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Blockchain for diversity and inclusion. How does it work?

Translation Of An Interview Of Laura Degiovanni, For Newcert Magazine

Photo By Tumisu

Laura Degiovanni is the founder and CEO of TiiQu, a start-up born in London to set a new standard in the labour market based on trust. MyTiiQu is a mobile app that allows users to test their skills and map their knowledge in real-time. As users' skills are continuously crystallized by immutable proofs using blockchain technology, the result is a dynamic, trustworthy and comprehensive mapping of correlated abilities. The aim is to help the individual to discover unchartered skills and irrefutably prove who they are and their potential and decrease biases and prejudice from hiring and access to opportunities.

Today with her we would like to deepen the theme of blockchain and investigate how this technology can be the lever for greater inclusion.

Welcome back Dr Degiovanni. First, we ask you if it helps us to understand, in simple words, how blockchain technology works, also defined as a sort of shared and decentralized digital archive that can be consulted by anyone who is part of the network.

Glad to be here with you, let's start by removing the titles? I like to think that my story defines me better than any title that I see as a sort of cage, invented to pigeonhole the person in predefined formats.

Blockchain technology? A topic that is all too exposed, often inappropriately or inaccurately. We can assimilate it to an automated notarial service that costs less than the Notary, but which, like the profession of Notary, requires certain ethics so that dystopian results are not produced. The information is simultaneously distributed in all the nodes of a network, a complex and non-elusive system of validation includes it in the shared register from where it is highly unlikely that it can be removed. I say highly unlikely and not impossible because in the next 5 - 10 years the advent of quantum technology will make the transition of the current published key cryptographic algorithms to "post-quantum" versions is indispensable. Given its immutability, information survives even to those who created it; therefore, let's say that if society uses it to protect certain information, and at some point that society is absorbed by others or disappears, the information remains where it is, continues to be verifiable and accessible to those who are entitled to it, it must not be "transferred" to the new entity with all the risks that this entails. It is not surprising that we are experimenting in the field of intellectual property and land registry even if the use case that is best known and talked about is the cryptocurrency.

So to return to your question, the information is safe but easily shared and accessible by those who have the access key. A bit like the document from a notary with the difference that instead of the notary there is a network of interconnected digital nodes. The advantage is that it automates the verification and allows you to program actions and consequences so that the flows and rules are visible and not modifiable. Because we use the services of a Notary, a third party guarantees the existence of preconditions for a given transaction and ensures that it takes place correctly under the established conditions. Here, blockchain technology puts these elements into code.

TiiQu, the start-up she founded, uses blockchain technology to create a digital reputation that cannot be falsified. To do this, it makes use of shared information – on which the technology is based – which is very difficult to modify. That is why this technology is considered safer and more reliable than others. But how can it support the inclusion process?

Let's start from a premise: we are our story but we have no way to tell it credibly and reliably. Our grandparents told each other with business cards; a name, surname, address, and job description, because many were born and died in the same community and carried out the same work for 35 years. For us it's different.

We live on different levels (offline and online) in different "container-communities" simultaneously, with a constant overexposure to the information that we are forced to select at extreme speed.

Any database that pigeonholes us would be inappropriate because it is unable to grasp the different "self" we use to interact in each of these communities and the context of the different online and offline spaces. Although the term Interoperability is often everywhere, in fact, modern society is organized in silos. While the citizen can pass from one silo to another or from one space to another, the slice of history that matures in each of them remains harnessed where it is generated. There is no portability, social media and recommendations are the most portable methods we have and unfortunately, we know how much they testify more to the projection of what the individual seems, rather than who the individual is.

The solution is not to block everyone's story on the blockchain, it would be yet another incomplete and therefore stigmatizing "still-image". But blockchain technology can help to make the micro-passages of history irrefutable: by irrefutably testifying that we have learned something, that we have done and experienced, that we have been exposed to a certain context. It is by assembling pieces of history immutable to the unique identity that owns it, that we make it possible for everyone to own and implement their history and evolve with it and in it.

The world's greats have defined inclusion as one of the inalienable human rights, however, we exercise exclusion all the time. The decision-making process that is based on a database of inherited preconceptions that vary according to the geographical area only excludes "categories" of individuals based on the characteristics that unite them. Our society is not formatted to capture and celebrate differences. But it’s diversity that enriches, not uniformity. I remember the hiring process in one of the most celebrated luxury companies: a test that defined my mindset as 100% entrepreneur, 97% innovative 85% team-player, and comparable only to 3% of the workforce of the company in question and therefore "different", inadequate, unwanted.

In the same way, we grew up thinking that graduating from Harvard or Cambridge was worth more than any other form of higher education until we started to have big tech entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Satoshi Tajiri who shed light on the potential we lose when we exclude immigrants, the working class, or anyone who doesn’t quite fit the status quo from the best opportunities.

(Jeff Bezos, son of immigrants, create Amazon, Steve Jobs adopted child from a non-rich family, created Apple, Satoshi Tajiri -autistic is the mind behind Pokémon GO)

TiiQu is interested in the concept of equity before that of equality because the second derives from the first. TiiQu was born as a portfolio that collects evidence of competence skills and knowledge in a single place under the control of the legitimate owner and quantifies its validity and recency so that anyone can demonstrate their eligibility to a position of engineer (for example) by demonstrating the evidence of competence collected over time. However, we realized that to allow TiiQu to spread as a portfolio of proven expertise, it was essential that the world of education and work embraces the idea of contributing by enriching the portfolio of the individual employee, freelancer, collaborator, or student. We have come up against the endemic reluctance to change the processes and culture in force, and we have understood that when changing a process requires excessive effort, it is better to rewrite it so that others can look at it as an alternative.

This is what we have done by integrating Skilled@ into MyTiiQu, a function that allows you to test the degree of competence by answering quizzes from your mobile that then converts the results into immutable tests that help track the skills of the user. Since the quizzes are continuously created and validated by those who obtain the level of expert, the system allows you to map skills concerning the world of work and the trends it demonstrates by breaking down the endemic distance that exists today between "possessing knowledge" and "knowing how to use it". By placing everyone at the same starting level, you know/don't know, regardless of where and how the respondent has acquired or derives that portion of knowledge. The decentralization of the creation and validation of questions, which is crowdsourced, has a powerful effect; it excludes prejudice.

Today we’re talking about blockchain, let's remember that technology itself does not produce anything, it is ethics that guides its architecture, the governance of the container that hosts it, and the combination with other technologies such as Machine Learning in our case, which completely changes the results of the technology. Talking about technology as an exercise for technologists, I dwell on non-technical aspects because I believe that they are essential considerations in granting a wider view of technology's potential, limits, and industry status.

If we talk about blockchain, the first thought goes to cryptocurrencies. His start-up instead chose this technology for training and to make the labour market fairer and more transparent. Can we say that TiiQu's activities are driven by the drive to ensure greater inclusion and positively manage diversity?

Certainly yes, on the subject of inclusion it is worth mentioning that we have collaborated with Power Coders Italia to convert tests of technical skills of young people with refugee status in Italy. On the other hand, exclusion and the ban on diversity is such a cultural fact inherent in the decision-making process that "prejudice" is today the standard. TiiQu wants to offer ecosystems that understand its value, the possibility of establishing a new normal based on objective truth, on the possibility for everyone to contribute. Let us remember that every bright mind excluded is a lost opportunity for society. Within each individual, there is a world of which today we use only a small part. Categories, taxonomies, schemes, and processes do not allow the individual to benefit from the freedom to discover their potential.

We must allow everyone to take risks, find themselves, and contribute to what they are. We need to break down prejudices and break down the grids of our databases. Companies and institutions can and must take over some of the work by setting new standards that involve actions, not words. Curiously, we went from the employee who was afraid of losing his job in the 50s, to the company that fears losing the employee. We have not rewritten the rules of the game where employees and employers have equal rights to be considered, appreciated, and evaluated for their contribution, remaining the sole owners of their history even when they contribute to each other to build it.

Allow us to take it as an example of female empowerment, as a female entrepreneur and expert in scientific subjects. You have found your fulfilment in a non -"common" field such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics); where are we with the participation and inclusion of women in technology?

Still far away. Revolutions are won when there is the will to change things. Although some voices are being raised, most of the female workforce does not fight. We need more role models, we need the new generations to be reassured that they can and must contribute, that they can and must make mistakes to learn and that "collaboration" is worth more than "power". These messages must be facts and not words. We are still at the stage of words. The woman doesn’t emerge because she is not sufficiently exposed and because historically she tends not to expose herself unless requested.

You have created the TiiQu Talks, a space for conversation on extremely topical issues. Do you want to talk about it?

Since 2016 when I created TiiQu I felt the need to do my part in extending the conversation on brand-new topics where few knew how to express an opinion. In 2017, I created the Trustless Ecosystems meetups; monthly meetings that took place in London where experts, founders, and people interested in the blockchain world met and discussed technical aspects of the development of the technology. In 2019, I realized that we had to take a step forward and the Trustless Ecosystems 2030 was born. It had the same format but aimed to facilitate the creation of ecosystems that included tech specialists and industry professionals, I realized that the silos did not communicate and that the adoption of such revolutionary technologies was still far away and needed greater understanding. Then came COVID, live meetings were no longer feasible and above all, it needed a further step; to facilitate a sustainable future.

This cannot be separated from the interoperability between technologies and respect and sharing on ethical issues. TiiQu Talks was born with sustainability and emerging technologies in mind. We invite "skills-that-matter", we do not look for people who "know how to speak" or at professional talk-show veterans, we give space to those who "know how to think and do" and want to share their knowledge. We do this because the human being is tribal by nature and tends to approach his fellows and work in concert with them. TiiQu tribes aim to create the ideal context where knowledge flows and co-creation is facilitated by knowing who is skilled at what, and of course, it is the place where the individual is recognized for his contribution whether it is in sharing experience in a talk or as an early user of MyTiiQu

One last question: regarding the news in terms of technological innovations in your sector, has anything changed in the last year following the pandemic and the powerful push of the European Recovery Plan – Next Generation EU, which however Great Britain will not benefit from?

The EU's effort to significantly expand loans to help member states is undoubtedly impressive, I am among those who think Brexit will have several side effects that we cannot quantify today and consider Brexit a serious mistake. On the other hand, I am also impressed by the UK's determination to maintain its role as an innovation hub in science and technology with £22 billion in annual government investment in R&D. The support to innovative startups, and the company, in general, is not only economic but systemic. The U.K., despite the limitations that Brexit entails, is an ecosystem where laws, funding, university poles, and a single mixture of races and cultures favour that energy from which innovation springs. I think that the UK will be closer to the US instead of the EU which will change the first beneficiaries of the innovation created in the UK.

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