Social Impact at Genesis Block: Creating a Mission-Driven Organization

How we’re working to unlock financial inclusion, financial health and economic freedom for the historically underserved

Mick Hagen
Published in
9 min readJul 29, 2020

Special thanks to Josie Lauritsen, VP of Impact at Genesis Block, for her contributions and research for this post.

A few weeks ago I shared some thoughts on the type of culture and values I hope we can nurture at Genesis Block. One point I mentioned was the impact I hope we can have. I think it’s possible to both do well and do good at the same time.

Because I’m at a point in my life where I can say no to most things, the value I place on my own time has increased dramatically in recent years. Anything I work on needs to feel like it matters. It needs to be fulfilling and inspiring. So I want to be working on products that can make a massive, positive impact on the world around us.

So today we’re gonna talk more about the mission behind Genesis Block and the social impact I hope we can achieve. Alright, let’s dive in…

Strong Foundation

If social impact is something we’re gonna take seriously, then it’s important we establish a foundation that allows for this type of work to grow and thrive. As a starting point, we’ve incorporated as a Delaware Public Benefit Corporation. And we’re now working towards becoming a certified B Corp. This type of organizational structure allows us to prioritize purpose along with profits.

Additionally, we’ve brought on Josie Lauritsen to serve as our VP of Impact. I’ve known Josie for years and have even worked closely with her on some personal non-profit initiatives in the last year. She’s an incredible talent and we’re lucky she‘s now involved with Genesis Block. She has worked with universities, non-profits, and businesses to create and implement education and social change initiatives for people around the world. She has a background in human resource development, non-profit management and holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Josie is dedicated full-time to making sure impact isn’t just something we talk about at Genesis Block… but something we actually achieve. She’ll work with a range of stakeholders to help us make important decisions early on to infuse our products, our distribution methods, and our organization with a solid social mission.

That brings up the next important question. What is our mission at Genesis Block? Here’s the first draft of our mission statement:

At Genesis Block, our mission is to leverage blockchain technology & decentralized protocols to unlock economic freedom, financial inclusion, and financial health for everyone — including those who have been historically underserved.

Where To Begin

In our Crypto-Powered series, we outlined why the future of money will be built on blockchain technology and decentralized protocols (like DeFi). In our Spreading Crypto series, we talked about how much if not all of that technology will be completely invisible to end-users. At Genesis Block, we’re excited about this future and we’re actively building it. However, we believe it needs to be as inclusive and equitable as possible.

To do this, we’re asking some important questions like:

Who will benefit from this technology? Who has been historically left out? How can traditionally underserved groups help shape the future of money? How can we design our products to achieve greater financial inclusion and solve social problems?

Obviously, these are complex questions that take time, resources and willpower to address. And many startups justifiably shy away from them. But at Genesis Block, we don’t want questions like these to be an afterthought. We believe social impact shouldn’t just be optional icing on the cake once we reach profitability. Social impact should be baked into the cake itself.

This should be a priority from day one. And for us, it is. This is a long-term journey, and what we hope to accomplish will take time. But we’re on our way.

So now, I’d like to highlight some of the ways we’re bringing this mission to life and the commitments we’re making to ensure that we maximize our positive social impact now and in the future.

Closing Gender Gaps

We’ve previously explained how legacy finance, while enabling economic growth and opportunity for many, is filled with gate-keeping mechanisms that have kept billions of people from realizing their full financial potential. Currently, 1/5th of the world’s population (1.7 billion people) are unbanked. For many of these people, not having financial access means not being able to feed their families, send their children to school, get good healthcare, build a business, or live with the dignity they deserve.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the world’s unbanked and underbanked people are women. Globally nearly 1 billion women lack access to financial services. Of the women who are banked, 20% have inactive accounts. There is a 7% gender gap in account ownership globally and 9% in developing countries.

Lack of access to financial services, inequitable wages, and other disparities combine to create a gender wealth gap in which women own 32 cents for every dollar that men do.

That figure drops to one cent for every dollar for black and Latinx women. And when it comes to those who are building the infrastructure for and benefitting from blockchain technology (the people in crypto), women are overwhelmingly underrepresented.

At Genesis Block, we’re not okay with this. As a dad with three daughters, I’m definitely not okay with this. So we’re seeking to close these gender gaps through a strategic, well-resourced focus on women at every stage of our product evolution and our organizational development. We’re working on innovative strategies to accelerate financial access and support financial health for women through our product, our services, and our distribution strategies. We’re looking forward to sharing more details as we start releasing our app more broadly.

Closing Racial Gaps

In the U.S. nearly half of Black (47%) and Latinx (43%) households are unbanked or underbanked. Without access to financial services, underbanked households fall prey to high fees and crazy interest rates from alternative providers like payday lenders, check cashing stores, and pawnshops. Annually, fees from these types of alternatives total more than $170 billion dollars —that’s $40,000 over the course of one’s lifetime.

Not having access to banking also results in diminished savings, insufficient credit, and poor financial resilience. This lack of access to basic financial services — coupled with exclusionary employment practices and public policies— has resulted in widespread intergenerational economic inequality for people of color (POC).

Today, for example, African-Americans own approximately one-tenth of the wealth of white Americans.

There are many long-standing, complex barriers to financial inclusion for people of color. As a society, we have a long way to go. Our first live debit card transaction on Genesis Block was a donation to Equal Justice Initiative — a non-profit dedicated to ending mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality. At Genesis Block, we want to be part of the solution of dismantling these racial barriers. And we’re starting with a product that allows anyone to access high-quality financial services and wealth-building opportunities — with no minimum balance and no credit history required.

We recognize that closing the racial gap in financial inclusion will take more than just building great products. It will take systemic, policy-driven change. It will take thoughtful, targeted strategies that account for the current needs and priorities of individuals and communities as well as the effects of historical exclusion.

We don’t have all the answers. But we’re committed to addressing the biases in banking by trying to ask the right questions, starting with, “Who’s not here?”

We’re also working to build an organization that reflects the gender and racial equity we hope to see in the world one day. This is another point that I touched on in my culture & values post a few weeks ago. Like many tech companies, we’re not there yet, but we’re facing in the right direction. If you’re interested in helping build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team, get in touch. We’re hiring.

Supporting Families & Communities Across Borders

To overcome poverty, billions of people around the world depend on money sent by family members living in other countries. My family understands this. My mom came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Guatemala when she was 16-years old. In her home country, as in more than 60 countries around the world, remittances account for 3x official development assistance (ODA). This means sending money to loved ones across borders can have a much more profound effect on reducing poverty than government assistance.

Research has shown that a 1% increase in international remittances can reduce poverty severity by 16%.

Yet fees for remittances to developing countries total more than $30 billion annually, a cost that is disproportionately borne by the poor. These fees are extracted by banks and institutional middlemen through services that could be provided much more efficiently and much less expensively through blockchain technology. At Genesis Block, we believe that as much of people’s hard-earned money as possible should arrive back home. So we’re working toward seamless, low-cost alternatives for people to get money to their loved ones across borders.

We’re also exploring ways to help remittance users build financial resilience by leveraging opportunities like high-interest savings accounts. Our goal in all of this is to remove barriers to prosperity so individuals, families, and communities can create their own solutions and thrive.

Charitable Giving

At Genesis Block, we believe that charitable giving should be a routine financial activity, just like earning interest, borrowing, or spending. That’s why we’ve built tax-deductible giving opportunities for users directly in our product. You can explore professionally vetted non-profits around the world and donate with a simple tap (or automate your giving).

You can help small-holder farmers in Africa, fight child trafficking in India, support freedom of the press in the U.S. or contribute to dozens of other high-impact causes while you bank.

For users who want to donate crypto to their preferred non-profit, they can do that. Still tax-deductible.

Our goal is not only to build a world-class digital bank but also to support world-class changemakers who are on the frontlines of the world’s most pressing problems.

Having a social mission Achieving a social mission

At Genesis Block, we recognize that our social mission is outsized. We don’t just want to help a few people on the margins; we want to meaningfully and substantially contribute to a more equitable world. We want to unlock economic freedom, financial inclusion, and financial health for everyone, including those who have been historically underserved. We want to change the world.

In my mind, our social impact goals and our business goals work hand in hand. Our impact focus will lead to better products and improved lives, which should result in greater commercial success. Our commercial success will lead to more resources to fuel our impact initiatives. It’s a virtuous cycle.

If done right, business decisions and impact decisions align and reinforce each other, contributing to the overall strength of this company.

Soon we’ll be clarifying our short-, mid- and long-term social impact strategies, setting a series of discrete goals, and allocating resources accordingly. We will be tracking, measuring and publicly reporting our progress, along with our shortcomings and lessons learned along the way.

This post is just a taste of what’s on the social impact horizon at Genesis Block. You can expect to hear a lot more from me and especially Josie as we get ramped up with these efforts. We’re looking forward to learning from and collaborating with NGOs, businesses, researchers, and investors who care about these same things we do. If that’s you, get in touch. We’d love to talk.

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Mick Hagen

CEO/Founder of Hightop — a digital bank powered by web3