Women to Watch – Spotlight on Helen Disney, CEO Unblocked Events
Helen Disney got into blockchain in 2014 even though, before that, her career had nothing to do with technology. Helen had worked for many years in think tanks and public policymaking, the connection being her interest in new ideas, and in particular how those new ideas can be communicated in ways that people can readily understand.
Drawing on her experience as a journalist at The Times newspaper. Helen has brought those communication skills from journalism and from the policy world – which are both really about unpacking complicated problems for the general audience — into the blockchain world where innovation is abundant.
Her goal is bringing storytelling and more fun ways of explaining these new concepts, so people can really grab on and get enthusiastic about the technology in the same way that she has.
In this interview with Jillian Godsil, Helen shares her insights and experiences in the Blockchain world.
Blockchain technology and crypto assets are complex, do you also find it’s often deliberately misunderstood and misinterpreted by many organisations that don’t want to be locked in?
There are misunderstandings about how the technology works and some people who would like to obfuscate. This happens in all technologies and just in day-to-day life, even with things like taking your car to the garage for a tune-up. Sometimes, we feel like, “I don’t know that much about cars, and so I’m going to get ripped off.” It’s the same with cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
I don’t want people to feel like they’re in a position where they get lost in technobabble. I don’t want them to have the understanding that if they use their money this way, they’re going to get involved in something that’s dodgy. I want people to see it as something that’s a good opportunity, not something that’s going to turn out to be negative.
Explain more about your role as CEO of Unblocked Events. What do you do, and what projects are you working on?
Unblocked Events was set up in 2016, building on what I’d already discovered and learned through being involved in other Bitcoin events and blockchain media platforms. All of the work I’d been involved in was ultimately to help business people understand how blockchain can be applied in different verticals of business.
There are a lot of potential applications of blockchain in areas like healthcare: many think of data management but blockchain can also change the way we do clinical trials to make them more transparent, or it can possibly improve the way we commercialise intellectual property from scientific research.
Most people don’t realise that blockchain has anything to do with something like healthcare. I create one-day events around themes like health care, energy, public sector, creative industries, supply chains etc.
Each day that we run provides the opportunity to go in detail into what the most innovative companies and startups are doing in the field. We vet them ahead of time, and make sure they’re interesting and will provide learning opportunities for people from mainstream companies or public life that want to really learn about this topic without necessarily going to a huge blockchain event that’s all about the technical side.
They want to learn about blockchain, how it applies to them in their real, everyday lives, and what problems they can solve with the technology.
We’re also building a lot of educational content courses and primers around those same themes, designed to help people be able to learn between events, or even just to supplement what they’ve learned at the events. This will enable professionals to understand how disruptive and emerging technologies like blockchain impact their industry.
You organise regular women-in-blockchain Meetups. Do you think it is still important to have women-focused meetups?
I came from a male-dominated career in politics and public policy with hardly any female think tank directors when I started out, so you have to find different strategies to deal with that.
My first Bitcoin event, was a similar experience.
There are multiple reasons for doing the women in blockchain events. Mass adoption: more people will get involved if the technology is visibly inclusive. And there are specific areas where we can support women in particular.
For example, financial literacy. Women don’t always get the education they need on financial products. You don’t have to be a high net-worth investor to need to know about pensions or savings products, or the best way to manage money or deal with debt—and it’s the same as we’re developing crypto assets.
Let’s say you want to own some Bitcoin but how do you actually get a Bitcoin wallet? How do you know how to keep your cryptocurrency safe? How do you deal with something like getting divorced? Or what if you die? Where’s your cryptocurrency going to go? Will your family be able to know how to get hold of the money if something bad happened to you?
These things are new skills that all of us need to learn, and perhaps even more so for women. Women often suffer from leaving the workforce when they have children. Often we lose income, too. Being able to have the opportunity to make money through investing in cryptocurrency and keeping that money safe is a big deal.
Financial education is not done well for boys or girls in school. But for women, you kind of fall off the cliff face for a variety of reasons.
What do you say to women who ask, ‘how do I get involved with blockchain’?
I think there’s an entry point for everybody now. When I first got involved in this area, I guess mostly what I saw was either tech entrepreneurs–—the real geeks—or people are very high-level, sort of tech investors who are very interested in cutting-edge ideas and who wanted to put money behind something that would potentially make them money and be revolutionary.
The industry has evolved. Multiple companies are looking for people to help them with events like I do, or marketing, and, with storytelling and writing like you do. As well as the technical side, legal, financial skills are needed, and as I mentioned before this technology impacts across all sectors. So whatever you do, there’s potentially a way to look at this and think, “Okay, how could I apply blockchain to what I do?”
You’re working on educational material. Where can people find out about those? And what kind of courses and primers are you doing?
We have a resources page on our website, which collates book and podcast recommendations, as well as videos that we’ve done at our events. You can also discover an array of interviews with CEOs of blockchain companies who are doing interesting things, and telling their story in a human way, this includes a number of female CEOs who are paving the way.
For 2020 we’re building some new primers around the verticals that we work in. A blockchain 101 for different sectors like healthcare and energy.. This is to supplement the broader content out there and offer real-world use cases and examples. It will allow even more of an understanding so when you come to our events you can really explore how you can build that application within your own business.