Walking The Talk: How This Cybersecurity Expert Is Empowering Women In Blockchain

Imagine it’s 2015 and you’re reaching out to an individual to give you some advice for a startup you want to launch. Out of nowhere, he talks about this new digital currency called Bitcoin and vigorously insists you need to invest in it. Most of us would have probably ignored the guy. And that’s what Olayinka Odeniran did, too — at first.

“He was persistent about Bitcoin and how it's going to change a lot of stuff,” said Odeniran. “I'm from the financial industry and I've climbed my way from the bottom to the top. So I'm like, okay, what is this guy talking about? Why does he keep telling me I need to get into Bitcoin?” .

At the time, she was working as a Chief Compliance Officer for a SEC-registered investment advisory firm. So even though she was curious about Bitcoin — and even researched it — she didn’t want to raise any alarms. But the idea of digital currencies kept popping up, which made her want to invest more time in understanding the space. It was then that she realized that blockchain — the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies — was more important than cryptocurrencies themselves. Soon, despite being a busy mom of a five-year-old girl and having a 9-to-5 job to get up early for every day, Odeniran found herself staying up to five o’clock in the morning engulfed in this new fascinating movement.

Image courtesy of Olayinka Odeniran

Blockchain was a ‘big neon sign’ promising better transparency

Despite her initial skepticism, Odeniran quickly became an advocate for the technology and was eager to educate others about its transformative potential. Her passion was not only driven by her professional experience, but also by global events that highlighted the importance of trust and transparency. 

“During that time, we were about to go through the election cycle, and so trust was always an issue,” Odeniran recalls.  People were consumed with questions: “Who can vote? Who can't vote? Whether there's fraud,” she said. “Trust was the biggest thing that was flashing behind the scenes.”

The technology's potential to address issues of trust and accountability are especially blatant in countries like Nigeria, where Odeniran is originally from. “I was raised and live in Washington D.C. now, but I’m African as well. Knowing what's going on there, the government aspect relating to that whole trust, lack of trust, lack of transparency, lack of accountability, really was like a big neon sign that this technology was going to go somewhere,” said Odeniran.

Olayinka Odeniran speaking in front of the US Capitol building at the Black and Latino Crypto Rally.

Connecting the TradFi, cybersecurity and blockchain industries

As someone with a background in governance risk and compliance — not to mention, going through a career transition towards cybersecurity — Odeniran wanted to ensure that blockchain developers and professionals were considering practical use cases for the tech.

However, she soon felt that many people were coming into the space with a narrow focus: “I was taking everything from my background, trying to put it into this. But it was too early. People didn't care. They didn't take notice,” said Odeniran.

She didn’t let this bump in the road get to her. She figured the best way for her to step into this space was to educate, so she started creating communities and joining existing ones, such as a woman community on Telegram with over 600 members across the globe. Within this community, she saw the need for women's voices to be heard and the potential for creating opportunities. This experience was the basis for her creation of the Black Women Blockchain Council.

“I felt that there were similarities to Silicon Valley, where when you look at pictures, it was like the same group of people, or the same rainbow of people. But as a Black woman, I wanted to see people that look like me,” said Odeniran. "I wanted to make sure that down the line, when everything really skyrockets, that there wasn't an opportunity for people to say, ‘oh, Black women weren't interested’, because we were and we are."

By creating the Black Women Blockchain Council, she has created a space where Black women can thrive and be recognized for their contributions to the industry. Some of those women have become leaders in the crypto-related field today.

Pulling off an international blockchain conference—and giving women the spotlight

Women have been involved in the crypto space since the early days. But in technology, as in many other industries, we don't see a lot of women get the accolades that they deserve. Not only that, but, as Odeniran experienced since 2016, in most industry conferences she would see the same few women featured over and over again. Tired of feeling left behind and in the midst of the pandemic, Odeniran created what would later be known as the first International Women of Blockchain conference with just 16 women. It was 2021.

What started as 30-minute online segments showcasing who they were and what they were bringing to the space turned into a full-month production in 2022. That year, the conference spotlighted more than a 100 women working and participating in all areas of blockchain. Fast forward to 2023, the conference turned into a 3-day in-person event in Washington D.C. where hundreds of people of all genders gathered from all parts of the world. The event even attracted U.S. government representatives giving keynotes and supporting the space. 

From left to right: Cleve Mesidor (Executive Director of Blockchain Foundation), Amena Ross (Head of Policy, Cash App at Block), Olayinka Odeniran and Janay Eyo (Director of Financial Policy, Chamber of Progress) as panelist at the Nobel Women’s 37th Annual Legislative Conference

But this new venture didn’t come without its drawbacks. Getting sponsors and funding to make this in-person conference a reality was not easy. Many of the companies that she approached ‘didn’t believe a conference like this was necessary’, or didn’t feel it had ‘the vibe that they were looking for’, or it was ‘between two major conferences that they typically sponsor’. “Everybody likes to talk in this space and put on this whole display of recognition and support for women on social media. But when you actually meet people that walk the talk, they don't get the recognition or the funding that they need to actually make things come true,” said Odeniran. 

When one of their main sponsors pulled out at the last minute, Odeniran had to break down her own barriers and really be vulnerable in front of everyone. “I was afraid that I may have to call this off and people were going to look at me and say, “Oh, she's a rug puller when it comes to conferences”. That was my biggest fear. That was my nightmare,” said Odeniran. She made a call on social media asking for help, because she didn’t want to call the conference off. It was ever more important to make it happen. Thanks to the help of the community and companies like Fidelity, Deloitte, Block, Chainalysis, and others that did give funding and supported her, she managed to make it happen. 

Creating opportunities for financial literacy and economic empowerment 

The social impact of cryptocurrency has been significant. Women around the globe are tapping into this new technology and seeing the benefit when it comes to learning and understanding finance. With information flowing freely and many individuals coming from an educational route and taking the time to help newbies, financial literacy is blooming. 

The impact is not limited to women. Countries such as El Salvador and the Central African Republic have changed their legal tender to crypto, leading to a need for education on how to derive and invest in cryptocurrency. Blockchain has made people more conscious of their money and the need for security as they build and create generational wealth. 

The anonymity provided by the technology is also a key factor that helps in this process, allowing women to achieve financial freedom without being restricted by gender or geographical barriers. This is particularly important in countries where women do not have the right to their assets, which are typically owned by their family or husband. “With crypto, you now have a way for you to be able to purchase or collect something without people knowing that you are female, or that you're in a certain country, or that you're a certain race. It creates this ability for people to be able to participate on a global level with others. It's very powerful,” said Odeniran.

Group picture at the final day of the IWB2023 Conference hosted by BWBC.

For Odeniran, the impact of crypto on women and society as a whole is clear. It has created opportunities for financial literacy, diversified portfolios and made people more conscious and aware of money. It has also empowered women by providing anonymity and ownership of assets, eliminating gender, geographical and racial barriers. As the technology continues to develop, Odeniran is excited to see what solutions-oriented projects will come down the pipe, especially those invented by women. The ultimate goal is to build a world that uses this technology as a way to create trust and transparency, whether it's in government, voting, money movement or ownership. 

As she emphasizes, “it is crucial that women are involved in building the right solutions, without limits on their age, gender or skin color.” And she will work tirelessly to help make this happen. Because, together, we can create a better world off of this technology.

This is not financial advice. If you don't want to spend money investing in crypto or Web3 — you don’t have to. The intent of this article is to help others educate themselves and learn.

Sabrina Bonini is the Founder of Cripto Es Cultura, a community and creative agency that helps brands and creators adapt to the Web3 and NFT space. She pays special attention to the education and empowerment of Spanish-speaking artists, women and underrepresented groups and is fully committed to helping make the blockchain ecosystem more diverse and inclusive. Connect with her on Twitter @criptoescultura.

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