Lorraine Marcel: Bringing Bitcoin to African Women

The founder of Bitcoin Dada, a virtual education program and sisterhood started in Kenya, on how she’s getting African women involved in the Bitcoin space.

AccessTimeIconMar 19, 2024 at 5:41 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 19, 2024 at 5:43 p.m. UTC
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In mid-2022, Lorraine Marcel was struggling to make ends meet as an events planner in Kenya, her home country, when a client asked her to organize a Bitcoin meet-up. She was already familiar with crypto, but didn’t see assets like bitcoin as anything other than speculative tools.

During the meet-up, she learned what differentiates Bitcoin from other crypto assets and networks. She realized bitcoin could help her offset some of her financial struggles, which were in part caused by the ongoing debasement of the Kenyan shilling.

This feature is part of CoinDesk’s “Future of Bitcoin” package published to coincide with the 4th Bitcoin “halving” in April 2024.

She learned this despite feeling intimidated by the male-dominated Bitcoin space.

“One of the things that keeps females away from participating in such spaces is the fact that they don't see other representation, whether the men are welcoming or not,” Marcel said in an interview.

“I wanted to create a community where ladies can come and converse, communicate and engage in financial matters without feeling intimidated, without feeling some sense of fear, and then try to grow their confidence to [help them] contribute in the financial space.”

And so Marcel started Bitcoin Dada (Dada means “sister” in Swahili), a program that not only teaches African women about Bitcoin and finance but also provides a safe space for them to bond and support one another. The course runs for six weeks, and features live, interactive virtual classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The current cohort is comprised of 168 African women, hailing from across the continent.

In less than two years, Bitcoin Dada has been featured in Forbes Digital Assets and sponsored by institutions like the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). But this is only the beginning, according to Marcel, who wants to keep going until she’s helped trained female leaders like herself across Africa.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

(Lorraine Marcel)
(Lorraine Marcel)

Why is it important to include women — particularly African women — in the Bitcoin space?

A lot of [men talk] about hyperbitcoinization, getting everybody onboarded. And with the African context, we keep on saying that we want to be liberated, we want our freedom back, [but] it doesn’t make sense having one gender being fully dependent on [another] gender. If this tool [Bitcoin] is going to help us as Africans, then we need all genders onboarded — we need everybody to participate. Everybody’s voice needs to be heard. That’s why I started Bitcoin Dada.

You started Bitcoin Dada not just as an educational program but with the intentions of it being a sisterhood. Why was it important for you to conceptualize it this way?

I wanted it to be more community-based, because we already have a lot of educational materials out there. I wanted it to feel more [like] sisters. I saw a problem, and I was like, ‘Okay, so if this (Bitcoin) is supposed to help me as an African female, then it can also help my sisters.’ All I knew was I wanted to do something, and I wanted my sisters to be involved.

Amazing. Through Bitcoin Dada, you teach and talk about a very sensitive subject: money. In discussing such a topic, I’m sure personal things come up. What is it like to manage that?

The first thing that comes up is our relationship with money as women. [A] scarcity [mindset] is embedded in most of us is from the traumas and experiences that we have grown with as African females. That's the first thing that I try to help them grow out of. [I help them] build a better relationship with money, whether it’s Bitcoin or fiat currency. And then we also have other things that come up [like] our relationship with partners, parents.

When you talk about money, you're essentially talking about the entire community. To survive, you need to have money, [and] most relationships are affected by whether you have money or not. We have talks around our relationships within our families, and we share our challenges and help each other navigate and come up with different suggestions on how [we] can work [them] out.

You mentioned that you want to build up women’s confidence so that they can contribute in the financial space, and you’ve actually helped some women get placed in jobs after they graduate from Bitcoin Dada. Can you tell me more about this?

When I started Bitcoin Dada, it was just [giving] the information [to the students] and then [they] decide[d] whatever [they] want[ed] to do with it. But as the interest has grown, I'm now getting a lot of ladies who actually have certain skills. So, what are some of the successes? Recently, we had one of our students join African Bitcoiners, which was for me a huge success.

Last year, we also had some ladies joining other [Bitcoin-related] companies (in a follow-up conversation, Marcel shared that Btrust and the African Bitcoin Fellowship Program have brought on Bitcoin Dada graduates). They actually get to earn an income as they continue their journey in this Bitcoin ecosystem they [also] get to network with different people, not just people from Africa or people in their community.

I am seeing even more ladies coming on board now with more confidence since they're seeing other ladies who are being absorbed by companies. They're getting out of that mentality of just holding onto maybe a traditional business [like] selling tomatoes by the side [of the] road or getting a job as a secretary. [They’re] seeing that they can actually learn a new skill online and get employed by foreign companies.

You’ve started getting attention internationally. Was this unexpected and what have been some other unexpected parts of this journey?

Everything has been unexpected. Getting recognition from a body such as the Human Rights Foundation [was] a major thing for me. Getting an article written about Bitcoin Dada — that was really amazing. Seeing people from outside North Africa acknowledging what we are doing and wanting to support us whatever way they can, whether it's writing about Bitcoin Dada or donating funds — that gives me the strength to continue, because doing what I do is not easy considering it's fully non-profit. That really fires me up to want to do more even on days that I feel like, ‘Okay, is this really worth it?’ [Also], being invited to speak at different conferences like Adopting Bitcoin in Cape Town, South Africa. Getting to have a session where I could share my experience [as a] keynote, as opposed to just sitting on a panel was amazing. This year, that was my highlight.

You receive financial support from institutions like the Human Rights Foundation and everyday people who donate. This lets you keep Bitcoin Dada tuition-free, which is commendable. Where does most of the funding come from?

The bigger chunk [is] from organizations [such as] HRF and Samara Asset [Group]. We [also] have individuals who constantly give. You know, you get $100 there, $50 dollars [there], which also helps, because sometimes the big chunks don't come in. The $10, the $20 helps with the WiFi, the data. It helps with the transport when you're visiting campuses, universities. The other thing that I want to do for revenue is the events business, leveraging on my skills.

So far, I've been able to work with two companies: Machankura and Bitnob. They want to penetrate our markets, specifically East Africa, and we do events for them. We give them the target audience that they're looking for and they pay us. This actually ensures that I have the money to pay my employees and to keep the organization flowing when there are no donations from the big organizations. I also get to pay myself, as well. I'm looking to expand that. If you have a product and a service that aligns with our mission and goals as Bitcoin Dadas and also the spirit of Satoshi Nakamoto, then we are here to help you reach a new market.

Lorraine Marcel with Kgothatso Ngako, founder of Machankura, at an event for Machankura in Kenya that Marcel hosted (Bitcoin Dada)
Lorraine Marcel with Kgothatso Ngako, founder of Machankura, at an event for Machankura in Kenya that Marcel hosted (Bitcoin Dada)

Very smart. Big names in the Bitcoin space like Jeff Booth and Femi Longe are currently teaching the current Bitcoin DADA cohort. Do you want to get more notable figures like these involved? What is your vision for Bitcoin DADA from here?

For now, yes. Ironically, [though,] I do not envision more bigger names to come and train. In years to come, I want Bitcoin Dada to have gotten to the level that every country has its own community, its own trainers. They can use the course outline that we have shared and customize it to their own challenges that they are facing on the ground. I have created [the curriculum] to [address] what I think every other African female is going through and how they should use Bitcoin, [but] Africa is a huge continent. Every country has its own unique challenges.

If I can get to a level where I have several other leaders who can take whatever I have taught them and actually use it to help them in whatever way they deem fit, I think that will create more impact than having a huge name like Michael Saylor teaching them. Michael Saylor is going to teach them how he thinks and believes Bitcoin should be used. But if we have leaders who actually understand how Bitcoin works and how it can help them — as maybe Nigerians, as South Africans, as Namibians — then I believe that will create a greater impact than having huge names. But, again, for now, because we're still just starting off, it is great to have these huge names on board, because it gives us credibility [and] more exposure.

Edited by Benjamin Schiller.


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Frank  Corva

Frank Corva is a writer and analyst for digital assets at Finder.com. As someone who’s lived and traveled all over the globe, he loves the idea of the world being connected by Bitcoin (BTC) — a neutral, apolitical, secure and borderless network and digital currency.

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