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Femtech in Africa: Meet the Women Who Are Pioneering Blockchain Technology in Africa

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Femtech in Africa

It is an undeniable fact that technological advancements are helping to solve some of the world’s most pertinent problems. In Africa, e-learning, remote working, mobile money transfers as well as digital communication are just some of the areas through which technology is exposing people to new opportunities. This is especially true for Africa’s youth. 

While technology has become part of our daily lives, the technology space is still very much a man’s domain. There is a substantial disparity between the number of men and women working in technology, with the number dropping even further in places of leadership. There have been a number of studies that have revealed that women in tech, especially in positions of power, augur well for both the consumer and the company.

The rise of the FemTech movement is partly in response to this disparity. FemTech refers to women in technology. Additionally, it has connotations of the use of technology as a tool for female empowerment. While female empowerment is important across the globe, it is doubly so in Africa where it has been noted that female empowerment leads to better economic standing for the whole family according to a World Bank study

In Africa, there are a number of women making waves within the bitcoin and blockchain space. Whether they are from Africa or their projects have a specific focus on Africa, these are women who are harnessing the power of blockchain technology to spur on positive change on the continent.

Sonya Kuhnel

Sonya Kuhnel launched the Blockchain Academy in 2013 with the intention of educating South Africans about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and their potential use cases.

“I became involved in the bitcoin/blockchain community because I believe that there is a huge amount of social good this technology offers and it could really change the way we transact and do business with each other. I therefore also decided to start Blockchain Academy as very few people really understood these opportunities at that time,” Kuhnel told Bitcoin Africa.

More specifically, Kuhnel believes blockchain technology can help fix one of South Africa’s most widespread and crippling problems. “In addition, because blockchain technology is so transparent, secure and decentralised, this technology could be used to combat fraud and corruption, which I felt very passionate about in South Africa where corruption is rife in the public and private sector.”

The Blockchain Academy holds training sessions for individuals, groups and organisations. Through the classes, participators gain an in-depth understanding of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.

While the number of women in technology is slowly growing across the world, Kuhnel is of the opinion that the cryptocurrency space within South Africa is lacking adequate female representation. She urges women to engage in activities that facilitate their interaction with the blockchain technology space.

“Women need to network and attend more social and business functions in order to meet and engage with people in the community. I am really not sure why there are generally so few women in this space but I am seeing this change in countries such as America where you see a lot more women attending conferences and events.”

Alakanani Itireleng

Alakanani Itireleng is an entrepreneur who founded the Satoshicentre to provide individuals and companies with access to information on bitcoin, blockchain technology, and the overall cryptocurrency space in Botswana. The Satoshicentre is an organisation that seeks to empower entrepreneurs with knowledge on blockchain technology in an effort to spur innovation.

Itireleng explained how she got involved with the blockchain space: “I learned about bitcoin in the beginning of 2012 when I was looking for ways to make money online to raise funds for my late son Pako. When he passed on I stopped searching or learning on bitcoin until 2013 when I just felt that I really need to study about bitcoin and find ways in which we can use bitcoin to empower people in Botswana. In 2014, I registered Satoshicentre as a blockchain technology hub, where we provide education on bitcoin and the blockchain, and also work on blockchain projects.”

The Satoshicentre has conducted a number of successful workshops. While the interest from the local bitcoin community is promising, Itireleng believes that

“African women in tech should endeavor to learn more about blockchain technology for the purposes of innovation as opposed to participating in the myriad of scammy get-rich-quick bitcoin schemes.”

“In [Botswana], most women [in the local bitcoin community] are currently more involved in bitcoin get rich schemes or cloud mining activities […] and less in understanding the underlying technology. This is something that needs to change,” she told Bitcoin Africa.

Tricia Martinez

Tricia Martinez is the founder of the new blockchain-based financial services platform Wala. It is a platform that seeks to provide financial services to those who are not able to access traditional financial services by leveraging blockchain technology to facilitate access to a number of financial services, all at a substantially lower cost than those witnessed at banks and other formal financial institutions.

Wala has created a crypto-token that is designed to facilitate cheap, fast, and easy microtransactions. In Uganda, as well as throughout the rest of Africa, micro-transactions are common due to low socio-economic status of many citizens. However, the high fees charged by traditional financial institutions automatically exclude many users. While bitcoin was originally designed to facilitate cheap and fast transaction, high fees and network congestion have made this impossible, thus the creation of the Dala token.

Martinez told Bitcoin Africa that she originally founded the company in an attempt to connect low-income Ugandan farmers to financial services.

Martinez believes that for all people, especially women in tech, to effectively function within a certain niche, they must be self-starters and showcase a significant amount of drive. “If there is one thing I have learned about being an entrepreneur, you must be proactive and make sure you are heard – even if that means starting from the bottom. Reach out to blockchain companies and experts to have informational interviews, take people out for a coffee to pick their brain, offer to be an intern and do the hard work,” she told Bitcoin Africa.

Moreover, because the blockchain and cryptocurrency space is relatively new, it is possible to participate in the community as long as one possesses an understanding of the technology and stays updated with all relevant happenings. Because of this, she urges women to not shy away from the space as participation is based on knowledge that is easily acquired.

“Remember, blockchain is still in its peak and hype. Everyone wants to get involved one way or another which means there is so much more competition in the space. However, due to blockchain still being in its infancy, a few months of experience in the space goes a long way.”

Elizabeth Rossiello

Elizabeth Rossiello is the founder and CEO of BitPesa an FX and payments platform that uses bitcoin to enable fast and cheap cross-border remittances. Founded in 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, the platform is focused on frontier markets, more specifically the African continent. 

The company has been well received within the cryptocurrency space, receiving over $10 million in funding from investors and recently acquiring European money service platform TransferZero in an effort to grow the company’s offerings and expand its reach.

For Rossiello, being a woman in the male-centric technology space has not been without its challenges. 

“I’ve definitely felt I’ve had to work four times harder to prove myself than maybe I would have had to have if I weren’t female. People always ask me how can I do this when I have young children – and these are questions that men with children don’t face. I’m often the only female speaker at a conference!”

In addition to its business acumen, BitPesa is also notable due to the fact that its top three executives are women. This move is designed, in part, to show that women are able to participate just as effectively as men within the job market and more so in the technology space.  

“There’s recognition that it’s a problem, whether we see the whole system change so that it is easier for females to get funding etc… What I can say though, is that my experience has shaped BitPesa – at one point, our entire executive team was female! We hire a lot of women – In a way, we have become a point of refuge and we receive some of the best CVs in the industry from women who admire the ethos and are eager to join us,” Rossiello stated.

Connie Gallippi

Connie Gallippi created the non-profit organisation BitGive, which utilises blockchain technology to make charitable donations traceable in attempt to bring much-needed transparency into the charitable giving sector.  

BitGive has facilitated direct donations to charitable organisations around the world, totaling to over $30,000. Using BitGive’s GiveTrack platform, it is possible for donors to track where and when each dollar was spent. This system helps to reduce waste and mismanagement of funds leading to actual changes at the grassroots level.

For a long time, Africa has been the focus for a number of charitable organisations. However, NGOs and other charitable organisation are often regarded as fraudulent and corrupt. Due to mismanagement of funds, the public faith in charitable organisations is low.

While all organisations claim to be honest, it can be difficult to ascertain how donors funds are spent and how, if at all, any progress is made at the ground level. Following an introduction to blockchain technology through Satoshi’s white paper, Connie Gallippi decided to utilise the technology to create a foundation that could truly be kept honest and held accountable for donors funds. Gallippi said: “When I learned about bitcoin and blockchain in the early years, I was always fascinated and inspired. In 2013, I dove a little deeper into my understanding. At that point, I recognised the truly revolutionary potential of the technology on a global scale and wanted to leverage it for charity and global philanthropy. Within a few months, BitGive was launched and was the first official bitcoin non-profit.”

Gallippi believes the growing number of women in tech in the global market is an indication that women are interested in technology but may be discouraged due to a number of factors such as low media coverage.

“There are actually many women in the community, and it’s growing every day. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of women in the industry, many in leadership roles, representing all different areas of expertise, and they are shaping the direction of the space,” Gallippi told Bitcoin Africa.

“I would love to see the women in the industry be more visible, with speaking roles, involved in key community decisions and negotiations, covered in the media, and generally recognised a lot more. This is one way to encourage more women to join the community and help them feel welcome; in addition to dispelling a lot of the myths that you have to be any certain type of person or have any certain type of skills to get involved,” she added.

If you are a woman considering a career in technology but are somewhat hesitant as this is still a largely male-dominated field, you should take inspiration from these women who are pioneers in the blockchain space in Africa.

Furthermore, the blockchain industry offers a wide range of new innovations, open communities, and jobs opportunities as the blockchain is poised to play an integral role in the future of society. If you are considering a career in technology, you should definitely find out more about cryptocurrency and the blockchain and perhaps find your calling in this new growing technology sector.

Blockchain Technology

Temasek Partners with SGX to Launch Singapore’s First Security Token Offerings Platform

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Bitcoin Remain dominant

Temasek Holdings, recently partnered with the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) to launch iSTOX, a security token offerings (STO) platform. This move marks the first of such services in a country and is yet another example of the rising stock of security tokens within the general cryptocurrency ecosystem.

Raising Capital Via STOs

According to finews.asia, SGX, and Temasek recently invested in iSTOX, the country’s first STO platform. Reports indicate that iSTOX will function as a capital market, allowing entrepreneurs to raise business capital through the sale of security tokens.

Commenting on the development, Danny Toe, CEO of ICHX – the operators of iSTOX, said:

The demands of the next generation of investors and issuers will be different, and this calls for a shift in how we should approach the process of capital funding. Utilising blockchain technology, iSTOX is able to offer STOs and address needs of both investors and issuers which are not adequately met today.

STOs differ from ICOs in that the latter involves the sale of tokenized securities. Many experts believe that STOs will provide the necessary regulatory compliance needed for blockchain-based crowdfunding.

Fiat Deals Only

The iSTOX platform will deal only in fiat transactions for the sale of tokenized securities. Despite being a blockchain-based platform with associated smart contract protocols, iSTOX is technically not a cryptocurrency exchange. Thus, the platform will not list ICO tokens or popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether, XRP, etc.

According to available reports, ICHX is currently pursuing licensing from the country’s Monetary Authority. Once granted, iSTOX will begin offering the issuance and trading of STOs. Also, the platform plans to provide access to liquidity in the form of a secondary trading service. Fiat currencies will be used to facilitate all the transactions on the platform.

The Emergence of Security Tokens in the Cryptocurrency Narrative

Bitwise 10 Crypto Index TokenSTO platforms are fast becoming a common feature of the evolving cryptocurrency ecosystem. While ICOs undoubtedly captured the imagination in 2017, stricter regulations in many countries coupled with numerous incidences of fraud seem to be dampening the ICO craze.

In its place, STOs present a more regulatory compliant form of blockchain-based fundraising. In places like the United States, for example, regulators say that most ICOs are selling securities in the guise of utility tokens. However, STOs, being securities, must comply with laid down rules and regulations.

In 2018, numerous STO platforms have emerged. The growing consensus is that security tokens could upstage utility tokens providing a more assured entry point for mainstream investors to come into the cryptocurrency space.

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Mauritius Gets First Blockchain Securities Exchange And Will Award Digital Custodian Licences

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Blockchain Securities Exchange

Mauritius will soon start issuing custodian licenses to companies holding digital assets on behalf of their clients because the current licensing regime is not suited for that purpose. Moreover, Mauritius is about to receive its first blockchain securities exchange.

Digital Asset Custodian Licenses

The Financial Services Commission (FSC) of the Republic of Mauritius released the draft framework intended for the fintech companies. They define “digital assets” as electronic tokens representing the holder’s access rights to a service or ownership of an asset. The FSC is currently accepting feedback on the proposal from industry representatives, stakeholders and the public. With the discussions and consultations going on till the end of November.

The FSC considers them a digital representation of value which can be a medium of exchange, the unit of account and store of value. The tokens can also represent assets such as debt or equity in the promoter or “provide access to a blockchain-based application, service or product.”

Mauritius FlagCurrently, the two kinds of licenses for traditional financial services the FSC provides do not support the specifics of safekeeping cryptographic assets. The proposed license is, therefore, specific to address this difference and comply with the current relevant regulations and laws.

One requirement includes an obligation to “have and maintain a minimum stated unimpaired capital of not less than 500,000 Mauritian rupees ($14,409.64).” Businesses wanting to apply for the license will need to have offices set up in Mauritius and also have permanent representatives to deal with the FSC as well as maintain records of the custodian. The boards of directors will need three members and up, “at least one of whom shall be resident in Mauritius.”

Additionally, those providing the custodian service providers will be required to have insurance protection for the assets that are kept in custody. They are subject to providing evidence of such arrangements to the FSC. They must also have systems in place that ensure compliance with all reporting requirements under Mauritian law.

Mauritius Receives a Blockchain Securities Exchange

As a result of Mauritius’ openness to digital assets, Mindex, GMEX Group and Hybrid Stock Exchange Corporation Limited (HYBSE) have partnered to create Mauritius’ first blockchain securities exchange. The joint venture – called HYBSE International Marketplace – plans to “integrate blockchain solutions and technology with traditional financial industries providing a complete and governed ecosystem that digitalises assets onto the blockchain.”

“As we embark on a journey to pave a previous uncharted way forward, this will inevitably create an ideal prospect to move the evolution of all financial systems, light-years ahead. We must also maintain a conscious belief of the power of this evolutionary step, as not to disrupt current global markets, but to rather bolster a new way of thinking that encompasses a decentralised and truly free market entity,” HYBSE’s operations manager, Daniel Liu, said.

The firms claim SMEs will be able to use the marketplace for an initial blockshare offering (IBO), such as block-shares, from businesses registered on the marketplace at “special discounted rates”. IBO is a time-limited offer to purchase cryptonised equities and other cryptonised instruments.

Asset classes that will be facilitated for trade will include cryptonised shares, cryptonised currencies, commodities, indices, forex, ETCs (exchange-traded commodities), ETFs (exchange-traded funds), and CETFs (crypto exchange-traded funds).

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Microsoft Partners with Interswitch to Launch New Blockchain-Powered Supply Chain Financing Platform in Nigeria

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Interswitch

Pan-African payments and commerce company, Interswitch Group, partnered with Microsoft to launch a new blockchain-backed supply chain financing service in Nigeria.

Seamless Supply Chain Financing

This new blockchain initiative will bring together different stakeholders – such as banks and corporations – on a single platform that will provide end-to-end visibility, ensuring fast, seamless trade financing in supply chain operations.

Interswitch Blockchain Service is said to be built and hosted using the Microsoft Azure blockchain solution, which provides proven security, compliance and also a scalable cloud platform that accelerates and supports next generation blockchain applications. 

Interswitch“In our 15 years of operation, we have experienced the bottlenecks associated with the existing corporate-based financing infrastructure in Nigeria.” Mitchell Elegbe, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Interswitch, said.

“This is why we are happy to partner with Microsoft, by leveraging the advanced technology of the Microsoft Azure Blockchain, to prove the possibility of building a distributed ledger that is practical, viable and has the propensity to solve some of Nigeria’s most difficult financial and logistic problems,” he added.

Launching the Interswitch Blockchain Service (Supply Chain Finance Module) allows small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to more funding in a shorter time of up to three weeks. The participating banks include United Bank for Africa Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, and Zenith Bank Plc.

SMEs will also be able to enjoy increased sales cycles from participating corporations such as the Dangote Group.

Transaction Enquiries and Verifications

The Interswitch Blockchain Service does not deploy the use of cryptocurrency in its application. Instead, transaction inquiries and verifications will be authorised by officials from participating entities without the incentives of a cryptocurrency.

Principal Program Manager, Microsoft Azure Blockchain at Microsoft Corporation, Michael Glaros, expressed excitement about the partnership with Interswitch. Glaros said: “The blockchain technology is still in its infancy in Nigeria and we are happy to pioneer its deployment in partnership with Interswitch, an innovative and forward-thinking company which has evolved its business around financial technology.”

“This will be the first enterprise-grade blockchain service in Nigeria, and one of only a handful of production blockchain applications in use by banks and corporates globally,” Glaros added.

The Interswitch Blockchain Service, allows Nigerian lenders and suppliers to identify and build relationships with high performing entrepreneurs. Therefore, according to Mitchell, the platform allows anyone to build blockchain-based solutions easily and more cost-effectively.

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