The future is female, or so we have heard. Go online and you'll see the latest “girl power” phrase proudly proclaimed by women of all ages and the next generation of little girls. In a flurry of inspirational hashtags and Instagram captions, a growing chorus of 21st-century women appear optimistic about the world that together they can build. What will that world look like? The architectures of the future are likely to be archways between physical and virtual domains, public space and private life, the ingrained challenges of the past and a glittering hope for progress toward a world where equality of opportunity reigns free. As the technological advances of the space age propel the future of work and life forward, now is the time to ask: where do women and girls stand? And who is designing the parameters of the spaces in which they will live out their hopes and dreams? The State of Women in STEM The new frontiers of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) represent promising engines for future global economic growth and innovation. The UN estimates that in Europe alone, there will be 7 million STEM jobs by 2025 and not enough qualified workers to fill them. And yet, it continues to be a sector in which female participation, education and career advancement lag woefully behind. In 2017, UNESCO released its flagship report, Cracking the Code: Girls and Women’s Education in STEM. “Not only do girls have fewer initial education opportunities, but there are systemic impediments at every step that push them out of the STEM fields,” reports UNESCO, detailing how the global gender gap develops throughout the pipeline:
  • Childhood: Gender differences in STEM education participation at the expense of girls begin as early as Early Childhood Care and Education in science- and math-related play, and are more visible at higher levels of education.
  • School: Girls appear to lose interest in STEM subjects as they get older, particularly between early and late adolescence. The gender gap in STEM becomes particularly apparent in upper secondary education, as reflected in girls' choices of advanced studies in mathematics and science.
  • Training: Gender gaps become stark in higher education. Female students represent only 35% of all students enrolled in STEM-related fields of study globally. Differences are also observed by disciplines, with female enrollment lowest in engineering, manufacturing and construction, natural science, mathematics and statistics and ICT fields.
  • Career: Women continue to drop out of STEM disciplines in disproportionate numbers during their higher education studies, while transitioning to the world of work and even during their career cycle.
Female participation is especially low in Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) fields. Worldwide, only 3% of women in higher education choose ICT studies. That statistic is particularly alarming given how much these industries are shaping the future. What is the real cost when women are so starkly underrepresented in the STEM fields? The Cost of the Global Gender Gap in STEM The impact of this gap is far-reaching. When those designing the world come mostly from one gender demographic, the needs of women and girls are all too often left out of the picture. A lack of female perspective can lead to critical gaps in funding, research and prioritization, as well as empathy for how something may affect half the population. Consider for example geotagging, which is an automatic function of many apps today. Not only can our smart devices and social media platforms track our locations, they often broadcast them. This privacy concern poses a special danger for women and girls, who experience startlingly high rates of stalking, dating violence and domestic abuse. When the user experience of women and girls is not taken into consideration in the development process of shiny new inventions, the end results can be grave. Secret or disappearing-message apps like Snapchat and Kik are beloved by teenagers but their design also makes them favored hunting grounds for child predators and sex traffickers. What happens if instead of women and girls bearing the unintended consequences of scientific and technological advancement, they become the architects, the focal points? Our world might start to look different. Consider instead crowdsourcing apps designed to allow women to name, locate and report street harassment, which hinders their ability to move freely within public spaces and transportation. In India, a woman created one such app, Safecity, after the tragic rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi. Data collection is a starting point to identify and address problems with policymakers. The global gender gap in STEM means not only untapped female talent but a world of unrealized innovations that could positively impact women, girls and their communities. Young women are using invention for social good: such as Iraqi teenagers who turned their school science fair project into a bomb-sniffing device, or those manufacturing banana fiber sanitary pads in India to improve access to menstrual hygiene products. Today, there is a clear global imperative to increase women and girls' representation in STEM. Doing so can move the needle forward on the UN's Global Goals for education while also helping to facilitate broader societal progress towards gender equality. Girls Can Crack the Code  The good news is that a strong movement is underway to help build up the pipeline of young women entering these fields and narrow this gap. Efforts to attract girls into STEM play an important role in addressing the stark digital divide that girls face in accessing the opportunities of a world that wasn't always built with them in mind. How do we change the formula that keeps girls out of STEM classes and careers? Seeing is believing, especially for children when it comes to where they can envision themselves as adults. Too many girls bump into stereotypes that dissuade them from STEM in the classroom or culture, and end up taking themselves out of the equation. A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank found that 75% of self-mocking messages about ability in STEM subjects posted to social media were made by girls. Role models can help girls imagine themselves as astronauts, chemists or hackers. Media representation of female scientists and engineers in film and television encourage girls to never stop dreaming those dreams. In 2016, Hollywood scored a break-out hit with Hidden Figures, the Oscar-nominated true story of mathematician Katherine Johnson and her fearless team of black women, who overcame the racism and sexism of the 1960's American south to help NASA launch its first astronauts into space. They are now immortalized as best-selling Lego toys, inspiring girls to play and imagine. Today, dedicated coding schools are popping up to empower girls to take an active role in computer programming and create new applications for technology. Code to Inspire, Afghanistan's first all-female coding school and its young female Afghan founder are working to launch young women into careers in technology and entrepreneurship. From Chicago to Johannesburg, Black Girls Code is training girls of color with the STEM skills to become leaders in their communities and architects of their own digital spaces. As access to mobile and internet connectivity continue to explode around the globe, the opportunity for young women to code the parameters of their own worlds could help create a ripple effect of gender-sensitive applications built to empower their users. Women, Technology and a Changing World  Technology has the potential to alter the lived experiences of women and girls across the planet. The majority of women in industrial nations and a growing portion of those in emerging economies will have their lives influenced by communication technologies and opportunities they provide. Mobile phones and social media in particular are changing the way that women can track their health, look for work and connect with one another. Our social fabric has gone digital. Virtual communities can give women a chance to participate more fully in the economic and social life of a country. In Saudi Arabia, the company Glowork utilizes teleworking to enable greater female labor participation. Movements for women's rights that transcend borders are growing online and spilling into the streets. The Women's March is a prime example, spreading like wildfire around the globe in 2017 after the U.S. spectacularly failed to elect its first female president. The promise of technology in women's hands cannot be underestimated. It can open new channels of access where social barriers once existed. It can help increase female agency by putting better knowledge and tools at their fingers tips. It can offer a platform to address gender inequality in their own lives and a megaphone on which to be heard. That which cannot be seen or named often goes unreported and unchallenged. Now, common occurrences which women have long suffered alone and in silence, such as discrimination and violence, are being made visible as endemic patterns within society. A more equal world requires female representation in both voice and problem solving. A Room of Her Own in a Digital World There has been fascinating work done on what it takes to make public space work for women. In the built environment, urban designers can pay special attention to features that make parks more accessible for mothers or streets safer for women walking alone. What happens when we apply that lens to the digital public domain? The results are rather dismal. Amnesty International found that 1 in 5 women reported being the targets of online harassment, according to its poll of 8 high-income nations. Platforms like Twitter have struggled to combat gender-based hate speech online, including verbal abuse, violent threats and "doxxing," the release of private information. For women entering male-dominated tech fields, the toxic culture women face online unfortunately can mirror the experience encountered by those who could help work to change it. Gender discrimination in the workplace can stymie women's contributions and career advancement, leading to labor attrition. Case in point: tech hotbed Silicon Valley has gained notoriety in recent years for enabling hostile work environments toward female employees, ones plagued by misogynistic attitudes and sexual harassment. Women are moving around these obstacles by creating their own spaces and networks to help one another thrive. Women in the Digital Ecosystem (WiDE) is one such community, promoting the inclusion of women in the digital economy. Co-founded by a young woman in Argentina, it has since expanded within South America and to Spain. From its launching pad in South Africa, Women in Engineering (WomEng) is a leadership incubator co-founded by two young female engineers that now reaches 17 countries. Ensuring the Future Is Female Gazing out towards the new frontiers of space and time, it is clear that there are opportunities and obstacles alike. How do we elevate the best of what humanity has to offer and keep the mistakes of the past in the past, as lessons for the history books? To not replicate entrenched systems of discrimination requires conscious effort. This means asking the right questions of how innovation could be used for benefit or harm. We need to know what biases are being picked up, whose perspective is being left out. What happens, for instance, when we program Artificial Intelligence to "learn" from modern day humans? Microsoft quickly ran into a problem with its AI chatbot, which picked up new language from interacting with people online. It didn't take long for the software program to start parroting racist and misogynistic phrases it learned online. When we think about the future, we must ask ourselves how we want it to be different from the present and who we must include in order to get there. With women and girls on board, we have the chance to engineer a more just, equal, representative world.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.