Where tech, women, and the future of finance converge

A conversation with Fereshteh Forough, founder and president of Afghanistan’s Code to Inspire

Born in 1985 in Iran as an Afghan refugee, Fereshteh Forough spent her early years traversing borders and exploring how computer science could help solve global problems, especially for women. Forough is the founder of Code to Inspire, a nonprofit coding school for girls in Herat, Afghanistan that helps young women improve their technical literacy.

With three-year-old Code to Inspire, as well as her previous nonprofit, Digital Citizen Fund, Forough has explored using cryptocurrency to pay students and mentors as a way to guide them toward financial and social independence.

At Coinbase, we’ve been fans of Forough’s work for a long time. We asked her to share her thoughts on how technology—and crypto specifically—is empowering young women in her home country.

“When I took the entrance exams for university [at Herat University in Afghanistan], I chose law, journalism, and economics. Two months later, I got the results: I had been placed in computer science. I was so upset!

One of the first days, there was an introduction to algorithm problem-solving and QBasic. I loved it. In my life, I face a lot of problems. On a computer, I can face problems and solve them. On the internet, you don’t need a passport. There are no geographical boundaries or limitations.”

“In early 2014, when I was working on my previous education nonprofit, a blogging-for-pay platform, I learned about cryptocurrency. We decided to do a pilot project sending bitcoin to our students, to see how it worked. We created wallets for the girls; all they needed was an email address. Sending money was fast, and there were almost no fees at all on transactions.

One of the main challenges I face in my work helping girls in Afghanistan is getting them paid for the work that they do. None of the girls have bank accounts — people in Afghanistan don’t really trust banks. Also to have a bank account, you need a lot of ID, which a decent amount of people in Afghanistan don’t have. And we don’t want to send the money to family members, because with a lot of these girls, their families just take their money. One thing that’s great about crypto with this community is its privacy.”

“In Afghanistan, women aren’t part of the conversation. They don’t have a platform to make decisions or raise their voices. With Code to Inspire I wanted a place for women to not be shy, to be creative, to do whatever they can’t do outside of their homes. Our students learn to code by taking on outsourcing projects like graphic design, mobile apps, and simple software development. We started with 50 girls in 2015, then added another 80 in 2016. We recently graduated our first 25 students, all high school girls.

I want to create a safe space where women feel welcome and accepted. I want them to have a way to make an income, the same way my mom learned how to make dresses when we were refugees in Iran.

I run Code to Inspire from Brooklyn, where I have lived since I left Afghanistan because of my immigration status. I do Skype calls monthly with all the classes and the girls, so that can they see I’m an actual person. Every day the girls tweet about their work and take a screenshot of what they’ve made.”

“Honestly it’s been difficult to convince people in Afghanistan to take cryptocurrency instead of cash. We’d explain that this was currency over the Internet, but they didn’t believe us. They thought we were taking their money, or tricking them. We had to demonstrate that bitcoin could be useful. Students could come to us and we would convert their bitcoin into Afghanis. That’s how we proved to them that this was real currency. But for us, it didn’t feel safe to carry around that much cash all the time.

After that first pilot project, we stopped paying our students in crypto — students faced too many challenges when it came to accessing and spending it. That said, some of the teachers who work with our students earn ether (ETH) through work they do through a partnership with the Bounties Network, which allows people to accept ETH for fixing vulnerabilities for businesses.”

“I see a lot of people trying to solve problems around payment and crypto. But to be honest, all of these projects ignore conflict zones. What they create usually serves the privileged: people who have bank accounts, countries with good infrastructure.

This may sound crazy, but maybe the solution could come from one of our students. Maybe one of these girls could make a blockchain project, or a coin, or whatever, that could tackle that problem.”

Learn more about Code to Inspire at codetoinspire.org. The 501c3 accepts donations in dollars, bitcoin, and ether.

Culled from the Coinbase Blog

An overview of the use of cryptocurrencies in terrorist financing

By Heidi Wilder, Senior Associate, Coinbase Special Investigations Team

Following the fall of the elected Afghan government and the rise of the Taliban in its place, many speculated that the group had or may turn to cryptocurrencies as a way to finance its operations. As part of our compliance program, Coinbase tracks these types of transactions and often works with law enforcement agencies around the world on interdiction and enforcement efforts.

After conducting an exhaustive analysis of global crypto transactions, our Coinbase Special Investigations Team is sharing its findings below. To conduct this research, Coinbase relied on cryptocurrency data analyzed by Coinbase Analytics across various blockchains. This data study provides a holistic overview of terror funding using cryptocurrencies across the entire industry and is not limited to Coinbase.

A quick step back

With institutional and consumer interest in crypto at an all-time high, alongside the continued rise of DeFi, 2020 and 2021 have seen cryptocurrency achieve the mainstream adoption that the space has anticipated for many years.

While the industry has come a long way since Satoshidice, Mt. Gox, and the Silk Road, illicit activity has dwindled but not fully ceased. However, representing far less than 1% of all activity in the crypto space in 2020, illicit activity is no more of a concern for the crypto-economy than it is for the traditional financial system. (1)

Further breaking down illicit activity, we find that transactions associated with terrorist financing (TF) in 2020 made up less than 0.05% of all illicit volume. As such, terror funding in cryptocurrencies remains extremely low in overall terms.

Nevertheless, so long as any organization thinks it can use crypto for TF, we are committed to proving them wrong. To that end, we provide this update on our ongoing work.

Overall funds raised by TF-related organizations

Our Coinbase Special Investigations team focused its research on the largest TF-related organizations’ fundraising efforts over the past few years. (2),(3),(4)

Assessing these organizations’ fundraising over time, we find that Hamas has raised the most funds, by far. This is likely because Hamas actively solicits donations primarily in the form of BTC on their website and related Telegram channels.

Hamas’ fundraising volume is trailed by an al Qaeda-related exchange service and a Saudi-led jihadi activist movement.

Changes to fundraising efforts per organization over time

Breaking down these TF-related organization’s fundraising efforts, we find that Hamas’s fundraising efforts are staggering compared to the other organizations analyzed. Hamas first began soliciting donations in Bitcoin in January 2018, with a singular donation address. Within a few months, their fundraising tactics evolved to attempt obfuscate the funds raised by providing fresh donation addresses when accessing their donation page

Periods of intensified fundraising activities by Hamas appear to correlate to the time frames of the most intense geopolitical conflict.

Periods of intensified fundraising activities by Hamas appear to correlate to the time frames of the most intense geopolitical conflict.

Removing Hamas’ fundraising efforts from the above chart, we find that the other TF-related organizations’ fundraising efforts trend for a finite period of time. For example, ISIS’ fundraising was primarily done between February and October 2020. This is likely due to various authorities taking its fundraising website down only for it to reappear months later.

Growing donations in altcoins

Further breaking down these TF-related organization fundraising efforts over time by currency, we find that although fundraising efforts continue in BTC across the TF-related organizations of interest, fundraising in ETH, ERC20s and XRP has fluctuated.

Beginning in August 2020 through August 2021, terror organizations began receiving ETH, ERC20 tokens, and XRP donations. This fundraising can solely be attributed to a Saudi-led jihadi activist movement, which began soliciting donations in the form of BTC, ETH, XRP, and various ERC20 tokens in 2020. The movement’s leader has advocated for the recent Taliban uprising in Afghanistan and appears to have incited violence against governments and countries, including Pakistan, Israel and the US on Twitter. A previous website belonging to the movement website was cited in a West Point study of Islamic terrorism.

Breaking down this movement’s fundraising by currency, we find that they have primarily raised funds in altcoins.

What Coinbase is doing about this

Coinbase is committed to minimizing — and ultimately ending — the use of crypto as a fundraising tactic for terrorist actors. Coinbase does not just actively research and identify trends in TF, we also take action. Preventing TF is a team effort that includes the Coinbase Special Investigations and Global Intelligence teams. After identifying a terror funding campaign, Coinbase takes at least three critical steps:

  1. Blocklist any crypto addresses associated with these organizations to prevent users from sending funds to them.
  2. Leverage Coinbase Analytics to detect wider terror organization campaign efforts and identify possible participants and accessories.
  3. Coordinate with law enforcement and regulatory agencies, such as FinCEN, the FBI and others.

When it comes to terror funding, it is important to be accurate, but swift. Thanks to blockchain analytics, we can trace and accurately identify TF campaigns and do our part to stop them. TF may only make up less than 0.05% of all illicit activity, but it is and will always remain one of our highest priorities at Coinbase.

Footnotes

1) This percentage was taken from transactions on the BTC, ETH, LTC, BCH, and XRP blockchains/ledgers.

2) Please note that the selected organizations’ fundraising efforts have been amalgamated into generalized buckets. Coinbase included information in this analysis that could be independently confirmed through blockchain analytics.

3) Cryptocurrency USD values estimated at the time when donations were made.

4) Data last retrieved on August 24, 2021.

Culled from the Coinbase Blog

Stagflation Threatens to Upend the Global Economy

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Ex-China, World Bank slashes economic recovery for Asia

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Global economy projected to show fastest growth in 50 years

In its new report released on Wednesday, the agency said that the rebound was highly uneven along regional, sectoral and income lines, however.

During 2022, UNCTAD expects global growth to slow to 3.6 per cent, leaving world income levels trailing some 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic trend line.

The report also warns that growth deceleration could be bigger than expected, if policymakers lose their nerve or answer what it regards as misguided calls for a return to deregulation and austerity.

The report says that, while the response saw an end to public spending constraints in many developed countries, international rules and practices have locked developing countries into pre-pandemic responses, and a semi-permanent state of economic stress.

Many countries in the South have been hit much harder than during the global financial crisis. With a heavy debt burden, they also have less room for maneuvering their way out through public spending.

Lack of monetary autonomy and access to vaccines are also holding many developing economies back, widening the gulf with advanced economies and threatening to usher in another “lost decade”.

“These widening gaps, both domestic and international, are a reminder that underlying conditions, if left in place, will make resilience and growth luxuries enjoyed by fewer and fewer privileged people,” said Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of UNCTAD. 

“Without bolder policies that reflect reinvigorated multilateralism, the post-pandemic recovery will lack equity, and fail to meet the challenges of our time.”