Meet Vitalik Buterin’s Mom. Her Mission Is Inclusion, Not Ethereum

Leigh Cuen
Jul 29, 2019 at 08:00 UTC
Updated Jul 29, 2019 at 16:47 UTC
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Sometimes, spreading the crypto gospel becomes a family business.

Natalia Ameline, mother of ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and co-founder of the educational nonprofit CryptoChicks, is trying to establish blockchain literacy programs around the world.

She told CoinDesk that CryptoChicks has run programs so far from Pakistan to Toronto with 608 students and young developers. CryptoChicks works with Blockgeeks, an educational startup spearheaded in part by Ameline’s ex-husband, Dmitry Buterin, on blockchain-agnostic curricula that cover everything from bitcoin to smart contracts to basic business principles.

And yet, CryptoChicks isn’t turning to Ameline’s son’s business connections, such as Fenbushi Capital, to fund the first CryptoChicks hackathon in the Bahamas this August. In fact, sponsorship for past conferences came from companies like Microsoft, IBM and the Royal Bank of Canada, not crypto companies like the Ethereum Foundation. These programs range from coding workshops designed for women to youth hackathons.

“We’re an educational organization, not a political organization,” Ameline said. “We want to provide women and youth with the maximum opportunity to make their own choices.”

CryptoChicks co-founder Elena Sinelnikova told CoinDesk the group’s programs are open to all genders, even as they prioritize recruiting female participants, which they see as crucial to the mission of onboarding more women into the space without imposing gendered silos.

“One of our goals is to bring more women into the space, but we’re starting by focusing on youth,” Sinelnikova said. “That’s where girls disengage a bit and turn into different areas. That’s why we’re trying to get them involved early on.”

CryptoChicks team and volunteers at a Toronto hackathon. (Photo via CryptoChicks)

Sinelnikova said CryptoChicks has funneled $350,000 worth of donations into nearly a dozen conferences and programs since the nonprofit was founded in 2017. However, while the nonprofit’s initiatives aren’t exclusively focused on ethereum, they generally do prioritize smart contracts for business use-cases, aka automatic functions built into a blockchain system.

The CryptoChicks hackathon in Pakistan earlier this year helped companies like IBM Pakistan and the local startup CoinBundle recruit crypto-curious talent, according to CryptoChicks ambassador Faiza Yousuf.

Yousuf, founder of the nonprofit WomenInTechPK, said the educational program in Karachi introduced nearly 30 young adults, including 13 women developers, to Hyperledger and ethereum smart contracts. She added there wasn’t much content about bitcoin itself because companies haven’t offered sponsorship and resources related to bitcoin. The focus so far has been on entrepreneurship.

“We want to work with these [hackathon] teams so that they can develop these projects further,” Yousuf said. “There are not a lot of communities here in Pakistan related to blockchain … so this was the first of its kind and we invited a lot of people from the technology industry just to start a conversation.”

Now CryptoChicks is looking to raise $2 million to turn those events into long-standing programs, starting with funding for a mentorship program for the Pakastani participants and the August hackathon in the Bahamas.

Bahamas hackathon

“There are a lot of talented young kids here in the Bahamas,” Bahamas-based conference co-organizer Felix Stubbs told CoinDesk. “This will position them nicely to explore careers in the space.”

So far, Sinelnikova said, 106 students between the ages of 7 and 25 have registered to attend the Bahamas CryptoChicks hackathon.

They’ll hail from public schools, vocational training schools, an orphanage and private schools across the collection of islands, organizers say. There will be five $1,500 prizes given to the winning teams, ranging from gaming apps for the younger participants to smart contracts related to resource conservation for the older students.

Bahamas ambassador Rhonda Eldridge, founder of the nonprofit Harness All Possibilities, told CoinDesk any funding raised for the local program would go toward ongoing classes, mentorship and accommodations for students such as transport for kids from disadvantaged areas.

They’ve already brokered an agreement with one local startup to use its office after-hours as a youth hub. Beyond securing volunteer time and space, the next goal is attracting corporate sponsors.

“Call it a mini business school,” Eldridge said. “If we get the kids engaged [in crypto] we address adoption, access, inclusion.”

Natalia Ameline speaks at Ethereal NY 2019 (image via YouTube/ConsenSys)