Last Monday night at the Bitcoin Center of New York City, the room was filled with reverence towards the presenters Roya Mahboob and Fereshteh Forough as they shared their experiences in creating the Women’s Annex in Afghanistan and their integration with Bitcoin to facilitate their mission of educating and empowering women in their area.
What is the Women’s Annex Foundation?
The Women’s Annex Foundation is an organization that seeks to help increase digital literacy and further education using technology. They operate in Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan and Mexico and aim to connect women and children to the modern tools of the internet. To date, 55,000 students in 11 cities have been connected and their progress continues to grow and inspire as they expand globally.
The Women’s Annex works by setting up computer labs for women and children to go and utilize the internet. In the labs, they learn to use social media networks to express their thoughts, connect with other people and learn from each other.
In using social media, they’re taught to make well-thought-out blogs, use the internet for research, and produce content like videos, blogs, photography and graphic design. When they share it on the Women’s Annex social media, their social impact is calculated daily and they are paid in bitcoin accordingly. As their bitcoin accumulates, they can use it to purchase things like amazon or skype gift cards or even withdraw the bitcoin.
Roya Mahboob explained why they use Bitcoin:
“At the beginning I had to carry cash and distribute it between users of Women’s Annex 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.”
This organization inspired Italian entrepreneur and filmmaker Francesco Rulli and he used the model to build ‘BitLanders‘ (or previously known as the Film Annex). BitLanders is a social media platform that distributes revenue to its users as they engage each other.
I was able to speak with Fereshteh Forough, co-founder of the Women’s Annex Foundation. You can watch the interview below:
The Women’s Annex still has its obstacles. In an interview with Blockchain’s CEO Nic Cary, Fereshteh Forough talked about while English is a universal language, it would greatly help promote Bitcoin in Central Asia if there were more sites that implemented Farsi.
In my interview with Fereshteh, she also shared concerns about how the shipping and mailing infrastructure in many of the areas that the Women’s Annex functions is poor and many times unsafe. The Foundation is currently looking into ways to facilitate this process so that their members can receive their purchases in a quicker and safer fashion.
It’s times like these that the ‘privilege-baiting’ of sites like ThinkProgress and other ignorant blogs are smacked with the backhand of reality – that liberating money from centralized authorities and empowering people with technology is the power of Bitcoin. It is the power of developers and startups and individuals making a difference in their communities; both local and global.