There's been a lot of dialogue this week at Devcon about the potential for blockchain technology, and Ethereum specifically, to (r)evolutionize social, political, and economic structures to create a more inclusive and equitable society. This can be partially credited to this year's agenda, which includes a Society and Systems track with daily panels, workshops, and talks about the implications and potential for the technology and community.
But it's more than just the daily Devcon schedule. These concerns permeate the social fabric of the Ethereum community and have dominated the conversation at many events surrounding the conference.
On Monday, at the Ethereum Magician's Council of Prague, Magicians came together to organize around a whole host of technological and social initiatives, including specific EIPs, network security, user experience, localized and remote hackathons, and education and onboarding for users and hackers. Across this broad range of topics, Magicians continually emphasized the need for increased diversity and inclusion – and discussed strategies to these ends.
In the Education ring, we discussed strategies for onboarding developers and users. The general sentiment was that blockchain technology is really hard to explain to people. How do you get people to care about something so esoteric? It was generally agreed that people are best reached through their hearts and minds – that if people just understand the values Ethereum (both the technology and the people) represents, and if they can conceptualize what the technology might actually do for them, then they might join the Ethereum community.
There's this commonly held belief that blockchain technology can empower the disenfranchised. It can bank the unbanked, and unbank the banked. It can act as a tool of free speech and censorship resistance. For entrepreneurs whose home country lacks solid financial or government infrastructure – or whose government and financial institutions are hostile to them – DAOs offer the opportunity to grow their own business.
But how do you onboard them, and why do so few people seem to care?
Money Is a Great Motivator
At an after-event on Day 0 of Devcon called Open Hearts & Open Minds, I had the opportunity to speak with a team from CryptoChicks, including its founder Elena Sinelnikova, co-founder Natalia Ameline (yes, that's Vitalik's mom), CryptoChicks' Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies Education for Kids program co-founder Nataliya Hearn, and board member and event organizer Tracy Leparulo.
Founded by Ameline and Sinelnikova in 2017, CryptoChicks is dedicated to educating women in blockchain technology. As a woman at Devcon, the need for such efforts is oppressively obvious. I haven't done the numbers, but I think this photo I snapped on Day 0 is illustrative of my point.
And CryptoChicks has been surprisingly successful at getting women on board. It's a relatively new organization, but it has already facilitated at least two hackathons, one in Toronto and the other in New York, with 70 and 200 female hackers, respectively. But it isn't just the United States and Canada; it's truly an international organization with projects and events in Russia, Pakistan, the Bahamas, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic – and it organizes major hackathon events sponsored by technological and financial powerhouses like the Royal Bank of Canada, Deloitte, Microsoft, and IBM. It has also expanded its education efforts to include children, working with private and charter schools in the US and Canada.
CryptoChicks' basic strategy is to approach a given institution – a bank, school, or membership-based coding organization – and offer to provide education in blockchain technology to their female employees or members. Then CryptoChicks organizes a hackathon where the women can compete to create the best blockchain-based system or app or produce a related business plan. The organization also includes representatives from blockchain projects to teach these classes, and companies interested in hiring developers.
Having been surrounded at Devcon by conversations about user narratives and selling people on values, as well as having a background in literature and rhetoric, I came to the conversation wanting to know, "What story are you telling these women to get them to participate? How do you get people to care?"
To these questions, the team responded that their programs are mutually beneficial for both the women receiving education in blockchain, and for the companies who pay for it. They told me that companies will help fund these events because they already want more diversified workplaces, and have a hard time finding women who are educated in how to code for blockchains. CryptoChicks provides a way for those companies to invest in the team they already have and trust, and to promote internally.
Similarly, CryptoChicks also works with blockchain companies who want to hire more women, or just developers generally, and in exchange for their lessons in coding and running a blockchain business, CryptoChicks provides these potential employers with the women's resumes and the opportunity to gauge the strength of their skills at the hackathons. Doubly beneficial to blockchain companies, they can teach the women how to code for their specific blockchain. In short, companies are happy to pay for these education opportunities because there is a shortage of skilled developers in the space, and there is already a hunger for more workplace diversity. For the companies, institutions, and groups funding these programs, it is an investment in their product or company.
For the women receiving the education, it's a free opportunity to learn and potentially make a lot more money. It's pretty simple. There's not much selling or storytelling involved. CryptoChicks does not need to sell anyone with high values or inspirational stories. The interest is already there.
Financial opportunity seems to be the selling point for CryptoChicks, straight up. And that's not a bad thing. It took me a while to understand this, though now it seems rather obvious. How do you motivate people who are systematically denied equal opportunities and power? You give them access to opportunity and power. Full stop. It's not always that complicated.