Meet Shailee Adinolfi - Director of Strategic Sales at ConsenSys
Shailee is the Director of Strategic Sales at ConsenSys, where she supports implementation of Digital Assets, Currencies (CBDCs, Stablecoins, Bank Coins, etc.), Business Process Automation, and Private and Public Ethereum. She served as Vice President of BanQu, a blockchain-based platform for supply chain transparency. Prior to joining the blockchain industry, Shailee spent 11 years leading USAID-funded projects in financial inclusion, mobile money in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and three years in logistics and software development for US government projects.
What brought you to the blockchain space?
I worked on USAID-funded projects and mobile money and fintech in emerging markets; East Africa, South and SE Asia, all kinds of places. I saw that digital identity was becoming a challenge and an opportunity for the unbanked to link digital cash transfers from the government. There was a lot of corruption in the distribution of subsidy payments to farmers, for example. Linking digital identity to digital payments could mitigate that corruption.
I initially got into blockchain through decentralized identity (DID) around 2016. I thought, “this solves so many problems!” Then I realized after a year, that DID was one piece of the larger blockchain industry, growing rapidly. I continued to learn and learn. So it was late 2016 when I started in the DID space and then moved to ConsenSys in Aug 2018, where I started to work on broader solutions.
What do you work on at ConsenSys?
I work on public and private sector business development at ConsenSys. I focus more on payments, digital currencies. That’s been interesting, and builds on my previous work in emerging markets. DeFi has sparked a fire in the public and private sectors. It was shocking to see the Federal Reserve of St. Louis wrote a research piece on DeFi.
From what I’ve witnessed, many governments are still in the private, permissioned ledger stage of use cases, like track and trace, which was popular like four years ago. They are still hesitant on tokenization and use of public chains. With the recent interest from governments globally in Central Bank Digital Currencies, they are beginning to understand the opportunities and challenges in using blockchain, both public and private, through piloting and getting their hands on the technology.
How did you hear about ConsenSys? What is your experience working here?
I heard about ConsenSys through an event around social impact back in 2017. That’s when I met Alex Kostura and Silvana Rodriguez who were working at the U.S. State Department, and later became my colleagues. One of the first people I met was also Sam Cassat in New York at the UN. When ConsenSys started an office in DC, they hired a number of people working in the ecosystem in DC, and I joined them!
What do you wish more people knew about Ethereum and the ecosystem?
I wish that more people knew about what’s happening with Ethereum 2.0. There’s so much growth! If people knew how many businesses and developers are on Ethereum, they would realize that this technology is in growth and innovation mode, with a lot of contributors globally. We have the largest corporate community as well, which coordinates on standards and best practices through the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. I know that gas fees are an issue for many people, so they are testing on other chains, but they should also understand that Ethereum 2.0 is very much on the top of mind for everyone in the community. We are doing everything we can to figure out gas fees and take Ethereum to the next level.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your role?
It can be challenging for enterprises to embrace a quickly evolving product stack and infrastructure. There is a lot of education that had to happen before we got to where we are. I’m positive that ConsenSys is in the best position to be the bridge between CeFi and DeFi. But this is the year where we have to make that happen. The momentum is there. Focus is necessary!
What tips do you have for women looking to join the blockchain space?
Tips for women joining the space: working at a startup, you have to take the initiative. Being able to speak with engineers regularly, as well as translate product roadmaps, explain value propositions, and discuss market trends to clients is essential. Getting up to speed on architecture, different layers of the stack, asking many questions to continue absorbing as much as possible is key. It’s pretty nice being a woman in tech right now. There are many growth opportunities, but you have to work hard and make a name for yourself. Broadcast your capabilities to colleagues, so that they can utilize your skills, when needed. Select mentors and allies that have an interest in your growth. Here’s the thing, I didn’t grow up in banking like many folks in this space, but that doesn’t make my experience, my grit, and my ability to adapt to this new space any less valuable. I’ve been working in the blockchain space for 4.5 years now, and that makes me a veteran, to a degree.
What does financial inclusion look like to you?
Financial inclusion looks like ConsenSys’ Project i2i. During that project, UnionBank of the Philippines partnered with ConsenSys Solutions, Kaleido, AWS, ConsenSys Diligence, Microsoft Azure, and seven rural Philippine banks to create an inter-rural bank payment platform using Enterprise Ethereum.
These rural banks were not a part of payment switch. We helped to connect them to the switch, and support them in automating some compliance—which made it easier for them to continue to be in business. Through user discovery, we found that many of the rural customers enjoyed face-time with branch managers. So a lot of our work was on backend infrastructure.
Any closing thoughts?
CBDCs will be transformational, and I want to be a part of that transformation. ConsenSys is a great place to do that. Things that I worry about: After watching the Social Dilemma on Netflix I wonder about our pro-privacy, pro-tokenization of everything, pro Web3…what are the potential implications for society in the future we are building? I want to make sure that we are thinking about all of the potential second-order effects that could occur.
That type of thinking is happening with governments and CBDCs – how will it impact monetary policy? How will the current financial actors be impacted? Who will be the new financial traffic cops? It’s going to change the global financial system completely, but we need to be thoughtful about how we build this system.
We should have behavioral economics as a part of crypto-economics. We should look not only at the finance and banking sector but also at the microfinance institutions, small and medium enterprises, people living on $2 a day. We talk a lot about financial inclusion, but much more research and testing is needed in how CBDC will impact inclusion. We can learn lessons from what’s happening with Bitcoin and Ethereum in places like Nigeria.
There’s a bit of a turf war happening with large software and payment companies, the startup scene, governments, and banks. Who’s going to control the future of the financial rails? Is it going to be China? Is it going to be all of us? Time will tell.
Reach out to @ShaileeA on Twitter.