Businessday Ng –
Linda Obi is a blockchain entrepreneur, educator and open-internet advocate. Linda is a highly accomplished technology executive and industry thought leader with a long history of driving high-growth mandates, with more than 18 years of leadership in the technology industry.
She is the Founder/CEO of TechonomyAfrica. This project-based learn-to-earn platform teaches blockchain enthusiasts and students how to leverage blockchain and crypto education for investment, trade, build real products in areas such as NFTs, metaverse, tokens, blockchain, cybersecurity, data science, game development and programming. She serves as Global Head of Operations at Zenith Chain, a $36.5 million dollars backed blockhain firm where she drives market actions. Prior to that, she was business leader Nigeria for Farmcrowdy, the leading Agtech platform in West Africa focused on providing the necessary tools and technology for farmers and agribusinesses to boost food production with better yields, lower costs and more innovative marketing.
She is a fellow at the Institute of Chartered Economics of Nigeria, and a mentor at the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
She proudly sits on the boards of the Etionera and Techienation in addition to serving as the Chair of Women in Crypto Africa. She was the Director of Franchise Acquisition at Tolaram Group (manufacturers of staple brands e.g Kellogg’s, Indomie and so on) where she was responsible for partnering with start-ups to deliver structured franchising, advertising, financial, and API services, delivering over 250k retail outlets in Nigeria.
Linda was a former brand Consultant at Tolaram Group whose transit turned into helping technology start-ups scale in sub-Saharan Africa.
She has 20+ combined years of experience in the FMCG, Retail, Agric-tech and E-commerce sector.
How has your formative years inspired who you are today?
I grew up in what I would describe as a closely-knit family. My mum once described me as the infinitely curious child” because I was super upbeat and always looking to figure out how things worked all the time (I put that down to eating a lot of sugar!). I’d say that I was super creative and curious. We didn’t have a lot growing up so I made do with what I had. I was born in Festac town and I know that we moved around quite a bit, and that led to my siblings and I changing schools a lot. I am the first child of four kids.
I will like to think of myself as the typical “Lagos chick” as I was born in Lagos and had most of my education here in Lagos.
Who is a blockchain entrepreneur and as one, why the passion for it?
First off, a blockchain can be simplified to be a “big digital book where information can be stored transparently without the risk of alterations and revocation”. It is a distributed database or ledger that is shared among the nodes of a computer network – That being said, a blockchain entrepreneur is that person who identifies problems that can directly be solved by blockchain. This can either be from a technical or consultative stand-point.
Blockchains are best known for their crucial role in cryptocurrency systems, such as Bitcoin, for maintaining a secure and decentralised record of transactions. The innovation of a blockchain is that it guarantees the fidelity and security of a record of data, and generates trust without the need for a trusted third party.
I am an advocate for the open internet and bleeding edge technology – blockchain happens to be one of them. I am passionate about driving economic and commercial market actions with blockchain because of the enormous opportunity that it presents especially in a continent like Africa.
Africa is riddled with so many problems ranging from inflation, unemployment, cross-border remittance issues and so on.
Blockchain is helping leapfrog the traditional banking systems, and also solving pain points around cross-border remittances.
Interestingly, when you mention blockchain, a lot of people narrow it down to cryptocurrency but that is not completely true.
Blockchain transcends diverse business environments and has enormous use cases. For instance, a blockchain framework can aptly be used to manage the coming elections (Nigeria) in 2023 in such a way that the data sets are captured transparently and secured without the risk of tampering.
Cryptocurrency forms only 10% of blockchain use cases.
With over 18 years of leadership in the technology industry, what have you learnt?
One key takeaway for me over the last 18 years is that growth can be an incredibly challenging experience yet inevitable. You can choose to be intentional about it or not. Either way, you grow. With intentionality comes better outcomes.
Another lesson for me was the realisation that leadership is not a position but an attitude. Emphasis should be placed on the type of attitude and resulting actions that come along with holding the position.
The third for me will be that character counts. Cultivating character in the form of things like discipline, patience, persistence, honesty, diligence, authenticity, stability, and vigilance-can be an integral success component
Tell us about founding TechonomyAfrica
TechonomyAfrica was founded to close the gap and lack of structured information around blockchain and all its verticals. My first brush with blockchain technology was when I was working in my role as a Business Leader for the food division at an Agtech startup here in Africa. I was exploring alternative contract types that could help us efficiently transact with input providers, and I stumbled upon smart contracts. A smart contract is a computer program or a transaction protocol that is intended to automatically execute, control or document legally relevant events and actions according to the terms of a contract or an agreement.
Interestingly, sometime in October 2020, there was a peaceful protest staged by the youth to tackle police brutality (The endSARS protest) – cryptocurrencies played a major role where fiat currency couldn’t. Even though many young Nigerians held bitcoin and other crypto assets in their wallet, there was a huge information gap, people knew bitcoin, but could not differentiate bitcoin from ethereum.
TechonomyAfrica started with WhatsApp groups solely to educate our niche audience which are millennials and GenZs. We started with one WhatsApp group and this quickly grew to 5 WhatsApp groups until it was no longer sustainable to impact that way.
We quickly scaled with a learning portal where anyone could sign up for a free blockchain course.
TechonomyAfrica is building Africa’s largest “learn to earn” blockchain and crypto DAO, and has created over 1,000 beginners to advanced level video projects to teach blockchain, Defi, DAO crypto development, trading, investments, application development related to the financial app, decentralised markets, games, crypto wallets, and more.
Our learn-to-earn model rests heavily on the incentivisation of learners with different scalable crypto assets – This keeps them coming back for more so it is a win-win situation.
Has TechonomyAfrica lived up to its vision and goals?
Yes, and still doing so, as know product in itself is finite. Iterations and pivoting dynamics are rules in product management and Techonomy Africa is a product riding in these principles.
Since its inception in 2020, we have a community stronghold of 16,000 users across Whatsapp, Telegram and online databases.
We have had two successful learning cohorts, the first 7k+ were educated on the fundamentals of cryptocurrencies and their many use cases, riding on the success of the first cohort, we launched a second one, introduction to Blockchain Technology.
We had a lot of participation from students across East Africa. Our third cohort on Tokens and Tokenonics starts last quarter of 2022.
We recently partnered up with the Federal Education Board Benin Republic to drive blockchain education for senior secondary schools, and we are building up on that template to penetrate deeper and poorer regions in Africa . We are very intentional about this, as we believe that the curriculum currently being adopted by schools does nothing to prepare students for what lies ahead, especially with the fourth industrial revolution.
Global digitisation is not going to slow down simply because we have refused to act, it is no lie that supercomputers, AI and robots are coming for our jobs. There is an urgent need to position our children armed with the necessary skill-sets calibrated for the new age.
We recently announced our partner reward program with Afoma, a technology-driven organisation, leveraging their native utility token designed and built to drive an ecosystem that supports social impact initiatives across the globe, primarily through the promotion of artists and artisans and Ekolance, where we want to bring 1000 female professionals and 1000 professionals from emerging economies to web3.
Are there enough women doing blockchain?
The blockchain space is very male-dominated, this is also true for the global technology landscape. Research has shown that women are grossly under-represented in the workforce, with 95% of people in the blockchain industry being men, according to the Global Crypto User Index.
This lack of equal representation has made certain tech spaces become a breeding ground for gender biases and discrimination and the cryptocurrency industry is not left out, as it has been predominantly a male-dominated sector.
A workable solution to curbing this growing concern is for more women to be spotlighted, especially women who are building and innovating in technology roles. Women just weren’t being publicly recognised for their work.
Secondly, we women must foster a culture that is not afraid to innovate and break the status quo.
By creating safe spaces for women by women, such that younger women have a template to build upon and are encouraged to dare status-quo and venture into tech roles. The lack of diversity in blockchain has implications beyond a basic sense of fairness. If blockchain does redefine the global financial system, the uniformity among its creators will result in biased products.
What is the misconception about blockchain/cryptocurrency that you would want to correct?
First will be that cryptocurrency is not blockchain in its entirety – it is only one-way blockchain is being used.
Another thing is, people believe blockchain to be private. It is the opposite. Anything on the blockchain is public and fully transparent. People confuse this as the system does not ask for the user’s real name to do a transaction. Each transaction is visible and accessible to the public, but wallets (also known as public addresses) are a string of 30 to 40 characters. By masking it in codes, the public would not know who is the person or organisation owning the wallet and doing the trades.
The third misconception that should be corrected quickly for those who are ready to listen to reason will be that cryptocurrency is a bubble.This statement is false. The bubble concept was only conceived through the public’s fear of the unknown. Crypto and NFTs are new and the initial demand took off in a frenzy, but the technology can be useful in different ways and different sectors. Now, the crypto and NFT markets are cooling down after the hype. Instead of a bubble burst, crypto and NFTs are just starting to make a real-world impact in our everyday lives.
We see more and more establishments accepting cryptocurrencies as payment, such as bitcoins. The digital economy expands as online shopping and selling proliferate, and some online purchases are made through crypto payments. People can donate crypto to support their favourite artists or organisations with a cause. People are also steadily buying and holding crypto, seeing their value as investments – albeit still risky – for a longer term.
As blockchain technology matures over time, we can only imagine the other real-world uses of cryptocurrency to evolve in the next few years.
Blockchain enables the existence of cryptocurrency, do you blame people who see it as a means of carrying out fraudulent activities and as such do not want to have anything to do with it?
With everything that has an advantage, there also are disadvantages and cryptocurrency is also one of such that rest on this dual balance. Rather than blame people who see crypto as an avenue for fraud, I would say to them, choose to educate yourselves first.
With education comes understanding and with understanding comes adoption. Every tool can be used to a disadvantage if it falls into the hands of the wrong user or anyone with bad intentions. Progressive regulations also plays a major role in sanitising and equitising the crypto landscape, so we must not remove regulations from these conversations.
Key stakeholders must come together to collaborate on educating the masses on cryptocurrency and best practices around usage.
What should people look out for so they don’t fall victims to fraudulent blockchain practitioners?
If any crypto platform is giving very high yields, that’s the first red flag. Dubious and non-descript crypto platforms offer “too-good-to-be-true” returns on digital assets. If you spot a platform offering very high yields, that’s the first red flag.
Before investing in a token, check the social media accounts of its developers to see if their marketing tactics involve unrealistic promises, fantastical claims, or suspicious statistics. These can all be signs of a scam. Find the Purpose of the project, read and understand the white paper,
find out where you buy and use the cryptocurrency. Lastly, look for the sustainability of the coin or token.When still in doubt please consult with an expert.
What does Zenith Chain do and what are your responsibilities as Global Head of Operations there?
Zenith Chain is an innovative solution to bring programmability and interoperability. Using the Proof of Authority (POA) consensus can support short block time and lower fees. The most bonded validator candidates of staking will become validators and produce blocks. The double-sign detection and other slashing logic guarantee security, stability, and chain finality.
We are building out decentralised protocols that we believe will revolutionise the crypto space in markets where we are driving actions. My role as Global head of Operation sees me driving high-growth mandates across SSA, EMEA and MENA regions.
I support the growing business by spearheading and overseeing the business processes involved in international operations. My responsibilities revolve around coordinating with the leadership team to identify the best practices for optimal performance and services, setting goals and objectives, monitoring sales progress, devising strategies to find new business and marketing opportunities, and identifying customer needs.
Furthermore, as global Head of operations, I need to lead and encourage the workforce to reach goals and new milestones, all while implementing the company’s policies and regulations. Zenith Chain is based in Lithuania.
How was Zenith Chain able to become a $36.5 million backed blockchain firm?
Zenith Chain signed an investment funding deal worth $35 million with GEM Digital Limited. The investment serves as a medium to move the company from where it is currently to a much better position while the entire team continues to work tirelessly to further improve the business both in operations and overall management of the company. Zenith chain had earlier secured $1.2m to launch our operations.
Tell us about being a business leader for Farmcrowdy
Despite expertise, skills and education, nothing prepares you for becoming a business leader. In this case, it meant building a vertical from scratch and making it profitable. There’s a lot of trial and error and on-the-job training that you’ll experience as you grow your business. I had an incredible mentor who held me accountable week on week, month on month, and I had a super amazing team who made it their life’s mission that we succeeded. It was an incredible run at Farmcrowdy, one that I will forever be grateful for.
Would you say Farmcrowdy has provided the necessary tools and technology for farmers and agribusinesses to boost food production with better yields, lower costs and more innovative marketing?
At Farmcrowdy, we aligned our business models with Sustainable Development Goal 2, to end all forms of hunger while promoting food security across the globe. The technology that powers the platform drives an enabling environment for farmers, and sets up more efficient food distribution channels. As we went along, we also developed two strategic business units, FC Foods and FC Shops, that facilitate stakeholder access to maximize profitability in the food value chain.
Recently, Farmcrowdy, the Government, and the Central Bank of Nigeria entered a tripartite partnership. The purpose of the partnership is to cultivate and produce 5,000 tonnes of maize yearly on a 2,500-acre farm site over the next five years.
Farmcrowdy also announced its Ekiti State Project where 2,000 young entrepreneurs will be recruited on a one farmer per hectare basis to train and empower them to directly participate in farming activities.
How important is agriculture to contributing to the economy of a nation?
Agriculture is at the centre of the Nigerian economy, providing the main source of livelihood for the majority of Nigerians.
Nigeria has 70.8 million hectares of agricultural land area with maize, cassava, guinea corn, yam beans, millet and rice being the major crops. Nigeria’s rice production rose from 3.7 million metric tons in 2017 to 4.0 million metric tons in 2018.
Agriculture contributes 40% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs about 70% of the working population in Nigeria (CIA, 2012). Agriculture is also the largest economic activity in the rural area where almost 50% of the population lives. The statistics is there to show that agriculture continues to be the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy right from the time of independence (1960), but due to relevance of oil as a major contributor to the GDP over the years, it led to its relegation by government.
Generally speaking, it can be said that the government has not shown enough interest in the area of ensuring that the agricultural sector gets enough funding to make it variable and subsequently make Nigeria better. I do think that increased efforts in developing the livestock, fisheries and forestry subsectors will foster the contributions of the agriculture sector to the Nigerian economy.
Shouldn’t the youths embrace agriculture like they do blockchain?
Youths are the essential resources for every nation, especially for sustaining agricultural productivity as an important sector for nation building, and agriculture remains fundamental to poverty reduction and economic growth in the 21st Century (World Bank, 2008).
The world today hosts a massive population of 1.2 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and that number continues to rise. Agriculture is the backbone of the economy in many places, totaling 25% or more of GDP in several developing countries and representing a prime opportunity to employ youth.
I think that the agricultural sector needs to engage youth to increase global food production. In Africa, which boasts the globe’s youngest population, two-thirds of youth are unemployed or working in vulnerable, low-paying positions.
To encourage youth participation in agriculture, the government should invest in training them to ensure the successful participation of youths in agriculture. Adequate training should be given to youths to encourage them.
What is your view on Binance setting up a digital city in Nigeria?
I was ecstatic when the news broke that Binance is doing tremendous stuff in the blockchain space. I think we must focus on the big picture, this will mean focusing on the possibilities that come from digitisation and decentralisation.
Digital city technology can make cities more effective and efficient, which is necessary given the projected rapid growth in urban populations over the next few decades. Smart cities that leverage connected technology across their operations reap a host of benefits.
From my extensive research in building digital models, some of the benefits I see are data-driven decision-making, safer communities and of course enhanced citizen and government engagement.
Share with us on being a mentor at the Tony Elumelu Foundation
It should go without saying that as a mentor, your job is to encourage your mentee to reach for the stars. I’m lucky enough to have been on both sides of the mentoring process throughout my 20+ year career, and it’s something I urge everyone to do. As a mentor, I’ve been able to pass on my knowledge and experience while learning about others. As a mentee, I’ve received invaluable insight into all aspects of work and life.
I found it extremely therapeutic to talk ideate with budding entrepreneurs, and I discovered this in my mentorship role at TEF. Seeing the same idea starting from thoughts on paper to a flourishing start-up is always the icing on the cake.
How important is mentorship? How have you benefited from mentorship as the giver or receiver?
Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person shares and help to guide the set of business thoughts with a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. It can also be said to be a learning and development partnership between someone with experience and someone who wants to learn. – Key word being a partnership.
In my case, my mother served as my biggest influence and as such I would say she was my very first mentor, especially in the area of business. She has a very good eye for scouting potential business ventures. As I began my journey in corporate Nigeria, I had some sets of older ladies who had done amazingly well for themselves, and I just began modelling my life around those principles that they had followed. I read everything I could find on them and networked my way into being a mentee for most of them.
I had a mentor for pretty much every area of my life, money, business, marriage and so on. It is with these lessons learnt that I am also pouring out to mentees.
Mentors are important as they raise your confidence and problem-solving abilities. Along with developing leadership skills, having a mentor to advise and guide you can increase your confidence and help develop problem-solving skills. Regarding confidence, research has tied having a mentor to an overall increase in emotional health.
Tell us about being on the boards of the Etionera and Techienation
Both happened perchance – You know what they say about time and chance. I got invited to advice both boards mainly because of my work in blockchain and decentralised finance.
How does it feel being the Chair of Women in Crypto Africa? What do you do in this capacity?
First, I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to have transitioned into the blockchain space. Being Chair of Women in Crypto presents an opportunity for me to lend my voice in advocating for women’s inclusion in the blockchain space. Twice as many men as women invest in cryptocurrency. Roughly 19% of women ages 18 to 29 say they have invested in, traded or used a cryptocurrency, compared with 43% of men in the same age range, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
It’s so important for women to be a part of crypto and blockchain right now because we’re building the next generation of the financial ecosystem. I provide directional and operational oversight at Women in Crypto Africa.
Tell us about being the Director of Franchise Acquisition at Tolaram Group and being responsible for partnering with start-ups to deliver structured franchising, advertising, financial, and API services, delivering over 250k retail outlets in Nigeria
I pretty much transitioned from a visual merchanting role into a franchise acquisition at Tolaram. My boss at that time saw the need to integrate a retail side to our business and the only way we could be sustainable was to control our destiny by setting up our stores. Long term, due to the success of the pilot phase, the business morphed into issuing out our franchise licensing to upwardly mobile professionals who were looking at alternative ways to make passive income without necessarily leaving their jobs. Due to the success of the project, we scaled across niche areas in Lagos and quickly accumulated so many stores under the franchising side of the business.
Tell us about being a former brand consultant at Tolaram Group. Would you say the transit truly turned into helping technology start-ups scale in sub-Saharan Africa?
My role as a brand consultant at Tolaram heavily rested on visual merchandising (Look, feel and ambience) It is believed that shoppers tend to shop more in a relaxed atmosphere where they can help themselves. My KPIs were focused on these as they positively impacted our overall balance sheet. Helping to framework the set of ideas that went into building out the ERP technology served as a working template for E-commerce tech start-ups looking to explore best practices.
In what ways are you an inspirational leader?
I am often told that I inspire action as I “Walk the Talk”. I have never been one to slam my laptop shut at 5 pm, you usually would find me at the forefront driving change leadership.
FMCG, Retail, Agri-tech and E-commerce, which is most special to you and why?
All these sectors played a role in shaping me into the multi-sector professional that I am, however, as has been proven time and again, Technology helps acceleration and scale. I think technology will always hold a special place in my heart.
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Businessday Ng –