Explore how blockchain is the key to sustainability, as Deloitte’s Blockchain Tax Lead takes Blockleaders on a journey from Switzerland to Canada, via Syria, Uganda,
Alexia Hefti is the Blockchain Tax Lead at Deloitte. Yet after spending an hour in conversation with her, during which she is engaging, relaxed, but also thoughtful and precise, I discover we have barely broached the subject of taxation. The reason is simple. Alexia fluently recounts her experiences working with returning combatants in Uganda, her spell in the United Nations, how she qualified as a lawyer in New York, but somehow ended up on the Syrian border. She describes blockchain projects in Africa and the Caribbean that have the potential to make a substantial difference to people living in those regions. We also discuss glass ceilings, President Trump, the difficulties of preserving evidence, the UN Sustainability Goals, and discover – with disappointment – that we don’t have the solution to the migrant crisis in Europe.
Taxation was on my list, but it really never stood a chance.
With her obvious passion for social justice, sustainability, and human rights, it may seem surprising that she now occupies a senior position in a global superpower like Deloitte. The contradiction isn’t lost on Alexia. “The truth is that’s what’s very interesting about the type of firm for which I
Deloitte may be a hugely successful company, but it is immediately apparent that the projects Alexia finds most exciting are those that are not only about the bottom line. “I’ve probably vetted about 300 projects and a lot of them are ways for people to make money through Initial Coin Offerings but don’t solve fundamental problems in our society or contribute to our global advancement. I am fascinated by companies that also meet social impact objectives, and this has drawn me back to my previous work, which is in emerging markets like the Caribbean and
One such project is Bitland, which is working towards a blockchain-based solution to land injustice in Africa. “I met them at the inaugural Blockchain Africa Conference in Uganda and we decided that I would buy a plot of land, the title of which would be secured on their blockchain, as a demonstrative pilot project to the government.”
Simply being able to prove who we are and what we own are matters of little consequence in the West, where government-run registries and civil systems of recording data are, by and large, transparent and widely trusted. But for refugees, victims of land grabs, and the dispossessed in the developing world, blockchain affords a real opportunity to create a recording system that is tamper proof, trustless and indestructible. Stationed on the Syrian border in 2014, Alexia heard the stories of those whose identities and possessions had been obliterated by warfare.
“I was deployed to the border of Syria by the government when I was 24. When I was there, I took testimony from various opposition activists. Some of the Syrian activists that were coming in at night would tell me about what was happening. One of the biggest issues with which they were
We can only imagine the difficulties that await the millions of displaced Syrians upon their return when that conflict finally comes to an end. Alexia has some idea, having assisted with the integration returning combatants in Uganda and worked in the arena of transitional justice with the United Nations and Lawyers Without Borders (Avocats Sans Frontieres).
But for women, the struggle to assert land ownership is difficult even in peacetime. Projects like Bitland have the potential to help end the injustices they often face. “Once their husbands die, the land statutorily should be passed on to them. But from a customary law perspective, the chieftains often take their land away. You have a tension between these different judicial systems. You have the informal system that is driven by tradition and then one informed by the courts. At the end of the day, while blockchain may not solve this long-standing legal contradiction, and a woman may still have issues getting back her land, she has evidence of land title ownership on a blockchain so may be able to seek legal recourse.”
These blockchain projects that bring tangible benefits to people and solve real-world problems are rolling out across the developing world, while investors in the West bemoan the falling price of Bitcoin. The maximalist vision of a decentralised world with no banks and little or no government isn’t beyond the realm of possibility in some regions, where the central power of the state and judiciary are far from trustworthy. It should come as no surprise, then,
Moving rapidly through different careers, Alexia was called to the bar in New York and led the Innocence Project for a time at McGill University in Montreal. “I entered law school because I was doing work in international criminal law, but I wasn’t a lawyer. I had done my undergraduate and went to work in Uganda and New York and had a moment of
It sounds exhausting. Does she ever just lie in bed and binge on Netflix? “Maybe while I’m cooking or washing the dishes,” she laughs, ever the multi-tasker. Not being much of a TV viewer, she is momentarily lost when I ask her about Donald Trump’s assertion that it is a scary time to be a young man in America. Trump was, of course, referring to the Kavanaugh affair that has divided public opinion
“Is it a scary time to be a young man in America? I believe it’s a scary time to be a young black man in America. I think it’s a very scary time for certain types of people. I would not like to be a young Muslim
Alexia’s travels have allowed her to assume a global perspective on the Me Too movement. “I’ve definitely seen a lot of support for the movement in every place I’ve been to. It’s definitely spreading and is actually continuing to spread.”
But it would be an exaggeration to say that it has opened boardroom doors for females. “I don’t think the impact has been that vast. But the question is a broader one and relates to the whole area of women in business. Would I have been able to create a practice a year and a half into joining Deloitte as a woman of
Alexia surmounts barriers the way others chew gum. She strikes me as a realist but never crosses the fine line between pragmatism and cynicism. Where many bemoan the state of things, she acts. Problems are there to be solved and making a difference to people’s lives is at the
“Since I was eighteen, I was very deliberate about always having a one-year, three year and five-year plan and I would revisit it every birthday. It included my career, personal desires and what I wanted to do. But interestingly, since my involvement in blockchain – a field that is moving so rapidly – I feel that each day disappears so quickly. I wake up and the day is gone, and then I wake up again, and the day is gone.”
Having already achieved so much, is Alexia still setting goals?
“I think that certain goals still remain. I want to continue to be a leader and a mentor for young women because I was mentored by many women, and they really pushed me and encouraged me to follow so many passions. While my passions may have changed and the direction of my career continues to evolve, it has always come down to ‘what am I doing to change the world?’. The idea of continuing to encourage women to create economic opportunities for themselves for their social and economic advancement. I will try to continue to do that in whatever context I am in.”
Learn more about Bitland.