Diversity in Blockchain Series #2: Songyi Lee, the Pioneer of Blockchain Diversity

Community at Klaytn
Jun 3 · 7 min read

Dear readers,

We are excited to introduce the first interviewee for [Diversity in Blockchain] series, Songyi Lee. She co-founded 37 Coins and worked for Metadium as Chief Strategy Officer. She refers to herself as “the pioneer of blockchain diversity”. As an early female player in the blockchain industry, she has prioritized her efforts on solving real-world problems by using blockchain technology. And now, she is on a quest for her next destination.

In addition to ‘the pioneer of blockchain diversity,’ Songyi has quite a number of other descriptions that did not seem to match the co-founder or CSO position at a private firm:

Zentrepreneur¹, Creative Director, Host of guesthouse named ‘B-Salon’…

When you introduce or describe yourself in a professional setting, it is typical to use your company name or position. But Songyi’s identity, expressed by her various experiences and personal values, puzzled us; it was difficult to get a full grasp of her. It was only later we realized that all of this complexity is perhaps what makes her just the right person to be the first interviewee for [Diversity in Blockchain] series.

After the interview, we could sense that her complex personal inclinations, experiences, and thoughts all converge into one story and create one individual named ‘Songyi Lee.’ She focuses fully on discovering herself and listening to her voice.

#The Blockchain Journey Narrated by A Self-Explorer

While she has various modifiers to explain herself, her favorite is ‘self-explorer.’ As ‘self-explorer,’ she has been able to ponder about her wants and needs, what she can do to change the world, and take actions. Then, what could have made this self-explorer dive into the world of blockchain?

“As a self-explorer, I have been able to examine my own special capabilities and potentials. Through the process, I believed that it was my job to actively understand and solve real-world problems. I studied social welfare in college and worked at World Vision, the international humanitarian organization. While working at World Vision, I had an incident with a refugee, which ultimately led me to step into the business of blockchain. During a business trip to Mali in West Africa back in 2013, I met a refugee named Fatima, who had been subsidized by her husband in Côte d’Ivoire and living off a bag of money that had been handed to her. I was shocked to find that there were still people like Fatima, who seemed so far away from the kind of world that we were living in. In “our” world, we could send as much money as we wanted to our friends and families living abroad through our online banking system. Witnessing the gap between these two different realities — one that actively uses technology and the other that doesn’t — I had an intense desire to close this gap.”

Songyi then co-founded 37 Coins, a service by which people could send receive Bitcoin via SMS. Although 37 Coins did not last long due to market limitations, she was not discouraged to consider the potential of blockchain technology as a useful tool to resolve many social problems. Rather, her failure encouraged to study harder and deeper.

(Source: 37Coins)

“When I started 37 Coins business, it was not easy to implement the features I wanted, as the technology was not mature, the team was small, and also there were not enough resources to work with. Besides, I did not have enough time to fully understand and communicate with the team members who came from diverse backgrounds. It was only after the 37 Coins project failed that I started to have fundamental questions about myself. I was exhausted both mentally and physically, but at the same time, rather ironically, I was given an opportunity to look deep inside of me to think about who and what I really am, how I cope with disasters, and what it is that I really want. Such questions gave me the power to stand on my own and gave me a chance to live my life thoroughly, not controlled by others or my external surroundings.”

Running a startup company was definitely not a simple task, and returning to the blockchain industry would have been a much more difficult decision, we assume.

“Although 37 Coins failed to prove its business model in the market, I was able to better understand the philosophy behind blockchain technology and the potential social impact that blockchain could create. The industry grew at a fast pace and the market perceived the technology only as a tool for speculation. My colleagues and I were overwhelmed by the rapid speed at which blockchain technology was growing, and at the same time, feeling a bit deprived by the new-rich who have recently profited enormously out of the crypto investment. In the midst of this crypto craze, I wanted to contribute to shaping the direction that this industry is heading in a more positive light.”

(Songyi Lee at CoinSummit 2014)

#Self-Sovereign Identity — the Answer to Who I Am

Returning to the blockchain industry, Songyi decided to work at Metadium hoping to find an answer to the question that she has always posed: who am I? The current identity system in society does not allow the actual owner of the identity to control his or her data; instead, it is owned and managed by a central entity or organization. On the other hand, when the data is leaked, it is not the central entity that is damaged, but the owner. It is estimated that there are about 1.1 billion people² in the world including women, children, and refugees living without official identities. This is not to be overlooked as it means that they would not be able to integrate into a social system without official identities. For instance, they cannot receive basic support such as education or healthcare from the government. It is almost as if they are invisible, excluded, and completely powerless.

On the contrary to the traditional registration system that consists of specifically given numbers like Social Security Number(SSN), Metadium breaks away from this traditional concept of identification to pursuing an idea of considering a variety of factors and elements to define a single identity. Name, age, occupation, academic background, as well as preferences, religion, and sexual orientation are the elements that express and reveal ‘oneself.’ The individual characteristics that are presented online and offline spaces also have to be recognized as their unique identities. In order to implement this new concept of identity, a secure and convenient identity verification solution is needed. And Songyi believed that blockchain technology could provide the solution to this identity issue, which is also the question she had for herself.

The Self-Sovereign Identity model enables individuals to not only possess sole ownership over their online and offline identities but also control the sharing and distribution of their personal data. With this model, the individuals have the power to own, manage, and utilize their identities without any intermediaries. A single company doesn’t — and also shouldn’t — have all the solutions, and the fact that there are many companies and projects working on identity solutions shows that there is so much to be done in this realm. She is again looking for the new space to contribute her experiences and insights.

#Individuality and Diversity

“There are no two people in the world who are exactly the same. That is why we must live as ourselves, and make sure that the answer to ‘who am I?’ is reflected in our identity. The world will then be made up of truly diverse individuals. We must recognize and support the characteristics and potentials of every individual. In reality, however, such diversity is often deemed as a cause of conflicts and problems. People form groups and cliques by putting themselves under a single frame rather than recognizing each unique individuality. Conflicts arise among differing groups — women v. men, old v. young, native-born v. immigrants, those with disabilities v. those without, etc. People often generalize a person’s characteristics as the entire group’s characteristics. “Why do women behave that way?” “Why are young people like that?” On the other hand, there can always be ‘good’ conflicts that can contribute towards making a better society and not leave hate. Such ‘good’ conflicts start when people become more open-minded to diversity and understand others’ potential. Blockchain is a kind of technology that can identify and test the potentials of individuality and also realize democratic, fair, and transparent values.

Songyi believes in the power of communities consisting of autonomous individuals who seek to define their identities from fresh perspectives. Throughout her career journey and personal life, Songyi has explored the philosophy and characteristics of blockchain, such as community, autonomy, and decentralization. We are happy to have another story of why we should value and acknowledge personal identity and diversity from her valuable experiences as well as the self-sovereign identity project, which seeks to give people their own unique identities.

[1]: Zentrepreneur is a newly coined term combining words ‘zen’ and ‘entrepreneur,’ and is used to refer to an entrepreneur who adheres to the core essence of values

[2] “Identification for Development Global Dataset | Data”. data.worldbank.org. Retrieved 2017–11–28.

Community at Klaytn

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