Desiree Dickerson is currently serving as Blockchain and Digital Currency fellow at Women for Women International, exploring how distributed ledger technology can empower women in post-conflict, marginalized countries. Desiree writes for 21 Cryptos, the first and only cryptocurrency trading magazine and provides pro bono consulting support to a DC-based venture capital firm on blockchain and emerging tech. She also serves as VP of Blockchain at ID Payments, a non-profit uniting remittance and identity service providers with government regulators and law enforcement in a public/private partnership to manage risk in the fintech space. Desiree’s professional background is rooted in management consulting, where she has provided enterprise-wide IT strategy to federal agencies.
1. What is blockchain? Explain it to me like I’m five.
I am still trying to find the best answer to this question, especially within the confines of “explain it to a five year old”. The explanation that resonated with me when first getting into the space was using the analogy of a Google spreadsheet that is shared among several users trying to track payment transactions between one another. For example, a bunch of people at a bachelorette party want to track who buys drinks for whom, who is reimbursed, and for how much. However, it gets a little difficult when some of the individuals at the party have a few too many drinks — they may forget who bought what and who was paid back. Luckily, since the majority of the party goers are relatively sober (okay, this is a stretch), and everyone can view the spreadsheet, these individuals can verify what transactions took place, ensuring all the data is valid. Therefore, at the end of the bachelorette weekend, although possibly hungover, everyone can rest assured all transactions were recorded accurately. Now that I think about it, this is incredibly inappropriate for a five year old…
Obviously it is a lot more complicated than that, so I like to go with the definition: “Blockchain is an immutable, decentralized, public ledger of cryptographic transactions that record the transfer of value.” Because this definition is clearly incomplete and on the verge on incomprehensible, I recommend exploring as many definitions and descriptions of blockchain as possible. Muscle memory and repetition are powerful tools, and every description of blockchain will offer a new perspective and open another avenue for understanding this powerful technology. I pulled together a Medium post on this with several of my favorite resources here.
2. What is your role in the blockchain space?
My roles seem to multiply with time as I delve deeper into the space. I am currently the Blockchain and Digital Currency Fellow at Women for Women International (WfWI). WfWI’s CEO, Laurie Adams, is a huge proponent of blockchain technology, and she wants to take a responsible and thoughtful approach to using blockchain and distributed ledger technology in achieving WfWI’s mission. We are exploring how WfWI can most effectively use blockchain to empower women in post-conflict, marginalized counties; in a manner that makes sense for both the target population and the organization. I also am doing pro bono work, consulting with a venture capital firm as well a fintech non-profit on blockchain initiatives.
The other project I am excited about is writing for 21 Cryptos magazine. I have been a reader for the past few months and it is an incredible honor to be featured next to so many individuals I respect and admire. I am also new to the podcast scene, which has been a new and exciting experience. Check out the Get Found Get Funded podcast in early February, where I join another one of your interviewees, Maureen Murat, and talk all about ICOs.
3. Where do you see Ethereum in the next 5 years?
I am bullish on Ethereum — in utility, growth, and market price. Ethereum has a multitude of potential use cases and I genuinely believe Vitalik Buterin and the Ethereum Foundation have a strong vision and the necessary strategic foundation to drive the platform to success. While everyone in the crypto community became unhinged during the CryptoKitties incident, it successfully brought attention to not only the network’s inability to scale, but also to the viral potential of Ethereum and the endless possibilities of offerings built upon it. Additionally, it is the most well-known smart contract and decentralized application platform with an extremely positive public reputation, despite the DAO hard fork controversy and other hiccups tied to its brand.
At this juncture, Ethereum seems to be hitting its strides and unlikely to fail. However, I anticipate that Ethereum may struggle with becoming a “sell out” in the eyes of cypherpunk community by developing a corporate stigma with the formation of the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance (EEA) and increasing amounts of permissioned blockchains being built based on Ethereum. The next 5 years will certainly include many ups-and-downs for Ethereum, but only time will tell if the trajectory will be overwhelmingly positive.
4. What problems do you see blockchain solving?
I foresee blockchain’s potential to impact nearly every industry and market vertical. However, predicting “when” and “why” is significantly more difficult. Blockchain is not the solution for every problem. Unfortunately, it has become the sexy new buzzword in nearly every industry and is marketed as the solution for every problem. Only through a measured and thoughtful approach, can we truly ascertain the feasibility and applicability of blockchain for a company or problem.
Some industries and associated problems are more mature and ripe for disruption than others. For example, electronic health records (EHRs) in the medical industry can barely tackle interoperability in their current state (i.e. the Department of Defense and Veterans Health Administration), and introducing blockchain prematurely will likely obstruct long term adoption. Similarly, tackling issues surrounding identity with blockchain may be one of the most needed and potentially impactful use cases. However, any errors in implementation leading to loss of user identity and associated information/data will completely stifle future attempts towards identity on the blockchain. While we should collectively work towards these and similar goals, we should take precautions and approach each use case implementation with great care and deliberation.
On the other hand, the cybersecurity industry is ripe to implement blockchain into threat detection and prevention solutions. Because this industry is new, still developing, and continuously evolving, it lacks many of the massive institutionalized barriers inherent in other industries such as healthcare and government. Therefore, cybersecurity companies offering multi-factor authentication, endpoint security, anti-malware, patch management, and other solutions, should aim to integrate blockchain into current solutions, or move to blockchain-based products.
5. What were you doing with your life five years ago?
Five years ago I was in graduate school, studying biophysics and physiology, probably wasting time on Reddit. Reddit is where I eventually stumbled upon r/dogecoin for better or worse. After attempting to mine Dogecoin and very quickly ruining my computer, I set my blockchain and crypto interests aside to pursue a career in consulting. I picked up again in September 2016 and have been diving deeper ever since. Whether that was a positive life decision or not is still up for debate, as Portia even called out my degeneration into hawking crypto accessories on Twitter!
Portia Burton is founder of The Blockchain Explainer and fan of sparkly crypto accessories. If you want to learn more about this emerging technology be sure to sign up for The Blockchain Explainer newsletter.