Fereshteh Forough is a true Bitcoin believer who uses the alternative currency in her organization Women’s Annex Foundation. We caught up with her while she attended a seminar given by Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson on the rise and the success of Bitcoin. Held at NYU’s Eisner & Lubin Auditorium, all proceeds were donated to the NYC Public School Computer Science Department.
Lauren Keyson: Describe The Women’s Annex Foundation
Fereshteh Forough: The Women’s Annex Foundation Inc. was founded by Fereshteh Forough, Roya Mahboob and Francesco Rulli. It is a not for profit organization that we established in April 2012. Our aim is to support and help women in developing countries starting in Afghanistan by social media, digital media, and technology. So we built eleven computer media labs in schools in Afghanistan and we connected 50,000 girls in our schools. And we made two media centers. So what we do in our schools is try to teach the girls how they can come online and they can write blogs, so they create a profile in our platform and then they can write blogs, and we pay them for the content they generate. We used to pay them in dollars but since bitcoin we started to pay our users in bitcoin.
LK: How do they like it?
FF: It’s really convenient and very comfortable for us because we had a lot of problems using Western Union transactions and the fee and everything else but now when we stretch our payment system into bitcoin it’s really helped us because we just need to send them directly without having a person in the middle of the transactions and it makes our life very easy.
LK: Where are you based?
FF: Vera’s in New York, in Chelsea, but we open our schools into big cities in Afghanistan – Kabul and Herat.
LK: Why did you choose to put the schools in Afghanistan?
FF: I am from Afghanistan and my friend is from Afghanistan so we started the project in Afghanistan but currently we have users from Pakistan, Egypt, from Mexico and from some Africa countries so we really want to extend the project into central and south Asia and of course in Africa countries too.
LK: Did you move to New York? Will you stay?
FF: No, I came here; it’s been a year and a half, just for the project and helping it. I tried to elevate the project and promote the project as much as I can but I think I will go back to Afghanistan and I will do other things in Afghanistan too.
LK: What about the other co-founders?
FF: She, Roya, comes back and forth in Afghanistan because she’s based in Afghanistan and she like coordinates the projects in Afghanistan so she comes back and forth.
LK: And what about the other founder? (Francesco Rulli)
FF: Francesco Rulli is here. He’s the CEO and president of Film Annex which is an online content provider’s platform that people can come online and upload their blogs and videos and get paid. So they helped us establish the computer and media labs.
LK: Why Women?
FF: For developing countries, especially for Afghanistan they have very limited access to education and especially social media. With our platform we let them to come online, share their stories and spread their messages but we also think about their security that’s like when they come online and they create a profile they can register in any name and they don’t have to upload their real pictures so they can select an avatar in our platform. So we give them freedom of speech that they can talk about anything they want but not political and religious stuff because we don’t want to make problems with anyone.
LK: How’s it going?
FF: It’s going very well we just opened our eleventh school with the help of Craig Newmark from Craig’s List. He just helped us for the eleven schools he gave half of the donations and then we put up half of the money ourselves.
LK: Why did he get involved?
FF: Because I mean, promoting women’s digital education especially for developing countries. Everybody wants to help women especially in those countries who have certain problems in case of accessing the education and this really empowers young generations to really raise their voice and spread the message.
LK: Challenges being a women-run organization?
FF: Definitely you have a lot of challenges because there are some people they don’t like the things that you are doing especially promoting women and empowering women. We think that building an online community and supporting each other is really important, it’s really supportive because you find a lot of people that support you and then it gives you a lot of power online because a lot of people try to talk about you, about your project, so it’s really supportive.
LK: How do you like using Bitcoin?
FF: Bitcoin is really fascinating for us because it’s really like for our users it’s really easy because like we just in a second we send them the payments and everything. It’s not only a currency for them it’s a technology and educational tool for women because they can finance their own incomes and their own money and they also can learn how they can manage everything so it’s also an educational tool for them too.
LK: They know how to use it?
FF: Yes, in our classrooms we teach them how they can trade their own digital wallet and then they can use social and digital media.