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An Interview Between +SocialGood’s Shariha Khalid and Vanessa Grellet of Consensys

Global leaders gathered to discuss the future at the World Economic Forum in Davos. +SocialGood Connector Shariha Khalid reported from the event to discuss the leading themes, solutions, and how we can shape the conversation.

In this interview, Shariha speaks with Vanessa Grellet from Consensys, a global formation of technologists and entrepreneurs building the infrastructure, applications, and practices that enable a decentralized world. This interview was originally published on +SocialGood's Medium page.

Meet Vanessa Grellet:

Vanessa Grellet is a Global Executive with over 17 years of expertise in the Financial Services and Tech industry. At ConsenSys she focuses on Enterprise and Strategic initiatives including the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), the Accounting Blockchain coalition (ABC) and leads the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC). Prior to Joining ConsenSys she was the CEO of IIH a Wealth Management firm, a key member of PwC’s global wealth management team and served as a corporate strategy executive for the NYSE managing a portfolio of strategic projects, partnerships and M&A focusing on Derivatives, Cash markets, Clearing, Listing, Market data and Regulatory reform.

*Note: Interview edited lightly for clarity

Shariha Khalid: Vanessa, can you tell us a bit about your work on the use of blockchain technology for development and social impact?

Vanessa Grellet: Sure. At Consensys, we focus on several areas of social impact through the development of the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition. The four pillars are financial inclusion, identity and vulnerable populations, supply chains, and climate and energy.

Just digging in on those four pillars: financial inclusion includes looking at ways to build credits for the most vulnerable populations, or people who don’t have access to bank accounts, or credit facilities, or don’t have identities with which to build credit. Identities and vulnerable populations projects support people, either in the developed world who have access to their identities, but don’t have good usage of them, or in the developing world, people who have no access to identities, or who have lost all their identities, like refugees, or people who have been trafficked, and have no way of proving their identities.

Regarding energy and climate, we look at carbon neutral solutions, and also ways for people to share peer-to-peer electricity, in order to reduce carbon footprints and increase access to energy in developing countries. That also ties into financial inclusion and ways to build credit and have better access to education. In terms of supply chains, we’re looking at sustainable supply chains and prominence. It’s really important in terms of addressing forced labor and sex trafficking, which are usually non-clean supply chains.

We are also expanding our support of civil rights movements and are looking at topics like fake news and voting. We focus on really looking at governance, looking at the way our societies work, and how the blockchain, and the transparency of the blockchain, can bring change to this.

Shariha: Thank you Vanessa. I’m particularly interested in how blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and the whole fintech movement could actually move the needle on how we’re creating financially inclusive products for the underserved and the unbanked in the world. Blockchain for social impact, or blockchain for good?

Vanessa: Yes, there’s been a lot of hope that blockchain and cryptocurrencies can help the underserved. The fact that you can pay someone directly without going through the banking system, and without paying fees, it’s a big promise. We have to think about the fact that having access to the cryptocurrency system is not easy either, so we should be mindful that when you’re in a really remote area, it’s as hard as getting access to a bank account. There are some successful companies, like with m-Pesa, who are able to do cross-country payments in Africa.

The main issues that we see with cryptocurrencies is the large fluctuations in the money values. Some people are cautious about doing these payments through the cryptocurrencies, but there are ways to stabilize those exchanges. We see in the remittance payments that it’s possible to have payments with much lower fees than the existing traditional payments. There’s a lot of hope that these new ways of transacting payments will lower the cost. That being said, this does not solve the root of the problem, which is the disparity of income between the countries, and that’s something that the blockchain will not be able to solve.

We are going to see new banking infrastructure, decentralized banking infrastructure, which will replace and disrupt the existing banking systems. We are going to see direct payments peer-to-peer, through new institutions. I think that in, I would say, five to seven years, we will see a whole new landscape, where services and goods will be paid directly. Already, a lot of companies are taking payments in cryptocurrencies, and that will continue as a service, and I think whole new business models will emerge.

Shariha: Could you share how social innovators, or technology innovators, can leverage the existing initiatives or platforms that exist around the blockchain space? Blockchain for social impact, or blockchain or good, please?

Vanessa: So the innovators need to partner with people who are already doing the innovating, or trying to find innovative solutions on the ground, without the blockchain. I think it’s really important because they need to know what the pinpoints are. They need to work with foundations, they need to work with the technologists, because one without the other is not going to work out. At the center of this, this is the human design, the technology comes after. The technology can always adapt to what its issues are, and you always need to ask yourself, do you really need the blockchain technology to solve this problem?

The blockchain technology is there to help, where there’s a lack of trust between the constituents, where you want to cut out the middleman that takes excessive fees, and where you want to add transparency, and accountability, and where you want to accelerate payments, and movements of goods. You always need to ask yourself, do I really need a blockchain technology to solve this, because if not it’s a waste of your time, and your money.

Shariha: Alright, thank you Vanessa. Can you just share any final words, maybe in a length of a tweet, on this subject?

Vanessa: Sure. I just want to say, this is one of the most inspiring eras that we’re living in with this technology. It’s not just a promise, people are doing amazing things on the ground, and finding amazing solutions to help alleviate poverty. You will see amazing results in two or three years, so hang in there. Believe in this technology, and continue to experiment, and do projects with this technology.

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