Interview with Dianne Schepers about changemaking in the Crypto Valley and Female Leadership
- Why are you doing what you are doing? You are a dedicated changemaker, an experienced legal and strategic senior executive, dealmaker, and impact investor. Why do you work for IOHK (Cardano) and not for a global bank or Google? Why IOHK (Cardano)?
I followed IOHK (and the Cardano project) since its very inception and always regarded the Cardano project as one of the most serious and solid blockchain projects which in my opinion is being lead by some of the most visionary leaders and team in the space. Not only is IOHKs mission to include the 3 billion unbanked and excluded in the financial system also very close to my own heart, I have also closely been witnessing how IOHKs leadership is true to its mission in every action and decision it takes, and puts its word and money where their mouth is. I am truly proud to be part of IOHKs team of exceptional professionals from 16 countries who in close collaboration are preparing and developing amazing technology solutions for systemic change solutions and impact projects. The joint expertise, endurance and synergy of 160 team members are important for us to succeed in our projects and to soon change the lives of so many. My relatively long and broad corporate, legal and blockchain experience and the alignment of IOHKs and my personal mission are complementary while co-shaping a fairer and more balanced new world. None of us can execute such a massive task alone and strategic collaborations and joining forces are key. At IOHK my core focus is to build these global alliances and partnerships for impact which IOHK deems critical to succeed in our ambitious mission. I cannot think of many other teams or working environments where I could possibly contribute more to what deeply matters to me.
- Let us talk a bit about the BC4Good Initiative Crypto Valley:
In 2017 we saw a true rollercoaster in activity in the Crypto Valley in the crypto and blockchain space. With a goldrush feverish attitude towards ICOs even. Satoshi Nakamoto and subsequent early visionaries were mainly aiming for using DLT for systemic financial and social change and to kill existing disbalances in wealth distribution.
With the BC4Good Initiative in 2017 we started to create a counterbalance to the “goldrush ICO projects” and develop a community of people, organizations and projects who take particular interest in how blockchain can be used for social and environmental impact as reflected in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are aiming to create a platform for blockchain impact projects, to connect and to inform newcomers in the space (both from the blockchain or impact) with a focus on solving global grand challenges. We find egoless global collaborations and partnerships for impact very important, encourage broader meaningful discussions, and aim to create a culture of joint responsibility and sharing. In 2017 and 2018 we have given the floor and connected many blockchain-based environmental and energy-related projects, nature conservation projects and social projects relating to amongst others new high-tech food production and trading systems, and have organized various topic lectures, discussions and summits.
- Impact and empowerment are important values for you. What is their beauty?
Quite some years into my hard-core corporate and big 5 law firm career I realized that impact and empowerment were very important to me and equally they were big missing pieces in my day-to-day work, projects and focus and ethics of some the people I was surrounded with. To create a counterbalance for this gap on the side of my corporate job in 2013 I started an empowerment foundation in collaboration with the Jordanian royal family (women & youth training, education and microbusinesses) (www.pure-felt.com) which currently impacts more than 700 people in South Africa and Jordan. Unemployed youth in South Africa was trained and found jobs through our involvement and young-adult orphans, refugees and young and old unemployed women in the poorest area of Jordan have found a permanent job to sustain their families and communities. Feeling the fulfilment of making ones talent available to a purpose so much bigger than oneself, at some point I decided that I wanted to spend all of my time on matters and businesses that were meaningful in their core and to use my professional skills and corporate experience for that bigger benefit as well. The DLT space in its many facets, including IOHK and my various side activities in organizations, meetups, and mentorship programmes, surround me with the perfect habitat to contribute to the meaningful revolutionary change through disruptive technology, the change that our world and our societies need so badly.
- What made you the person that you are today? What was instrumental to your success in business?
My father and his brothers ran a family business with 15 employees in the south of the Netherlands. I grew up with parents and uncles that were working hard 6 days a week with 2 weeks of holiday per year. Equally there was a lot of warmth, care and the cosiness (“gezelligheid” as we say in Dutch) of large family celebrations I remember well. From age 10-11 I started helping doing smaller chores around the family business to make a little money (e.g. inventory work, door-to-door delivery of brochures). I learned by example to work hard, be honest, fight and work for what you believe in, be kind and have fun. These principles are an integral part of who I am and likely determined also why I became who I am and defined my successes. The early death of my father at age 48 made my powerhouse mother take over from him and run the family in addition. I think it is these examples and values as lived vividly in my family and in my everyday life allowed me to get to know myself, to grow, to select and be chosen, to build relationships, to create, to fight for the right things and oftentimes where necessary, to let go of people or things.
- Diversity is a topic that is important for you. What is your advice for women that want to succeed in Fintech?
During World War II women ran the show. When the men returned, however, the men reclaimed their positions, particularly after WWII. After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda the population consisted of 60-70% women. Now Rwanda`s parliament consists of no less 67% women, not only because of this high representation but also because of the male president`s support and conviction. In their intra-family diversity these women still have a way to go but developments like this inspire me.
Diversity has been found to produce more innovation and better decisions, and to strengthen teamwork. Women bring different traits that are just good for business. For example advanced risk awareness, a holistic perspective and ability to juggle complexity and multitask, long-term thinking, a focus on relationships and team building, a love of lifelong learning and acute awareness of meaning purpose, and social impact.
Despite the compelling evidence behind it, diversity still fails to completely take hold. Homogeneous teams, apparently can feel more effective because less discomfort arises when less deviating approaches or views occur. During my career I have had the privilege to meet and work with amazing competent women and I enjoy seeing and co-creating high-performing diverse teams in action with them. Showing the individual performance and contributions of specific professional women, for example by sharing their story and including them as speakers and panelists at summits, will gradually help to change the rusty paradigm. Furthermore, I am happy to participate in professional female mentor programmes and to give younger female professionals regular exposure and access to male and female business networks and get great professional women on the radar of hiring professionals.
- Work hard, ask yourself the tough questions and be perseverant. We need to negotiate access to the right tables and make sure that we are sitting at the right table where our voices will be heard.
- Be a knowledgeable reputable high-performing professional. Be kind and generous.
- Never get discouraged to bring your powerful and unique strengths as a woman that make you such a valuable employee, terrific team player and effective leader. Speak up.
- Be generous and keep an eye out for other women, share the stories of successful professional candidates and actively speak up for hiring more female professionals and refer these women profiles to hiring decisionmakers.
- Be visible, speak up and connect, build and participate in professional relationships and joint projects and initiatives in mixed as well as in female networks. Speak –up but be sure sitting at the right table.
- Get a mentor (male or female) that can help you to be visible and be introduced so that we can slowly tread the borders of the old boys networks.
- Be a mentor, share your learnings, insights and networks to help other women grow professionally and build their career.
- I find it very important t help other women grow and give them access.
- What is special about the Crypto Valley?
In a very short period from 2013 starting with the Ethereum project, and companies such as BitcoinSuisse, Xapo and Monetas the Crypto Valley started and developed into what it currently is: one of the global places-to-be and visit when it comes to top of the bill DLT projects, financing and support.
In 2017 the biggest boost and expansion occurred. In the meantime the Crypto Valley in the greater Zug-Zürich area is a serious ecosystem of more than 600 blockchain-related companies and more than 3`000 employees, working together in close vicinity and an active community of collaborating players, such as advisors, VCs, service providers, co-working places, and last but not least the best scientists, universities and not for profit organizations such as the Crypto Valley Association and Swiss Blockchain Federation. The substance of the Crypto Valley cannot be denied at a global level and its magic I believe is the presence of a substantial number of global key projects, a facilitating and collaborative government, the high concentration and close vicinity of all the players and investors in the space, their can-do attitude and the entrepreneurial buzz and action.
Dianne, thank you for the insights.
The Interview was conducted to make great female leaders visible through SwissFinTechLadies.