Dr. Jane Thomason is a passionate advocate for Blockchain for social impact and Women in Blockchain. In 2018 she was awarded Top 10 Digital Frontier Women and UN Decade Of Women Quantum Impact Champion. She has 30 years’ experience in emerging economies in public health, poverty and inequality. We discuss with Dr. Jane how blockchain and technology can create social impact and transform our economies.
GlobePreneurs (‘GP’): What inspired you to focus on blockchain technology?
Dr. Jane Thomason (‘JT’): My son! In 2010 the price of Bitcoin was 10 cents. My son told me to buy Bitcoin as an investment. I ignored that advice, and told him to focus on getting a job. I was wrong! Bitcoin is now approximately $10,000 and my son runs co-working spaces and accelerator programs for start-ups and never really had a conventional job! When he told me about Blockchain – I just couldn’t ignore it!
I have come late to tech. I have spent my life working on problems of poverty and inequality, mainly in the developing world. I realize that Blockchain, if deployed and scaled, could solve some of the global problems of our time, like climate change and poverty. That’s awesome and I want to be at the vanguard of that change.
GP: How can blockchain and other frontier technologies transform emerging economies?
JT: Blockchain can help leapfrog a number of challenges faced by the poor. Imagine a world where the poor have their own identity on the Blockchain, which they can use to access essential services or finance. Imagine a world where the two billion unbanked poor, can access the global financial system through a simple mobile phone and digital currencies. Imagine a world where poor people who live on customary land, have it titled on a Blockchain and can use that title to access finance. Imagine a world where poor women and children are able to live longer lives, and improve and grow their communities. Imagine a world where foreign aid goes directly to the poor under a smart contract.
All this is possible with the advent of Blockchain technology. Blockchain has tremendous potential to provide scale-able solutions to address issues of poverty and inequality.
GP: How will personal data wallets enable the unbanked to earn an income?
JT: People are starting to realize that personal data is a valuable asset. Currently people neither own nor control their identity or data. There are a number of start-ups working on the development of data wallets, that will enable people to earn income from providing access to their data. Nearly everyone generates data, yet very few companies actually compensate people directly for data.
The start-ups include the Census project which aims to help people take control of their own data by creating a curated data marketplace. DataWallet, which aggregates data, strips it of any personally identifiable information, and condenses it into analytics reports. Users make money on every report sold that includes their data, which stretches back to the creation of their social accounts. Metâme is a digital wallet and universal personal data marketplace.
If these projects can be brought to scale, the vision is that all global citizens with access to a smart phone (only 36% in 2018) will be able to make money from their data. As smart phone penetration increases, so will the opportunity for the poor to benefit increase. No one yet knows whether there will be negative impacts of such a transformative idea. We will all observe closely.
GP: What are your suggestions for reforming the education system and preparing it for a digital future?
JT: 60% of Australian students are training for jobs that will not exist in the future or will be transformed by automation and 40% of Australian jobs could be redundant in 10 years. Yet we continue to channel hundreds of thousands of students into universities to train for the last 50 years, instead of the next 50 years. We need to grow future generations of technologists, innovators and entrepreneurs through a radical overhaul of our education system.
The subjects we teach, how we teach…everything has to change or our children will be ill prepared for their future world. Australia must create a more innovative next generation. Digital literacy must be taught from a young age. Science, coding, data science, technology need to be as basic as literacy used to be; and experiential entrepreneurship education programs should be introduced in all layers of the education system. The future will be skills based, not jobs based and our children need to be ready.
GP: How can we bridge the gap between techno kids and the establishment in relation to technology advancement in the digital era?
JT: This is a tough one. With age and experience come habits and norms that might not equip us for the future. Tech companies and start-up are populated by young people – they know, understand and build the tech, and the establishment don’t. Start-ups and crypto-currency billionaires are challenging the status quo. In the new digital economy talent matters, not age or status. Talent, more than anything will be the critical factor of the future economy.
It is a cultural challenge to bring together the “establishment” with the young technology entrepreneurs. They fundamentally see the world in different ways. There is a role for people who can play the role of a bridge between the establishment and the new entrepreneurs, working with both to find a common language and intersection of interests.
GP: What are some unique challenges women in blockchain face?
JT: I think that tech generally is an ideal area for women because it allows them flexible working hours and arrangements. Blockchain is a rapidly emerging technology with new use cases emerging on a weekly basis – that means opportunity! We need to get over ourselves and stop complaining about male dominated industries and create our own future.
We need to create new stereotypes for women in tech who are smart, managing awesome tech and managing motherhood. Maybe something a bit more edgy than “Amy” in “Big Bang Theory” – we need a female “Sheldon!” I like the way “People of Blockchain” are profiling the Blockchain community, maybe we need to do that for women? We need more modern-day women in tech role models.
Let’s find our women in tech superstar’s and give them profile and a voice! Women need more positive role models, schools need to encourage girls into STEM and entrepreneurship. Women need to be more resilient and less concerned about what others think. Women need flexible working conditions and access to child care. Successful women need to give time to mentor younger women and help them succeed.
In some ways, I think the next generation of women will be better off because technology will enable flexible working conditions and even transform child care (self-driving cars and robots will be extremely helpful to mums!). So their challenge as has been ours, is to believe in themselves, find a passion and follow it, work out how to successfully integrate work and family and get on and achieve their potential.
GP: What is your advice for young people who want to create social impact in blockchain and technology?
JT: Find your tribe – the internet allows us to connect globally. Find like-minded people, come up with a great idea and just do it! Don’t be afraid to fail – get out there and go hard. Seek mentors and ask for advice – you will be surprised how many people will help. If you think less about what others think and more about what you can do, individually and collectively, you will succeed. Keep your eye on the main goal, not hurdles along the way.