For this month’s “People of Bitcoin” column, we decided to turn our focus to a woman who has made the currency part of her professional and philanthropic mission. We’re interviewing Connie Gallippi, the Founder and Executive Director of BitGive.
As part of CheapAir’s commitment to bitcoin and philanthropy, we’re also putting our bitcoin money where our mouth is and offering a promotion that will directly support BitGive this month. If you’ve got travel plans in the works and would like to contribute to BitGive’s important work, book with CheapAir from October 10th through the 24th using bitcoin. We’ll donate $5 of every sale directly to BitGive. So let’s spend a few minutes with Connie Gallippi, the passionate professional behind BitGive.
Hi Connie! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. Can you share a bit of your personal backstory and how you came to found the world’s first Bitcoin nonprofit?
Thanks for this opportunity to talk about our work. My career prior to Bitcoin (and also my paying job during the first 1.5 years of running BitGive as a volunteer) was working with nonprofits in the environmental field in California. I worked in this realm for over 14 years and more than half of that time was been spent working on policy and funding strategies, from mostly public funding sources. Nonprofits are often very challenged financially to do the critical and important work they do.
The story of BitGive began when I attended the Bitcoin Foundation’s first conference in San Jose, CA in May of 2013 just for fun, with no intention of getting directly involved. I just wanted to visit my brother who is an early entrepreneur in the industry and learn more about Bitcoin. There was a lot of great energy and innovation at that event; and being immersed in it, there was a feeling that something very special was brewing. The conference was in the heart of Silicon Valley and full of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, brilliant computer programmers, finance professionals, and investors – from angel investors to venture capitalists.
I had already known the potential for bitcoin as a game changer on many levels; and with this level of energy, intelligence, and investment funds behind it, I knew it was going to take off. I saw the potential for bitcoin to be very significant – akin to the next .com boom – and wanted to find a way to capture the revolutionary technology and a portion of its anticipated profits and gains for charitable causes. The potential for this technology is huge. By leveraging the technology and capturing some of the industry’s success to put towards charitable causes, we have the potential to move the needle on some significant issues facing the world today.
As Founder & Executive Director, you’re the woman with the plan,” as it were, but in an arena with virtually no precedent. Can you tell us about the challenges you’ve faced as a trailblazer in the space? Do you find people are curious about Bitcoin or skeptical or a combination of the two?
Yes, it has been quite a journey, and trail blazing would be an accurate description! Starting the organization in mid-2013 was very early in the Bitcoin industry. One could say we are still very much in the industry’s early stages now in late-2015. It’s challenging to start any new business or nonprofit organization, even when there are precedents or trails blazed before you. But in Bitcoin, there were (and still are) so many questions. Understanding the regulatory environment is probably the most critical when establishing an organization. Our biggest hurdles so far were establishing a global entity, obtaining our 501c3 status as tax exempt from the IRS, and sorting through the accounting exercises for operating largely in Bitcoin.
My experience so far in working with nonprofits has been generally with the larger more well-known organizations, such as Save the Children, The Water Project, TECHO, and Medic Mobile. They are very curious and excited about Bitcoin. Of course they have many questions and some you could categorize as skeptical, but largely I think they see the advantages in both the short- and long- term. Most of the organizations we have worked with have questions about the legal and accounting aspects of accepting Bitcoin donations. As a 501(c)(3) ourselves, we are able to discuss these very issues and share with them how we have handled them. It’s been a wonderful experience.
Bitcoin would seem to offer an interesting and exciting way to get donations in the hands of the people who need it most internationally, with a minimum of red tape. Can you speak to this?
I think the most revolutionary aspect of Bitcoin’s technology allows funds to be sent securely to anyone anywhere at any time – safe, direct transactions without banks or government intervening. For nonprofits working overseas this is a tremendous revolution. We can move money to where the need is without getting bogged down in the many steps. Not only does the traditional system take a long time, but each step during the process takes a cut of the funds in fees and exposes the transaction to liabilities and potential fraud.
Peer-to-peer transactions anytime, anywhere allow us to access the most remote places of the world directly with aid and support. Of course the technology is still new and important pieces of the infrastructure are not yet in place in most of the developing world; however, in some key places where we do have liquidity today in the last mile, we will be able to reach the need – directly. As we build out this infrastructure, we blow open a global donor market in a single consistent currency to charitable organizations everywhere, yet likely most beneficial to those working in the most remote and impoverished parts of the world.
2015 has been a tough year for Bitcoin value so far. As an evangelist and a philanthropist, how do you respond to tough questions about Bitcoin’s volatility and sustainability?
Yes, the price has been down since late 2014, but it has actually stabilized, which is a good thing. It has been in the same general range for the past 8 months, and the value trend is still increasing over the long term when you look at the charts. Prior to this recent stabilization, the volatility was still typical for an early stage technology where speculation is largely driving the price. The big peaks and dips are also representative of a fairly narrow market given its nascent stage. When a market is narrow, small things can cause dramatic effects, but as we broaden adoption and use, these dramatic fluctuations are more easily absorbed by the market.
Can you talk a bit about the charity partners that you work with and some projects that are being funded right now/in the past?
Save the Children was our first campaign in 2013. We raised funds for their Philippines Typhoon Relief effort and built a relationship with them over time. Through this relationship, we ushered Save the Children into the Bitcoin community. They are now accepting bitcoin directly with BitPay and have run campaigns for Stop Ebola and Nepal Relief in bitcoin.
The Water Project is the nonprofit partner for our most recently completed campaign. We raised funds build a water well, which was completed in March of this year at a girls’ school in western Kenya. The well serves the Shisango Girls Secondary School, as well as the neighboring primary school and surrounding community of over 500 people.
Currently, we are raising funds for Medic Mobile, an organization working in 21 countries worldwide supporting volunteer health workers with mobile technology and open source tools. They have a team in Nepal who were unharmed in the earthquakes and have been working hard on relief efforts. Our funds are now going towards their efforts in Nepal.
We are developing some new projects as part of our Bitcoin Charity 2.0 Initiative that are focused on leveraging the technology more and building on the infrastructure that is in place in the developing world. Our first endeavor was recently announced in partnership with Factom, we are building a Transparency Platform for Donations to NGOs. The first pilot project is in partnership with The Water Project, BitPesa (who will provide the last-mile conversion of the funds), and the Plug and Play Tech Center, who is also supporting the project. There is much more to come on these efforts as they are further developed, but you can learn more here.
What challenges do you see ahead for Bitcoin? Do you believe it will become a revolutionary force across the world, or are your ambitions more modest?
The greatest challenge for Bitcoin right now is how to reach mass adoption. It needs to be much easier to understand and use, and I believe the industry should focus more on where there is need/demand/incentive, which is in the developing world. We have the Bitcoin technology and even the ability to transfer BTC via SMS to feature phones, but what’s lacking in the developing world is liquidity. Until there are more exchanges and remittance services like BitPesa that covert BTC to local fiat, the benefits of Bitcoin to these populations are limited.
I do believe Bitcoin and blockchain technology is a force that will revolutionize how we do business on a global scale and one with such monumental social impact that it will rival, if not surpass, the Internet. I founded the BitGive Foundation with a very long-term vision for the future that Bitcoin holds. We were established as a long-standing philanthropic arm for the industry, and I see our current efforts and successes as only the beginning. Because we are so young, as is the industry itself, our efforts are more small-scale charity projects and pilots that are pushing the envelope and creating new opportunities with this technology for the nonprofit sector.
Aside from your work, what are some of your personal passions? What do you do to unplug, relax, etc.?
These days I find it quite challenging to do much other than work, but I am very committed to having a healthy balance and have learned how important that truly is. In my personal time, I try to stay fit and enjoy running, cycling, and eating healthy. I am also quite the outdoor enthusiast and spend a lot of time hiking, backpacking, skiing, etc. Probably my greatest passion is to travel and explore. Of course I also spend time with my family and friends and am very fortunate to have many loved ones in my life.
Lastly, can you tell our customers/readers/BTC users a bit more about how they can get involved in this new movement of crypto-altruism?
Absolutely! There are a number of ways to support BitGive and our work around the world. Here are the ways we have outlined on BitGive’s Get Involved page.
1. Support our current charitable campaign.
2. Become a Member or Founding Donor.
3. Re-direct your tips to BitGive on ChangeTip.
4. Save on Amazon & donate to charity! First, sign up with Amazon Smile & they’ll donate 0.5% of the price of your purchases at no cost to you!
5. Use LibraTax to help optimize your taxable gains/losses and make your donations go further.
6. Make a one-time donation through the BitGive Foundation website.
7. Sign up for our newsletter, Follow us on Twitter @BitGiveOrg, Like us on Facebook.
8. Tell your friends and colleagues about BitGive!
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Connie. And to our readers, don’t forget to book your bitcoin travel with us between October 10 and 24 to help contribute to BitGive!
Check out our other “People of Bitcoin” posts and let us know what you think in the comments section below. We’re always on the lookout for more interesting folks to profile who’ve traveled with us on Bitcoin. If you know of any Bitcoiner who we should interview, please tweet to us @CheapAir or email us at Ask@CheapAir.com.