Leah Callon-Butler, Emfarsis, [PH 2019 Crypto & Blockchain Year in Review]

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January 3, 2020 – Depending on who you ask, 2019 is another turbulent year for the crypto and blockchain industries. Globally, we’ve seen companies refocus their efforts or merge with others to survive. In the Philippines, we’ve read about more pending regulations, developments in the space, and more education drive. BitPinas sought the opinion of people who work in the blockchain and crypto industry in the Philippines, including leaders and influencers here and abroad on what they think about 2019 in general and what they look forward to in 2020.

Leah Callon-Butler is the Director at Emfarsis Consulting, which works with organisations across the world to drive a range of international business development activities in ASEAN including launch, growth and expansion, customer acquisition, product development, go-to-market planning, fundraising and strategic partnerships. Leah spent her career taking projects from the early stage to ideation and monetisation, with “Profit for Purpose” a recurring theme in her work.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments this year?

Established in mid 2019, Emfarsis is a consulting agency focused on the role of technology in advancing economic development across Asia.

We secured some awesome new projects this year, including an opportunity to introduce the award-winning Careers With STEM series to the Philippines. We see this as a landmark initiative to secure the future of the local blockchain industry and broader technology sector.

Careers With STEM is a series of career guides targeted to high school students, inspiring them to pursue an education and career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM). Originally created in 2013 by Australian publisher, Refraction Media, the initiative is backed by industry heavyweights such as Google, CommBank and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Please share a personal highlight for you this year in the crypto and blockchain community.

In September 2019, I attended a briefing by the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila, which discussed blockchain, cryptocurrencies and their applications today. The impressive speaker panel included Nichel Gaba of PDAX, Cathy Anne Bautista-Casas of UnionBank, and James Arzaga of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

During Q&A time, I asked the following question:

What is the single biggest obstacle to enterprise adoption of blockchain technologies in the Philippines?

“Skills,” said Mr Arzaga, without hesitation. “We do not have enough people coming through with the right technical skills,” he said.

This was a crucial moment for me, in realising that the Philippines must act with urgency if it is to keep up with local and global skills demand. Not only for blockchain, but for all emerging tech industries to define the fourth industrial revolution such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), robotics, data analytics, cyber security, Internet of Things, quantum computing, 3D printing, genetic engineering, and so on.

PHOTO CREDIT: AmCham Philippines Facebook page.

What do you think is the most important blockchain and/or crypto development in the Philippines/Globally in 2019?

In 2018, for the first time, the Philippines participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a survey led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges.

Released in December 2019, the results showed that of a total 79 countries, the Philippines ranked lowest for reading and second lowest for maths and science. This is a real threat to future prosperity, especially considering the rise in demand for skills within the tech sector.

The Department of Education recognises the need to improve the quality of education in the Philippines. In a speech, DepEd Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones observed that by the time today’s Filipino students graduate, everything they have been taught in school will be irrelevant.

“This is the uncertainty of the job market,” said Briones. “We provide our learners with pre-determined skills, but we don’t even know what the world will demand, and how the world will be like by 2030 or even in 2050. We don’t know what skills people will need.”

Briones said the Philippines must now focus on producing “a new breed of learners – learners who think critically” with an emphasis on developing STEM skills. She explained that the ability to tackle complex issues and challenges with a creative mindset will be essential for tomorrow’s graduates, especially when 75% of future jobs are expected to be underpinned by STEM skills.

What is your company/project/group looking forward to this 2020 in this space?

Careers With STEM has already achieved incredible success in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, so we are excited to see the first-ever Philippines edition come to life in 2020.

The magazine encourages young readers to combine their STEM education with something they feel passionate about, or a world issue that they want to solve.

This is otherwise written as: ‘STEM + X = Jobs of the future’. For example:

Computer Science + Health = Robotic limbs
Engineering + Sustainability = Biodegradable plastics
Technology + Farming = Drones for Precision Agriculture

Many blockchain projects to come out of the Philippines embrace STEM + X, such as ‘Blockchain + Financial Inclusion = i2i by UBx’ or ‘Blockchain + Disaster Response = LifeMesh’.

Secretary Briones’ own son is a studio arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, who combines IT digital imaging with painting. “That is perhaps the direction at present – the fusion of human skills with AI,” she has said, emphasising the huge potential in cross-disciplinary innovation. “If we concentrate only on catching up on science and technology, but forget history, culture, and arts, what makes us different? Where will we Filipinos get our soul?”

What do you personally look forward to in this space?

I look forward to seeing more Filipino youth entrepreneurs empowered to solve problems in their own community and utilising technology to scale. Just like Claire Bayoda, co-founder of TrashCash, a mobile app that incentivises the collection and recycling of plastic waste. TrashCash currently leverages AI and ML for image recognition when users upload a photo of the waste that they want to exchange for cash. In future, Claire’s team will also integrate blockchain for transparency and traceability in transactions.

I was lucky to meet Claire and her team at a Facebook event during Philippine Startup Week 2019, just after TrashCash placed second at the IMPACT Hackathon by Impact Hub Manila. The 24-hour hackathon brought together 10,000 developers, designers and entrepreneurs across the Philippines and Asia Pacific to create technology-based solutions to positively impact society in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

ABOVE: Nathan Smale and Leah Callon-Butler of Emfarsis (far left), Claire Bayoda (far right), Warren Lalata and Benjoe Rivera Vidal of TrashCash (in the middle), and Mike Abundo of FinTech Philippines Association (up the back).

What do you see for the Philippines in 2020 in this space?

I believe we’ll see greater support from the private sector to build strength and resilience into the Philippines’ talent pipeline, as corporates realise that it is not the sole responsibility of the government to educate and equip young Filipinos for the jobs of the future.

Without Google as the champion behind the first edition of Careers With STEM in Australia, it never would have got off the ground back in 2013. Google came onboard as the lead sponsor to fund content production and printing of the career guides, while the Department of Education committed to delivering copies of the magazine to every high school in Australia. It’s this kind of collaboration between public and private sectors where the magic really happens.

With 30% of Filipinos under the age of 15, the Philippines’ youth population is one of the nation’s greatest assets. Investing in the workforce of the future ensures that the nation has the best chance to secure its competitive advantage in decades to come.

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[…] Philippines. Leah and her company, Emfarsis, was cited by the government in launching the project: Careers in STEM, in which the programs focuses on developing the next generation of technical skills on STEM and […]


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A business ad graduate from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Mike is the website manager of Bitpinas.com. He is responsible for almost every content you see on the site, from topic/news selection to editing of articles. Mike believes correct information about blockchain and cryptocurrency can empower people to make accurate decisions about the industry, which, in turn, should deter bad actors from taking advantage of crypto & blockchain. [Telegram @mikemislos]