The Aussie Entrepreneur whose blockchain-based company is combating the global blood diamond trade

Everledger​ recently raised $20 million for its expansion into China but the story behind the company’s rapid growth is as compelling a tale as the story of its resounding success.

While establishing a blockchain-based diamond tracking platform, Queensland-raised Leanne Kemp​, combated blood diamond issues, helped developing-world miners trade with fairer conditions and discovered a ground-breaking way to track, trace and trade diamonds sustainably.

“The vision was simply to provide the technology to enable the traceability of diamonds (and gemstones) so industry and customers could understand a diamond’s origin, from a mine all the way to the consumer,” said Kemp.

Kemp established her London-based company in 2015​ ​creating an online platform that can substantiate and provide transparency into the sustainability footprint of a diamond and other objects. 

After making a tidy profit at the height of the bitcoin boom, Kemp, who describes herself as a ‘self-taught software engineer’, says she saw the value in the use of digital ​immutable ledger, or blockchain technology, to track opaque supply chains.

The Everledger blockchain platform has since expanded to provide information about wine, gemstones, minerals and art. The company employs 90 staff and operates in 6 countries.

Diamond traceability

The Everledger platform carries information about a diamond from its rough state, through to its manufacturing, retail and end consumer. 

“Every diamond has its own fingerprint,” said Kemp. “Diamonds can be identified by their imperfections.”

The company’s platform tracks provenance information including characteristics like cut, carat, clarity and colour, and ownership. It links together serial numbers inscribed on stones and more than 40 other metadata points. 

“Today, if you walk into, for example, Chow Tai Fook, the world’s largest jewellery retailer, anywhere in the world and ask ‘where did that diamond come from,’ you can be given that information though an app on your mobile phone”, she said.

The Blood Diamond Trade

In 2006 when the movie B​lood Diamond​, starring Leonardo DiCaprio set in ​Sierra Leone​, was released, the world reacted to the fact that diamonds were being mined by slaves to profit warlords. 

Kemp never imagined she’d play a pivotal role in combating the trade. 

A staggering 81 countries representing 99.97% of the world’s diamond traders joined a United Nations scheme in an attempt to stop gems from being sourced from blood diamond traders.

The ​Kimberly Process Certification Scheme ​was established to ensure that diamond purchases were ‘not financed by rebel movements seeking to undermine governments.’

However, like most  paper-based systems it was limited in its effectiveness. 

“Most of the industry was built on a gentleman’s handshake, a sheet of paper and a promise to pay,” she said. Everledger​ was selected to digitally transform the scheme. 

“We didn’t have to roll-back legacy,” said Kemp.

“The only thing we had to do was convince them to digitise and streamline the whole process, with the security that blockchain enables.”

With the Everledger platform, there’s higher levels of transparency in the diamond supply chain, by identifying the origin, characteristics and chain of ownership of each individual stone. 

“This approach fosters growing levels of support to authenticity claims for every stakeholder in the chain, from mine, to manufacturer, to retailer, and to the end consumer,” said Kemp.

Doing well and doing good

The change in the way that gemstone records are captured and tracked led her to help transform the lives of women miners working in Tanzania.

“When you think of miners we think of modern technology, but mining in Tanzania is about men who are issued the licenses to mine – and women, sometimes with babies strapped to their backs or fronts, using shovels to dig,” she said. 

Kemp said that the women miners were previously paid based on the weight of their rocks.

“They didn’t recognise that one colour green may be more valuable than another. So, we worked with a local NGO to educate them on the gemology of their stones,” she said, adding. “And, we were able to provide them with a safe contractual space for trading.”

“For some of these countries, trading can take place in a windowless room with a machine gun at the front door,” she said.

Interestingly, the Tanzanian women who were able to negotiate a better pay, requested that their new funds be put towards the education of their children and to provide community infrastructure, including electricity. 

The Everledger platform has now made it possible for some of the world’s biggest jewellery stores to deal directly with artisanal mines​. Small mines around the world are the source of more than 70% of the world’s coloured gemstones.

“We are creating increased profits and those profits go back into communities across the world and into the gemstone industry,” said Kemp, smiling.

Everledger expansion

Kemp believes Everledger is in a strong position as it sets its sights on China. 

“We have become the core infrastructure for the Gemological Institute of America, who certify 80% of the world’s diamonds,” she said.

Tencent​, the Chinese company that owns ​WeChat,​ a major investor in Everledger’s recent $20 million Series A capital raising, is integral to the company’s China plans.

Everledgers Platform on a mobile

Everledger is also working with Russian-owned miner ​ALROSA to introduce a ​WeChat e-commerce solution to Chinese luxury retailers, putting diamond provenance information at the fingertips of potentially a billion ​social media customers. 

ALROSA’​s Head of Diamonds, P​avel Vinikhin​ says working with Everledger will reinforce its own pursuit for “sustainable mining and transparent supply chain information.

“We believe demonstrating full provenance of our diamonds on the most popular social media platform will help us to further strengthen our sales base in China.”

Kemp’s rising star

Everledger is not just working on the China front. Its team of ‘Everlegends’ is working on new markets and new applications for their technology. 

“E-waste from electric cars, laptop and phone batteries is a big issue,” said Kemp. “A third of my team is working on a solution to track batteries which contain cadmium, lithium and cobalt, among other materials that can be further processed with safety,” she said. 

Kemp’s incredible success has not gone unnoticed. She co-chairs the ​World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Future of Manufacturing and is collaborating with the World Economic Forum on a set of guiding principles for blockchain technology, called ‘Blockchain Bill of Rights’,

Kemp co-chairs the ​World Trade Board’s Sustainable Trade Action Group​ and has been nominated as an Adjunct Professor at QUT. Her work was recognised at the global Advance Awards in 2018 where she took out the award for Technology Innovation.

In her spare time the self-confessed ‘serial entrepreneur’ is currently enjoying a second term in her honorary role as Q​ueensland’s Chief Entrepreneur.

“I spend about a third of my time travelling through Queensland, meeting many of the 35,000 members of the startup community and advising the government on policies that will support a strong innovation economy.”

“And, I love it,” she grinned.