As futuristic as the crypto world may seem, Iris Nevins says it has the power to solve problems, rooted in our past, plaguing our present day.
“Wealth inequality is a huge issue around the United States and also across the world and a lot of wealth inequality exists along gender and racial and ethnic lines," Nevins says.
“You have these large groups of people around the world that don’t have much wealth, they don’t have much power, they don’t really have physical assets, like land, but they do have intellectual property. They have their culture, they have their music, their dance their fashion.”
Nevins is a social activist turned software engineer. Her expertise is NFTs, also known as non-fungible tokens.
Think of them like original works of art, such as sculptures or paintings, but in digital form.
They carry a unique mark, that makes them one-of-a-kind and cannot be copied.
NFTs are bought and sold online, with values that go up and go down.
“When it comes to NFTs in particular, I think the value there is the ability for people to monetize their intellectual property," Nevins said.
Iris is the founder of Umba Daima.
“Umba Diama is Swahili for 'create forever',” Nevins said.
Nevins helps Black artists navigate the NFT world by promoting their work and helps them understand how they can capitalize in a booming market.
In 2020, NFT trading was worth around $82 million.
But in 2021, as they became more mainstream, the market exploded to more than $17 billion.
“I think diversity, equity, and inclusion is something that is really difficult to implement after the fact," Nevins said.
Even though it may feel like you could reach out and touch what artist Bloo Woods creates, it is all digital, crafted on his computer.
Last year, he made more than $75,000 selling his work as NFTs.
“I thought I was going to make a few hundred dollars, maybe a grand or two but, I didn’t imagine I would make that much money in this space," Woods said.
"I think we can see millions of people around the world actually earn life-changing income and I don’t see how that couldn’t start to close the wealth gap," says Nevins.
To this point, there is little government regulation of NFTs or cryptocurrency, that could soon change. President Joe Biden issued an executive order to look further into what rules should be put in place.
It is important to note cryptocurrency value can rise and fall quickly, Iris says if you’re interested in investing, don’t make decisions based on hype.
“I think a lot of people make mistakes because they’re rushing or there, they feel the fear of missing out and they’re not thinking full of their decision making," Nevins said.
While it may feel like a gold rush, the "crypto boom" has elements of the Wild West.
"If the system is designed from the beginning without counting for diversity equity and inclusion then it’s just going to continue to operate that way and it’s going be really hard to undo that,” Nevins said.
Important work on the ground floor of a future she hopes will only continue to rise.