Bringing Crypto into Context

Lessons from ECC’s pilot program with the Bronx Community College

In March, as part of our Crypto in Context initiative, Electric Coin Co. (ECC) kicked off an ambitious pilot program with the Bronx Community College (BCC). Twenty-five students enrolled in this six-part educational series to learn about cryptocurrencies and financial literacy.

We set out to engage with a group of students and were reminded that we have so much to learn. This is what happens when we open the lines of communication and when we welcome authentic dialogue with people outside our comfy crypto bubble.

The industry talks a lot about “making an impact,” and we might have the tools (we’re getting there), but the knowledge and perspective absolutely essential to building a better financial system? We find this in the Bronx, and in communities all around the world that have been underserved and underestimated for too long.

This program would not have been possible without the leadership of Ed Lehner (BCC) and Carlos Acevedo (Brave). And it was bolstered by a contingent of partners like Trevor Filter of Flexa, Tyrone Ross of Onramp Invest, Teresa Rodriguez of the Securities & Exchange Commission, James Morgan of Bitgo, Samantha Bohbot of Digital Currency Group, Carolyn Vadino of Gemini, Ryan Watkins of Messari, and others who gave generously of their time and have opened their doors (and Rolodexes) to the BCC students. They got no money from us to participate, but we hope their return on that investment was huge.

The pilot was small, but it’s a start. It opens the door for more conversation, more partnerships, more engagement, more internships, more bi-lateral awareness and understanding — context — that can change the world, if we let it.

Crypto in Context: Bronx Community College

Program overview

The free, non-credit course at BCC was designed with Crypto in Context objectives in focus — to bring together crypto leaders and people in often-overlooked communities, for dialog and discovery, networking, and collaborative workshops focused on cryptocurrencies and financial literacy.

ECC collaborated with educators Lehner and Acevedo to design a curriculum tailored specifically to students in the Bronx, and we were inspired by the experiences they shared. Each session featured guest speakers from around the industry and covered myriad concepts, like cryptocurrency use cases, how to use a digital wallet, and even cypherpunk history.

Last Saturday, we concluded the pilot program; the following is a summary of what we learned and what we hope to see in the future.

Lesson 1: Education is a two-way street

We come into conversations like the ones with BCC students absolutely loaded with bias and blinded by privilege. We are aware that economic freedom will not be ushered in by “teachers” in a remote classroom explaining how cryptocurrencies work, and while we’re excited to share knowledge and opportunities with this cohort and others, we are reminded that we can be embarrassingly naive when it comes to some financial realities.

As an industry, crypto has its own financial literacy gap — many of the most successful products in this space are built for and used by people who have benefited from the current financial system.

Open dialogue  — across cultures, geographies and vastly different ways of life — is absolutely critical, and it’s imperative that we make room to listen, not just instruct. We learned this lesson in early Crypto in Context settings, and it was hammered home during this pilot with BCC. Programs like this give us and other industry leaders the chance to engage with, learn from and build alongside the communities most impacted by the failures of today’s status quo.

Lesson 2: Outcomes are important

Financial inclusion is a hot term in the crypto-marketing playbook. But talk is cheap and real results are hard. And some have said that programs like Crypto in Context are too narrow — they don’t provide enough scale to be worth the time and money. Bullshit.

Twenty-five students registered for the course at BCC, and 23 students showed up for the first session. Over half of the students participated in all six Saturday sessions, and more than 65 percent of students attended at least five classes. These students were often juggling part-time jobs, young children and other responsibilities. 

Twenty-three lives impacted. Twenty-three students connected with industry insiders and mentors. Twenty-three mothers, fathers, uncles, daughters. Twenty-three future leaders.

Ask Carolyn Vadino or Ryan Watkins or Trevor Filter —  busy, important people — if they felt it was worth their time. Ask Zooko.

Of the 23 students in the course, 18 downloaded their first digital wallets and received Zcash. Twelve students completed additional assignments, and in total, we distributed 2.3 ZEC as part of this program. Past Crypto in Context programs have directly led to internships, and this one will, too. 

Lesson 3: It comes down to access 

Carlos Acevedo — a lead instructor for this pilot, a partner and an inspiration to us at ECC — wrote this after our first Crypto in Context program:

Permission is rationed by the powerful.

And in places like the South Bronx, where banks are scarce and financial services are oppressive, opportunity has been suffocated.

In neighborhoods where mobility is expensive and complex, where families are often split across continents, where kids are dropping out of school to take care of their own children, where governments and administrative authorities have failed their constituents — potential has been stifled.

He goes on to write: 

But there are ideas here, and beauty, and resilience. And there are leaders — some of them teenagers — who are staring down inequity and driving engagement.

They are undaunted by the challenge of empowering their communities. With access, with tools, with a voice, and with permission — freedom — to turn the world upside down.

We can’t say it any better. Thank you, Carlos. 

Cryptocurrency has the power to be a democratizing force. It can expand access to financial opportunity and offer greater economic mobility for people around the world. And we have the opportunity to get it right, if only we’ll listen.

Where do we go from here?

At the heart of this initiative is the two-way learning that comes from talking about crypto in real-world contexts. New York is the financial capital of the world — it simultaneously represents some of the most innovative and some of the most destructive aspects of the industry. With this in mind, ECC is looking for ways to continue to engage in the Bronx, while building partnerships to scale the program in other communities across the US. We invite anyone in the crypto industry to join our efforts. 

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