Welcoming Minorities Into DeFi: A Conversation with Maker Board Chairperson Tonya Evans

March 8, 2021

Maker Foundation Board Chairperson Tonya M. Evans is a professor at the Penn State Dickinson Law School and recently accepted a permanent tenured position. She teaches courses in the areas of blockchain, intellectual property, and entertainment and administrative law. Before joining Dickinson Law, Professor Evans served as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law. She also created and directed the school’s Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, and Law online professional certificate program; created and teaches the From Cash to Crypto series of courses; and comments regularly on decentralized finance and crypto in the media.

Late last month, we sat down with Tonya to discuss her passion for DeFi and its potential to welcome minorities and bring about financial inclusion for all. 

Penn State Dickinson Law School professor Tonya M. Evans is passionate about welcoming minorities into DeFi.
Tonya was one of the Maker Foundation Board’s first members.

Maker: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions today. I know you’re very busy, so let’s get right to it. Why do you think minorities in the U.S. remain under-represented in the DeFi space, especially given that the blockchain technology behind it has such strong potential to deliver on crypto’s promise to democratize financial services?

TE: Crypto and DLT [decentralized ledger technology] live at the intersection of finance and technology—two spaces where black and brown constituencies are traditionally underrepresented. That reality does not change just because the technology has the power to be so transformative. To fully participate, you have to be educated about finance and technology.

Even before Bitcoin existed, the discussions in cypherpunk circles were basically between white men—but not with the intention of exclusion; people tend to work with people they know. If we want to live up to the vision of DeFi being an alternative form of saving and investment for all, we must first recognize the systemic issues that prevent people from participating and be intentional about welcoming and educating everyone.

We’re at the tipping point now, and I’m encouraged as I watch the crypto space. People are becoming more curious, including those in black and brown communities. 

Maker: Women are under-represented in tech. How does that impact black women specifically?  

TE: A black woman experiences discrimination uniquely. She has a different experience from a black man who suffers racial prejudice or a white woman victimized by gender bias, because she is both black and female. The black woman lives at the axis of race and gender. So, we have to be aware of this intersectionality before we can help specific constituencies become adequately represented. We must ensure that black women are not only welcomed, but also have the knowledge and information necessary to move ahead in the space.

Maker: You’ve spoken about how education is key in addressing underrepresentation. In your experience, what educational initiatives are currently most effective, and what’s missing?

TE: Black and brown communities tend to be quite conservative with money and distrustful of business and government. Being safe rather than sorry keeps them on the sidelines of leading-edge asset classes like crypto. When educational opportunities are accessible and succeed in demystifying the space and removing the jargon, the impact is dramatic. People become less suspicious and more informed. They also become empowered to do additional research and embrace the autonomy to make their own decisions. This is very important because there will always be people who jump into crypto and participate without doing the work, looking for fast money. 

FOMO in crypto is real, and the space is feeling frenetic again. I spend time on Clubhouse, where there are a lot of so-called “experts” offering legal and financial advice without any real qualifications. Unfortunately, the space is missing true thought leaders, particularly from the black and brown communities. Diversity and inclusion have to occur at that level to help with adoption and education. While crypto news sites provide a lot of information, they tend to feature the same people over and over again. We need thought leaders who are women and people of color—individuals like me and Isaiah Jackson, who wrote Bitcoin & Black America1https://bitcoinandblackamerica.com/ and hosts the new Coindesk TV show I appeared on recently, Community Crypto—to help instill a level of trust that doesn’t currently exist. 

My learning series From Cash to Crypto focuses on offering my demographic three different course options to enter the space: Explore™, Core™, and Encore™. In the 90-minute Explore™ class, students are introduced to crypto terms, technology, and tools, learn how to set up a crypto wallet, and purchase and move crypto. The class draws a variety of people, including first-time investors looking for remittance and investment opportunities around the world.

Core™ and Encore™ are multi-lesson, multi-module courses. Core™ dives into

DeFi, blockchain, and crypto basics, and helps students with wallet and exchange setup. Encore™, a class popular with lawyers and people in financial services, explores some of the legal and tax issues around crypto, in addition to the topics covered in CORE™. 

The series offers students a sense of community and empowers them to move safely, legally, and confidently in the crypto space. This type of education is already changing families in terms of generational wealth: The next generation won’t have to start from scratch. 

Maker: What other issues need to be addressed by the sector before DeFi can truly become a global force for good? 

TE: DeFi has the potential to reinvent the world’s financial systems, but most people don’t want to manage their own crypto wallets and private keys. While the traditional financial system offers familiarity and security to some extent, it doesn’t offer the main benefits of DeFi: independence, cost efficiency, and transparency. So, a merging needs to occur.

As we transition toward DeFi and more people enter the space, we need to make sure it truly offers something for everyone. I don’t want decentralized finance to develop the same systemic issues we see in traditional finance. Trust is a big deal. We’re focused on trusting the code behind DeFi development, but users still have to trust the institutions that are building in the space, and all constituencies need to be involved in that. 

Maker: With that in mind, how do you react to big institutional players, such as Mastercard, entering the space?

TE: I’m cautiously optimistic, despite the fact that this is a major financial player moving into crypto to remain competitive. If its entry will help people participate in remittance, that’s a good thing. But I’ll be watching to see if it really does that. We have a great opportunity to change the status quo, but institutions like Mastercard need to be truly intentional about inclusion and creating a level playing field for all. We need to hold their feet to the fire on their promises.

Maker: Finally, what was your route to the Maker Foundation Board, and what is it that particularly excites you about MakerDAO?

TE: I love my MakerDAO story! In 2019, I spoke at the “Black and Blockchain” event during Blockchain Week in New York. Jeremy [Hollister, Maker Foundation’s Head of People Success] was in the room, though we didn’t meet then. 

At the time, I was deep in the MakerDAO rabbit hole and had listened to Laura Shin’s Interview with Rune on the Unchained Podcast. I thought it transformative and realized then why the Ethereum Virtual Machine exists. Shortly afterward, Jeremy reached out, and it just seemed serendipitous. 

The Maker Foundation is perhaps the most diverse organization in the history of the crypto space, and we need to remain diverse as we continue to move toward complete decentralization of MakerDAO. The richness of our experiences makes our conversations better, and everything we discuss is reflected in our support of the community and its vision for Protocol. It’s so unique and exciting!

About the Maker Foundation Board of Directors

The Maker Foundation Board of Directors regularly reviews the progress made by the Foundation’s leadership in achieving its strategic objective, and provides appropriate oversight of strategic and financial direction for the Foundation. The board may also seek advisors and visionaries with expertise in operating open source projects and implementing/operating financial inclusion programs to assist in its work. 

Learn More About MakerDAO and Dai

The Maker Foundation publishes educational and informative content on the Maker blog and its social media channels. The MakerDAO Forum is a major hub of grassroots community-written materials and activity, and the starting point for in-depth discussions regarding the Maker Protocol and Maker governance. 

March 8, 2021