Yaliwe Soko says it is very difficult to be taken seriously as an African woman in blockchain, an industry she’s been involved with for three years.
She first discovered Bitcoin when she worked for an online consultancy as it paid its staff in cryptocurrency. It prompted her to learn more about the technology. “I started to learn how to use a wallet and how to convert it into cash,” she says. Her research showed her that it was “a very interesting technology and down the line in 2017, I started developing learner guides,” she adds.
Before she knew it, she had developed a 117-page guide, which was a “full learner guide” to the tech. Her online tutorials are still available on YouTube.
Then she began a monthly Saturday meet-up for women who were interested in blockchain technology. “We’d meet up and discuss the opportunities in the blockchain space,” she says.
“A few months down the line, I got more speaking opportunities which gave me the opportunity to engage more people in the world of blockchain around the world.”
It was only in August 2018 that she was asked if she was interested in chairing the Blockchain Association of Africa. She embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly.
The BAA speaks for an industry that “aims to touch the daily lives of every African in every corner of the continent – by providing solutions to everyday problems, providing much-needed jobs and career opportunities in technology and by investing in the communities.”
It enhances market integrity through trust and transparency, promotes engagement and collaboration with regulators and actively contributes to the responsible, balanced development of the industry.
“It has been a great opportunity,” she says of her current role at the BAA. “It’s very difficult to be recognised like this, especially as an African woman, mostly there are trust issues.
“When I’ve been speaking at an event, because I have a petite frame, people have asked me if I am the speaker, which is patronising in a way. Someone else asked me if I was nervous before I was giving a speech and I am not nervous!”
She says she realised it was “an opportunity for me to own this and whenever I’m on a panel I ensure I command my presence in the way I come across,” she adds.
“At the end, people always want to poach me,” she laughs. “I want to be at the forefront of driving awareness of the need for education on the African continent.”
The association is partnering with other organisations to work on an academy driving education across Africa.
She says what drives many women away is fear and they may be afraid of putting in the effort to understand the technology.
“Africa is still uncultivated and uneducated. We have a long term goal of an academy and a research centre because Africa needs blockchain,” she says.
“There are a lot of people who are unbanked and excluded from the financial world. Blockchain can be very powerful in terms of trade. We are a large continent with quite a few different countries and lots of fiat currencies.”
She sees the problem of adoption with some of the more traditional countries, which are slow to adopt technology like computers. “I was in Zambia recently and they still use ink to register fingerprints,” she says.
“But other countries like Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda are more forward – there’s a fast internet connection at Rwanda Airport,” she adds.
“Blockchain is misunderstood. There’s a lot of scammers coming on to the market and South Africans in general having been getting into a lot of debt. It really is misunderstood,” she explains.
“There is a perception that it is a scam or Ponzi scheme or just a money-making tool and nobody takes time to understand the use cases. A lot of people fall into this trap of thinking it’s a Ponzi scheme and they will lose money.”
The African cryptocurrency space has been burned badly and there are “a lot of trust issues,” as a result, she explains. She urges the more conservative state leaders to embrace the technology and tap into it in order for “greater transparency” in the electoral system, eradicating fraud, and bringing about transparency to tendering processes.
The ambition can be realised if she can engage like-minded leaders and encourage others to follow suit. She acknowledges it will be difficult for corrupt leaders to get on board.
“We need credibility. It’s a very exciting technology and there’s so much potential for the continent. We have a lot of natural resources, agriculture and mining, oil and gas. We just need to drive the educational aspect,” she concludes.