by consultancies about the future of capital markets.

And I suppose they’re intended to scare clients into, “purchasing the syrup”, “procuring the services of those consultancies” but they all painted a very bleak picture of a future with lower profit margins and lots of what they described as “external pressures.”

The external pressures of climate risk and the pressures of lower margins.

I said to Victoria; what if we could rethink all this? What if we could bring together everyone who’s working on really exciting technology innovation and financial innovation, or what if we could bring that all together and actually paint a really positive future of what capital markets, what financial markets could look like.

Where we actually could build in the ideas of sustainability and fairness and equity from the ground up.

It’s not just about that having those sorts of annoying bolt-ons that have to be on the side.  And here we are, a year and a bit later, kind of doing exactly that, which is really exciting.

Sustainability and Inclusion

I think my key for me, when traditional financial institutions talk about concepts like sustainability and inclusion, they quite often talk about it within the constraints that they face, the constraints of their existing business models and the constraints imposed on them by the technology that they use.

For instance, if you look at green bonds and the issues around greenwashing being unable to really measure the impact, of green or sustainable investments.

That’s a huge issue at the moment, but what if we could rethink that?

If we started from scratch as a fresh piece of paper and designed financial products that were fit for purpose to not just meet ESG criteria, but to have the actual impacts built in from the outset.

What if we then built those using the technology that we have available now, rather than the legacy infrastructure that has all of its constraints.

What if we used DLT for example, what if we use smart contracts and tokenisation and created digital native financial instruments that had impact measurement built into them from the ground up. What if those could be linked to the internet of things to real life census that were measuring what was going on in real time and continually updating and reevaluate the instruments based on that.

That’s when you start to see the really transformative potential and the real ability to create financial markets that are fit for purpose, that do serve the needs of the many, rather than as the few.

That’s what gets me really excited. And that’s why I love everything I’m working on at the moment.

So both Orora with Victoria.

We’re also amongst the originating team behind a new digital pound initiative

which is looking at the case supporting the introduction of a UK central bank digital currency and what that can mean for financial inclusion and sustainability as well.

I guess my whole career sort of transformed to focus on this new area of digital sustainability.

Bridget Greenwood: That’s amazing and it’s really timely as well.

 

Here is part 1 of the recording: