Alice Hlidkova consults with individuals and businesses on cryptocurrency education and blockchain technologies, and is on the core management team for Pitch, a new blockchain-backed platform where startups and entrepreneurs pitch business ideas and proposals to investors live.
Let me paint a contrasting picture: Reflect how, in 2011, only men represented Saudi Arabia in the Olympic Games. Two years later, Raha Moharak becomes the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest. Fast forward to 2017, the Saudi Government announced its ban on female drivers. While women represent 52% university graduates, they make up to 60% of the Saudi unemployed in the Kingdom. Yet 40% of the startups were founded by women, and this was two years ago.
The picture highlights the impact on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship that technology has made. If the reported 40% of startups are founded by women in Saudi Arabia and only 17% in the United States, what will that number look like with the acceleration of blockchain technology adoption? (Want to read more about how women startups fare with VC funding? Read this article.)
Blockchain is changing the banking sector in Saudi Arabia. The world’s largest Islamic bank, the Saudi Arabian Al Rajhi Bank completed a Ripple blockchain trial, where it successfully transferred money between Saudi Arabia and Jordan bank branches. Ripple, a venture start-up headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in New York, London, Luxembourg and Sydney, engineered a payment system like blockchain, which uses a shared ledger to process transactions (Ripple claims that transaction costs can go down by as much as 60% using the distributed ledger technology for retail remittance and commercial payments). As a result of this technology, the consumer finance market in the country is set to grow to $ 344 billion by 2022 according to a consumer report.
Blockchain as an economic driver benefits women. With more women joining the commerce, banking and legal sectors, across the Middle East they not only have the option to work for institutions but with blockchain then have an alternative option, to work for themselves. They have the option to create transactions, store important documents, and have their information protected without going through an intermediary. Instead of requiring intermediaries, blockchain technology would allow these women to interact freely with one another in a system of government and culture that didn’t necessarily permit free will.
Blockchain can also reduce the youth unemployment in the region; more than half of which are women. More than 28% of the population of the Middle East is aged between 15 and 29 which represents over 108 million young people, reported YouthPolicy.org. “Young people 15 to 24 constitute approximately 20% of the populations in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia.” Young women and men can, too, can engage freely with digital records. We’re already seeing this with blockchain and bitcoin. When two individuals want to exchange bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, they don’t go to a bank and pay a hefty transaction fee. They complete a peer-to-peer transaction over the blockchain.
Yet there is still progress to be made. We have more women to put on block chain teams. From a $550 billion market cap for the cryptocurrency industry in mid January 2018, it is likely that women only own less than $27 billion, or 5%. That’s because, whilst it’s hard to gauge exact figures in this market, it’s likely that in 2017, women made up only 5% of cryptocurrency users. The numbers for the Middle are undisclosed. With Deloitte predicting that 10% of the GDP will be built on blockchain application by 2025, women have an opportunity now more than ever to participate from the palms of their hands.