On Monday Aug 4, 2014 the audience at the NYC Bitcoin Center were in awe of a very powerful presentation by the Women’s Annex Foundation. The organization’s mission is to empower women and children through digital literacy and in the regions where this is badly needed such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. The organization is expanding globally and is already making its presence felt in Egypt and Mexico.
For Women’s Annex, Bitcoin is more than just a means to receive donations; it is embedded in its fundamental purpose. We are talking about regions that do not have the same access to the banking system like in the West. Not only does using Bitcoin help prevent corruption in the formation of these centers, but it also allows the young users that generate amazing content to earn wealth and help support their families. Unlike most stories you hear about bitcoins being lost or stolen, if handled properly, it is hands down the safest way to store wealth because it cannot be confiscated nor will anyone know what you have unless you want them to.
There is another very powerful message that is spread with this organization as peaceful people and mutually beneficial technologies move forward. These young women and children will learn digital literacy and the power of crypto-currency in parallel. They will NOT be scared to embrace a borderless medium of exchange that could have the power to end wars. And these are the regions that perhaps need this balance the most.
We sat down with the Co-Founders after the presentation for a few questions about their experiences with Bitcoin and its effects within their foundation. You can also find a great interview by Nicolas Cary (CEO of Blockchain.info) on their website.
Roya Mahboob – is a member of the 2013 Time 100 Most Influential People in the world. She is also the Founder and CEO of Afghan Citadel Software Company. Her goal is to be a role model for Afghan women and motivate them to start their own technology companies where everyone would have a better future. Roya holds a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science and is currently studying Information Technology at the World Wide Science Academy in Malaysia.
Fereshteh Forough - grew up in Iran as an Afghan refugee before returning to her native land in 2002 where she started teaching English to girls at the Afghan Youth Association. She later went to earn a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Information Management Systems. In 2013, Fereshteh got a chance to tell her life story and talk about the importance of technology, education and social media at the New York TED Talks.
Cointelegraph: Can you describe your experiences of using or converting bitcoins in Afghanistan?
Fereshteh Forough: I remember the first bitcoins I received in my wallet were from bitLanders, where a user's content is monetized and they are paid in bitcoins. The first thing that I bought from the bitLanders online shop was a Skype debit card so I could call my family in Afghanistan. I also bought some Afghan mobile debit cards and sent them to my parents in Afghanistan, so they could easily call me. It was a wonderful experience of how I can make communication with my family easier by using bitcoins.
Roya Mahboob: At the beginning, we were not sure of using bitcoins in Afghanistan, but later when I learned more about this online currency and saw the benefit of that for developing countries I got surprised with its technology. I was really happy using it. We initiate talks with local companies to accept bitcoins as a regular payment. We also help students purchase from online shops on bitLanders. My sister Elaha started purchasing bitcoins from Afghan students who needed cash while still encouraging them to use bitcoins when they can. This process actually allows my sister and I to invest in bitcoins for the long term.
CT: Are there any laws regarding Bitcoin in Afghanistan? Is your organization engaging with regulators (or do you prefer to stay under the radar)?
FF: Right now, per my understanding of the situation in Afghanistan, there is no specific law regarding Bitcoin. It is a very new phenomenon, especially in developing countries. I think the government should act upon crypto-currencies openly, as it is an absolute positive change for the e-commerce business and it also helps entrepreneurs and start-ups grow.
In a country where a considerable number of people are unbanked, living in a middle-class to poor-class family, it is important that they can manage and control their own money by not having an intermediary or a ridiculous amount of transaction fees. Bitcoin is not only financing people but it educates them too. Once all Afghans make a digital wallet and start paying their bills and shop online, then everybody will be treated equally in this "Digital Financial World."
RM: Central Banks regulate all the banking and money handling operation in Afghanistan. Since Bitcoin is something new, they probably do not take it seriously yet. It’s legally allowed because it’s based on the Internet, not money. But we know if companies like Atlas and other exchangers of bitcoins will come to work with private banks and the number of Bitcoin users increase, then Banks will take action to have some rules for it.
Our main goal in our Foundation is to train women and children for digital literacy so they can support themselves economically under challenging political and cultural conditions. We have included Bitcoin literacy in our training too. We are also trying to establish a bridge between companies and our online female job seekers with local and international companies.
For the first time in Afghanistan companies like bitLanders and Film Annex are leading the way with their provision of online income by introducing Buzz Scores for their users and reward them with bitcoins. WomensAnnex is also a place only for women who can share their articles and blogs and get paid in bitcoins based on the quality of their work.
CT: Besides donations, what can people do if they want to help?
FF: Any kind of technical or educational support to implement Bitcoin in our schools that we have built and also raising public awareness will be helpful. We also need Western women to connect with our Central Asian women on bitLanders. We want to make the world a smaller place. Katie Sweeney is on our Board, and she is now active on bitLanders. The women in Central Asia really respond to her. She writes often about her Autistic son and all the running and surfing that her family does with her son that helps his mental and physical condition. It is really inspirational so please visit her profile.
RM: We would love to connect with companies who are interested in sponsoring our programs for women empowerment, and provision of online training and contents. Beside that we would love to have female ideas and thoughts to share with our Afghan students by writing blogs or films that get uploaded to WomensAnnex to connect with each other.
CT: Do you have anything else to add?
RM: I want to say how we started to use Bitcoin. At the beginning I had to carry cash and distribute it between users of WomensAnnex and Bitlanders, but it was dangerous. So we decide to look for another way that users can get direct payments; using western union was not affordable, mobile money didn’t work well and was not affordable either and in addition our female users didn’t have bank accounts.
That’s why we chose Bitcoin as the easiest way to pay users and they could save it on their digital wallet or invest it. To all those who don’t have access to Credit Cards or PayPal, now they can use Bitcoin to buy online from the shops that are available in their home country.
I have to say also that Bitcoin is similar in concept of Hawala, a very traditional and historical way of transferring money and exchange in Afghanistan. It’s informal value transfer system based on the honor and performance of money brokers.
Afghans normally use this system and trust it more then the banking system. And I think Bitcoin is so similar to the concept of Hawala with a little difference, it’s also an online currency. That’s why Afghan females could learn fast and it was interesting to use something that their fathers and brothers usually deal with every day in the real world. I think Bitcoin can be an online Hawala system for Afghan Women to do business unlike Hawala, which is a male dominated industry and barely have any women who participate in it.
Please Support this Amazing Non-Profit Organization directly with Bitcoin here:
Personal Note from Tone: There have been many events and great speakers at the NYC Bitcoin Center. Even though this did not draw the crowd of Andreas Antonopoulos, it was by far one of the more powerful and inspiring presentations. All are encouraged to come to these events and support the community or if you’re simply interested in learning about the technology.