Written by Andrew Seale
Elena Sinelnikova thinks blockchain is due for a name change.
“(It’s) not self-explanatory,” says the co-founder of CryptoChicks, an educational non-profit blockchain and AI community for women. “We need to come up with another name, so normal people will understand.”
Normal people – code for virtually anyone without a computer science background in the technical nuances of decentralized ledgers and encrypted data, and in Sinelnikova’s case, she’s referring to women interested in learning about blockchain.
Sinelnikova, who holds a masters in computer science, was exposed to the complexities of blockchain after Vitalik Buterin – creator of Ethereum and the son of Sinelnikova’s lifelong friend Natalia Ameline – asked his mother and her friend to install the Ethereum wallet on their laptop.
They realized (after three hours of trial and error) that this new technology capable of disrupting the very way we exchange value had a major hurdle: it was terribly complex. And there was a lack of educational resources.
“We said, this way, we're not going to go anywhere with this technology,” says Sinelnikova. “We need to make it easier, it needs to be more mainstream.”
There was something else, an absence.
“There was not a lot of women involved at all, mostly white males,” she says. “So we decided to involve more women and make it easy for them to (understand how) to get involved in the technology.”
Since launching in July 2017, CryptoChicks has thrown conferences, workshops and hackathons for women all over the world. The organization has chapters throughout Canada and in the U.S., Pakistan, Russia, the Bahamas, the U.K., Bulgaria and Switzerland.
“Women, in general, they may not feel very comfortable in a room full of men,” says Sinelnikova. Women-only environments, she says, can help curb some of the intimidation. “We don't exclude men, we invite them as mentors, but we empower women and put them in an environment where they work with each other – that’s how we inspire.”
She points to Pakistan, where barricades exist like a lack of access to computers and patriarchal families. “Women there are very active… we have a great turnout,” she says. “The girls have to travel, they take two buses to get to the location where we have our classes, not everybody can afford that and sometimes the family is not very keen that their girls are out for such a long time – but the girls are very motivated.”
Sinelnikova notes that they’re seeing more interest from outside of Canada, which is at odds with Toronto’s reputation as a bastion of blockchain innovation. On the other hand, that’s why she and Ameline founded CryptoChicks in the first place, to spread the word and get women involved in emerging technology. It’s a first step, one she hopes will inspire future women founders.
But there’s no denying that introducing the technical aspects can drive its own seismic change.
“The more diverse team you have the better ideas you have,” she says.
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)