We talked to Marina Isaksen Sellstad of Diwala about the Verification Platform and this is what she had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: My family is currently in Norway, all safe and well, which I am truly grateful for. I am currently based in Uganda, where we have strict COVID regulations. I am well and safe. A lot of people I know are getting it now and self-isolating for security purposes, though, so I am being as careful as I can be.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Diwala.
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: I am the Chief Communications Officer and one of three Co-Founders of the technology company Diwala. I got my Bachelor in Communication Design degree at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, and gained a lot of my design experience from working in design studios there. I’ve always been a curious person, interested to learn and tackle new projects and challenges.
Diwala was born out of a UN Women Hackathon in Oslo about 3 years ago. We were tasked to create a digital solution utilizing blockchain technology that would enable people to verify their identity. We were actually one of the winners of this hackathon, which gave us the kickstart to join several accelerator programs that enabled us with more knowledge, help, and investments to bring our idea onwards. After numerous networking and conference events, endless hours of product development and research work, several pivots, user testing sessions, and pilots, we can happily say that we have successfully built a platform with product-market fit in Uganda. Diwala allows skill providers to safely and efficiently issue digital certificates to trainees, recruiters, or employers to quickly verify these certificates online, and trainees to easily access their verifiable credentials online anywhere at any time with their Skill Identity Mobile Application. A skill identity is a new and improved way of accessing and sharing certificates with potential employers.
We identified Uganda as a country in great need of such a product, as verification processes of such documents are mostly done with costly, time-consuming, and manual processes. Therefore, we have been developing our Diwala platform and mobile application here over the last 2 years. Diwala was the first company to issue digital certificates backed by blockchain technology on the African continent in December 2018.
How does Diwala innovate?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: We hold a heavy ethical compass when we innovate, working very closely with local partners and the people we design for. We use behavior science at the center of our product development. We regularly execute user tests with people, schools, and employers to fully understand their needs, problems, and the whole ecosystem we operate in. We develop our features based on our research and findings, with all tools we have available – through discussions, workshops, partnerships, design, and technology development. Our mission is to always build inclusive technology that doesn’t leave anyone behind.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: As our main target preliminary was universities and schools earlier this year, the Coronavirus pandemic did indeed affect our business. Most schools here in Uganda are still shut down physically for an undefined period. The schools expressed an overwhelming transition to e-learning, which is why we created a digital toolkit for them to inform about useful tools and tricks in relation to e-learning purposes. We have also utilized this time to perfect our core functionalities and build-out and vigorously test our additional platform that targets employees. We have connected with many great organizations during this time and learned a lot. We are coping well and recently signed some very exciting new partnerships and customers for 2021 despite the circumstances in the world.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: We have learned that in difficult times, it is important to not stress out or lose faith. Support each other and keep calm; there is always a solution for most problems. If not, it is essential that we change directions to serve who we design for in the best possible way.
As we are a remote-first company, we have seen the true effect of our CTO” s passion for process and structure, which has safeguarded us to keep alignment with the team across the world.. Constant iteration on process might feel too time-consuming sometimes, but it has truly shown us its value during this time.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: Best medication for stress and anxiety is boxing and exercise. It really helps me release all frustrations or negativity that might build-up through the week. Also, I could not live without music, which is like meditation to me. Also, I will need to thank all my close friends, partners, and family for their continuous advice and support. The Diwala team also works closely together, so we make sure to check in with each other and are transparent about how we are doing. In this way, we always try to support each other as best we can.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: We have competitors doing digital credentialing such as Credly, Digitary, and Accredible, although they are not focused on the same markets as us. We have built our platform with local schools and employers here in Uganda over the last 2 years, which gives a unique selling point in how quickly the product can be adapted.
We plan to stay in the game by focusing on our actions and our team culture. We will stay humble and focused, but above all, be persistent. Understanding what we are doing wrong faster will enable us to execute better.
Your final thoughts?
Marina Isaksen Sellstad: Corona has indeed shown us the importance of digital tools and services that allow us to keep society, education, and work going efficiently during a pandemic. This year, we have confirmed that our platform and app is definitely one of those services through our heavy interaction with various skill providers and organizations this year. More than ever, we are motivated to make Diwala a tool for employment purposes and skill verification.
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