Can crypto help secure more open and inclusive economic outcomes for everyday Americans? Today we’re talking to Cleve Mesidor, an author, public policy advisor at the Blockchain Association, and founder of the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain.
Since the very beginning, Binance.US has been committed to helping people across the US access the world of blockchain and crypto. As part of our mission, we want to empower people to do more with their money. While the digital world of blockchain and crypto is fast growing, we’re interested in how these new frontiers intersect with the real world.
That’s why we corresponded with Cleve Mesidor, published author and Public Policy Advisor at the Blockchain Association, which counts Binance.US as one of its members. She is also the founder of the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain, and previously served as an Obama Presidential Appointee and senior staffer in Congress. As an influential voice in the blockchain community, we spoke to Cleve about an expansive set of topics, across blockchain and public policy, financial and digital inclusion, the environmental impact of crypto, the demographics of digital asset ownership, and more.
Talking Crypto With Cleve Mesidor
Note: The following section features a transcript of our correspondence, lightly edited for brevity and clarity. The opinions expressed below are Cleve’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Binance.US.
You’re a published author, former Obama Presidential Appointee, CNN alum who covered Washington politics, and a current Public Policy Advisor at the Blockchain Association, which Binance.US has an active partnership with. You’ve had a highly successful career featuring wide-ranging accomplishments in many fields. How did you make the decision to get involved with blockchain and crypto?
Decentralization is what brought me to crypto. I first learned about Bitcoin in 2013 while serving in the Obama Administration.
At the time I liked the concept around Bitcoin, but it was not until a few years later in 2016 when the conversation expanded beyond currency to applications of the technology – like identity management, intellectual property protections – that I went down the rabbit hole.
Blockchain has the potential to help foster financial inclusion and serve as the foundation for an open, secure, and transparent financial system where everyone can participate.
What kind of potential do you see in this industry?
Crypto can help transform our workforce. Professional women (women of color to a large extent) are the greatest casualties of COVID. One reason for the great resignation trend is that professionals want virtual, flexible, and rewarding career options.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency should be part of future-of-work strategies in order to train and prepare an inclusive innovation workforce and promote entrepreneurship to fuel the nation’s economy.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen regulators and policymakers race to establish rules and laws surrounding crypto. What challenges and opportunities do you think this push for regulation presents for players within the crypto space?
I work at the intersection of blockchain and public policy where I advocate for inclusive policymaking and focus on finally tackling financial exclusion.
We want smart regulatory policy that fosters innovation, but we also want policymaking that includes diverse voices and perspectives.
Too often, it is old data-sets, old rules, old standards which are not inclusive that inform policy decisions.
We need new legislation to redirect funding to where it has been absent, rewrite the rules of engagement, and level the playing field in order to truly build an open and inclusive economic future.
We still have a lot of work to do in this arena. Unfortunately, some policies may exacerbate existing economic inequities. Here are a few examples of how this is playing out today.
- Some credentialed investor requirements effectively restrict Black and Latinx communities from building wealth.
- Today, creators are leveraging blockchain technology as a way to protect intellectual property, monetize their work, and build their own marketplace boosting America’s creative industries. Amid talk of potential new regulations, why not use the existing intellectual property laws in place to deal with issues that arise regarding protections?
- Last year, there was a proposed crypto tax provision that would expand the definition of broker to include stakers, miners, software and hardware developers, which may impose an undue burden on the innovators of color who occupy these roles.
According to popular surveys, Black and Latinx Americans are far more likely to own cryptocurrencies. Why is that?
Urban, rural, and native communities that continue to be locked out of centralized finance are looking to cryptocurrencies as a pathway to economic empowerment. Diminished barriers to entry have paved the way for communities of color to:
- Access a new asset class previously available primarily to an exclusive group
- Innovate as software & hardware developers, miners & stakers
- Create crypto merchant accounts for e-commerce businesses and nonprofits to access a new consumer base
- Explore career opportunities in an emerging sector
Blockchain companies with billion dollar valuations have made important inroads abroad in Latin America and the continent of Africa, but over that last decade, it has been innovators of color that have launched education campaigns and built products and services to dismantle long-standing economic inequities here in America.
Black and Latinx industry leaders take all the credit for why crypto adoption in communities of color leads the nation by double digits.
Our message has been, “Become early adopters and change the playing field by being producers, not consumers.”Financial and digital equity is not just a moral imperative — it is vital to ensure America stays competitive in the innovation economy.
Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ entrepreneurs and startup founders are jump-starting the crypto industry. And women of color is a fast growing demographic in the crypto ecosystem, as well as a critical demographic in the nation’s economy. We prioritize issues, such as financial literacy, consumer protections, workforce training, access to capital for micro-enterprises, closing the digital divide, and other priorities for everyday Americans.
What are the biggest barriers when it comes to crypto adoption?
Education. Education. Education. There is a lot of misinformation that is leading to FOMO and driving newbies to embrace risky, pump and dump assets. That is not the kind of momentum that is substantive or sustainable.
We need greater investments in financial literary, skills training, and capital access.
Startups, innovators and industry leaders who have been mobilizing diverse communities in El Paso, Detroit, Bronx, Oakland, Columbus, and local rural areas need more resources to build on the impact we’ve seen.
What role does policy play when we talk about bringing crypto to A) underserved communities and b) everyday Americans?
The emerging blockchain industry is in its infancy and we want inclusion incorporated into its architecture. The debates around the internet in the 1990s failed to prioritize access, equity, and decentralization — and the result is a centralized industry owned by a handful of wealthy men.
In his 2020 report, Fintech’s Race Problem, Georgetown Law Professor Chris Brummer highlighted that “only ten African Americans (of 327 total regulators) have ever served on a financial regulatory agency since the New Deal. This absence of diverse leadership has in turn trickled down and infected rulemaking and supervision more generally.”
We must break up the groupthink and make room at the table for diverse voices and perspectives that reflect the diversity of the nation’s demographics.
Despite the true demographics of crypto ownership which we discussed earlier, the “crypto bro” culture remains a pervasive stereotype when it comes to crypto.
The future of crypto is diverse because the 21st century marketplace is younger and browner, as we’ve seen with demographic shifts.
Right now, do not follow the money in crypto. It is human capital that will define the emerging sector.
Let’s face it, innovators of color come to crypto with large networks to tap.
There are those who buy into the mantra that crypto is decentralized so it solves the inclusion issue and that is not correct. Technology does not change things — people do. The Internet was supposed to be decentralized and look at where we are.
Underestimating the power of diversity is no longer a sound business strategy.
What are some organizations that are working towards overturning the stereotypes that face the crypto space? Are there any organizations you’d like to spotlight?
Communities of color have helped shape blockchain and crypto into what it is today. Here are some examples of founders, community leaders, and entrepreneurs that contribute positively to the crypto space.
- Cryptocurrencies created to empower the Black community. When it comes to cryptocurrencies with real-world social impact, founder Tavonia Evans created a digital asset designed to empower Black businesses and consumers.
- Latinx-led platform that was the first to tokenize art on Ethereum in 2017: Founded by Beatriz Helena Ramos, DADA is a pioneer in the field of crypto art and NFTs, having launched the first collection of tokenized art made by artists on Ethereum back in 2017, right after Cryptopunks and before the CryptoKitties collection. The platform is designed to democratize art. Dada's community has created over 100,000 digital drawings on the platform that are ready to be traded as non-fungible tokens. It is the only visual conversation platform where people from all over the world speak to each other through drawings, in spite of language, distance, nationality, or other artificial boundaries.
- Blockchain can help solve problems that small businesses face: Dawn Dickson, a Black female entrepreneur and small business owner, serves as the founder of PopCom, a small B2B technology company that develops software as a service (SaaS) and IoT- connected hardware for self-service retail, including vending machines and digital kiosks used to dispense products and perform transactions. PopCom uses blockchain technology to optimize machine-driven transactions for government-regulated products that require identification, sales compliance, supply chain information, or a combination of all three. They also leverage security token offerings, or STOs, as an alternative to private equity and venture capital financing. Both accredited and non-accredited investors can participate in STO offerings.
Note: References to the organizations above are Cleve’s own, and does not constitute or imply any endorsement from Binance.US.
There’s been a lot of talk about the environmental impact of blockchain technology, whether that’s around proof-of-work consensus mechanisms or the energy costs involved with minting and trading NFTs. What’s your take on this line of criticism?
Crypto is in its infancy and solutions are still being conceptualized. We are still trying to break through the noise and hype to gain a clearer understanding of the actual energy impact of crypto mining.
But we do know that climate change impacts women more than men and also disproportionately impacts communities of color. Women of color is a fast-growing demographic in the crypto ecosystem that is leveraging blockchain technology to address and solve deep rooted problems in rural, native and urban communities — of which climate change is a critical concern.
One last question: We’ve seen everybody from celebrities and athletes to politicians vowing to take their salary in crypto. Those who pay attention to markets know that there’s been some market volatility to start this year. That being said, would you take your salary in crypto?
Blockchain technology is not yet ready to enable employers to directly pay people in cryptocurrency. We must first work through issues like how to comply with laws around withholdings and state and local tax deductions.
But employers can begin to allow employees to have portions of their paycheck direct deposited into cryptocurrency accounts — similar to existing fintech options. As adoption among communities of color grows, there will be interest in trusted crypto-specific payroll solutions.
Thank you for your time Cleve.
Cleve Mesidor is a published author of “My Quest for Justice in Politics & Crypto” who serves as the Public Policy Advisor for the Blockchain Association. She also leads the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain, and has previously served as an Obama Presidential Appointee. For more information, follow Cleve on Twitter or her website.