Apex XRPL Developer Summit Amsterdam 2023

The 2023 edition of the annual Apex XRPL Developer Summit hosted by Ripple and the XRPL Foundation took place on 7th & 8th September in Amsterdam. The summit brought together developers, innovators, businesses, and investors for an inspiring two days, to exchange ideas on all things  blockchain technology and the XRP Ledger.

Offline Payments, Stablecoins and retail-CBDC

Last year, at Apex 2022, I spoke about how we (Mandla Money) are building low-tech digital asset wallets for financial inclusion and universal access leveraging the XRPL. This year at Apex 2023, I had the opportunity to give a talk on the more practical and operational considerations of administering an offline wallet that supports XRPL native and issued assets, and utilises capabilities of the ledger such as the decentralised exchange (DEX). In my talk, I discussed what desiderata for offline payments (the Mandla Wallet is an SMS wallet and I really should refer to this as semi-offline payments before I upset central bankers and economists), our approach to administering stablecoins (and by extension retail CBDC) in an “offline” setting and setting transaction limits for users based on their know-your-customer (KYC) level. I ended the talk with a demo of the corresponding features, and interoperability between the Mandla Wallet and other wallets in the XRPL ecosystem (I used Xumm wallet to illustrate this).

Here is a video of the talk.

Conference Highlights

The other highlights from the conference included:

  • Announcement of upcoming XRPL features:
    • Decentralised identity on XRPL (XLS-40d) – native support for world wide web consortium (W3C) decentralised identifiers (DIDs) on XRP Ledger. Decentralised identity (also known as self-sovereign identity) specifies a lifetime portable digital identity that does not depend on any centralised authority and fulfills requirements such as persistence, global resolvability, cryptographic verifiability, and decentralisation. This will allow XRPL account holder to  create, and manage their decentralised identifiers while having complete control over the private keys and contents of the identity object.
    • Automated market maker (AMM) on XRPL (XLS-30d) – An automated market maker (AMM) is a protocol for a decentralised exchange (DEX) that prices assets through an algorithm, rather than using an order book like a traditional exchange. Currently, the XRPL DEX provides liquidity exclusively by manual market making and order books. Introducing a native AMM will allow users to trade at a certain exchange rate on a DEX without having to find a counterparty e.g. instead of having to find a neighbour who is willing to trade USD for ZAR, or go to the airport currency exchange counter, the AMM allows one to exchange tokens freely.
  • A presentation on efforts and initiatives to grow and support the XRPL community including XRPL foundation, XRPL accelerator, XRPL grants and XRPL commons.
  • A breakout session on payments in emerging markets (e.g. Brazil).

All in all, I find Apex to be a great opportunity to network with the XRPL community and this year was no different – perhaps a little more special given the tailwind the community is currently riding given the glimpses of regulatory clarity around the XRP asset that is starting to emerge!

Teaching Blockchain at the FabLab Solidaire

Hands-on Blockchain Skills Development in Madagascar

Over the course of 5th June – 16th June 2023, I had the opportunity to teach a Financial Technology and Blockchain postgraduate course to a group of students enrolled in the newly launched Master of Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science degree at the University of Antananarivo, the leading academic institution in Madagascar. The opportunity to teach the course was a result of a collaboration between the University of Antananarivo, the University of Cape Town’s Financial Innovation Hub and the Algorand Foundation.

The cohort of 20 students comprised a mix of working professionals and students with backgrounds in mathematics, economics, statistics and engineering. During the course, the students learnt about financial systems, innovation and disruption, blockchain fundamentals and a hands on deep dive into the Algorand blockchain – including the Algorand Python SDK and smart contracts (using PyTeal). Reflecting on the teaching experience, I appreciated that in this digital age, development of blockchain skills at tertiary level is absolutely necessary (and is the bare minimum), especially if Africa is going to realise its potential and produce locally grown solutions to provide employment and economic agency. It was an incredible privilege to be part of this initiative, and to be involved in hands-on skills development and knowledge transfer in Madagascar.

Julian speaking at DevConf 2023

A Blockchain Primer at DevConf 2023

At the end of May 2023, I had the opportunity to speak on blockchain technology in Cape Town and Pretoria at DevConf 2023.  DevConf – the largest and premier developer conference in South Africa – brings together South Africa’s tech community (corporates, startups, consultants etc) to share learnings, network and inspire on all things tech and software development. This year’s edition took place on the 23rd (Cape Town) and 25th (Pretoria) of May 2023, and featured a wide range of talks – on various themes such as performance optimisations, software testing, developer wellbeing and tech leadership – delivered by a diverse range of local and international speakers.

My talk, titled “Building a vaccine register on the Ethereum blockchain” featured a primer on blockchain technology (think intro to blockchain, wallets, accounts, transactions etc) and the Ethereum ecosystem tools (MetaMask, Ganache, Truffle & Solidity), as well as a walkthrough and live demo of a proof-of-concept vaccine register – an Express web app with SQLite database and a solidity smart contract. 

The motivation for my talk was 3-fold: (i) it is the talk I wished I could have seen when I started developing blockchain solutions, (ii) to give a zero-to-hero overview in 45 minutes for any developers that are curious about blockchain technology; and (iii) an attempt to spark a conversation on whether there is utility in using blockchain for record-keeping or we’re better off using a standard database.

Overall, the talk was well received and I fielded some questions at the end of the talk ranging from gas price considerations and optimisations e.g. batching transactions to smart contract version management etc. And most importantly, as someone that errs on the side of caution and usually gives pre-recorded demos instead of live demos, I’m super relieved that the demo gods smiled kindly and live demo was without a glitch! Check out the video below.

Alternatively, you can access the video recording here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzD6uaYEFdM – and be the judge whether there really is utility in using blockchain for record-keeping or as earlier mentioned, we’re better off using a standard database!

Special shout out to Candice Mesk and Robert Maclean for organising the stellar conference, and all the sponsors that made the event happen. 

PS – I have to mention that my 1st talk which was in Cape Town was on the 23rd of May, a day after World Bitcoin Pizza day. So naturally, one of the takeaways from my talk was maybe buying pizza using bitcoin is not such a great idea! But, just so I have said it, this is my personal view and should not be misconstrued as financial advice!

Julian CV Summit Africa

African Blockchain Ecosystem showcased at CV Summit Africa 2023

At the beginning of May 2023, I attended the inaugural CV Summit Africa 2023. The summit was the inaugural African edition of CV Summit Zug, and showcased the current state of the emerging African blockchain ecosystem, and glimpses of its future. Over the course of 2 days – 4 and 5 May – the summit featured over 40 speakers and 330 attendees, at Workshop 17 in Cape Town’s iconic V&A Waterfront. 

Highlights from the event included:

  • educational and innovation initiatives to position Africa as the next web3 powerhouse (such as the University of Cape Town’s Financial Innovation Hub)
  • a panel discussion on the need for regulatory clarity particularly for crypto asset service providers, with panelists from leading crypto exchanges (including VALR, Revix) and local government
  • The NODO-CV VC Pitching Competition a pitching competition in which 6 startups from across the continent (@pravicasuite, @riskbloq, @Web3Sanctuary, @SafiProtocol, @HelixaTCG, and @fastagger) showcased their solutions, and the crowd voted on the winner (@Web3Sanctuary)

In addition, I also chaired a panel discussion on “Sustainability in and through Web3” with panelists George MosomiMax Kordek and Oyedeji Oluwoye. The thread running through this discussion was the need for a long term mindset (e.g. if building a protocol, what does this look like in 10 years for the community, the environment, the team working on the protocol…) to realise sustainability in blockchain ecosystems and through blockchain innovation.

Shout out to CV Labs for hosting the event and all the sponsors that made the event possible!

2023 Blockchain Summer School – Monash University Blockchain Technology Centre

At the beginning of February 2023, I attended the Monash University Blockchain Summer School hosted by the Algorand Centre of Excellence on Sustainability Informatics for the Pacific (ACE-SIP). It was a two-days well spent at my alma mater as I got the lay of the land for all things blockchain – innovation, research and regulation – in Australia and the pacific region.  

Stablecoins and CBDC

One of the speakers at the event, a representative from Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) spoke about how they issued a Australian dollar stablecoin called the A$DC and are involved in a number of central bank digital currency initiatives in the region. Some quick googling revealed that National Australia Bank (NAB), a rival to ANZ Bank has been piloting a stablecoin called the AUDN. Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies whose value is pegged to an underlying fiat (government issued) currency and allow settling of transactions on blockchain technology in real-time. Issuing of stablecoins by ANZ and NAB – both in the ‘big four’ Australian banks – demonstrates one of the roles banks can play in driving innovation in the web3 economy, leveraging their brand visibility, domain knowledge and reputation.

General Innovation 

The summer school, also showcased/mentioned a number of innovative web3 solutions and opportunities for blockchain in the region. Some of these include: 

  • CValid – a credentialing system for education and recruitment from Monash University. This innovative solution is set to revolutionise the education and recruitment industry, providing a secure and efficient way of verifying credentials.
  • Water Ledger – a distributed, all-digital system modernising the way water rights are shared and reported (read more about Australian water rights here – https://www.pc.gov.au/research/completed/water-rights).
  • Powerledger – a peer-to-peer renewable energy blockchain trading platform that allows consumers and producers to track, trace and trade every kilowatt of energy that is produced off-grid. 
  • FreshChain – a blockchain-based system to protect Australian exports and provide assurances to trading partners and consumers about the safety and quality of Australia’s produce. FreshChain is a recipient of the Australia Traceability Grants program.
  • RedBelly blockchain – an Australian blockchain platform developed by the University of Sydney and  the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). 


  • The Australian governments Clean energy regulator considering blockchain solutions for “Guarantee of Origin” assurance scheme to verify emissions associated with hydrogen, renewable electricity and potentially other products made in Australia such as metals or biofuels.
  • Sustainable supply chains e.g.tracking and tracing emissions across a supply chain – representing emissions digitally on a blockchain allows supply chain partners to make emissions data readily available and to share it with the next participant in the chain.


Major research themes I observed from the conference included:

  • Formal and quantitative analysis of blockchain platforms i.e. blockchain network benchmarking.
  • Post-quantum computing and blockchain security.
  • Micropayments and streaming payments using channels.

Special mention and thanks to ACE-SIP and the Algorand Foundation for organising the event and the opportunity to participate.

Book launch – More than learning: Entrepreneurship at University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has recently published an entrepreneurship book titled More than learning: Entrepreneurship at UCT which describes the UCT entrepreneurial ecosystem and profiles some UCT entrepreneurs (both current students and alumni). The book, aptly named, comes at a time when the role of universities as learning institutions is evolving and aligns perfectly with UCT’s Vision 2030, which is to “Unleash human potential to create a fair and just society“! Entrepreneurs take risks, they dig deep into their human potential. Paraphrasing from Guy Raz, author of How I Built This, entrepreneurs push boundaries, they explore unchartered territory and build products, services or bring ideas that become accessible to (and often change) the world.

Entrepreneurship requires a problem to be solved, a problem solver and a supporting environment to bring an idea to life. The Entrepreneurship at UCT book, edited by Alison Gwynne-Evans, describes the initiatives and structures at the institution that enable entrepreneurship – the UCT environment, and showcases some of its problem solvers and the problems they are solving – the UCT entrepreneurs and their startups. The initiatives and structures in the book, including the UCT Solution Space, the annual UCT Genesis Project, Design Thinking at the Hasso Plattner Design-Thinking School Afrika, and the Pitch UCT, all offer support, platforms and pathways to entrepreneurship.

The book also profiles a number of UCT founders and the startups they are running, which span a diverse range of verticals including an African language learning platform, an online coding school and an agency supporting traditional Afrikan beer homebrewed by women. Some of the startups include Zaio, Vambo Academy and FoodPrint. Zaio, founded by Mvelo Hlope, creates a personalized learning experience to learn how to code and build digital solutions. Vambo Academy by Chido Dzinotyiwei is an online platform that aims to teach African languages and share various aspects of African heritage. FoodPrint, which I founded, is an agri data platform which connects farmers to information and financial services.

Read more about the book launch here and access the book online on OpenUCT.

Algorand Centres of Excellence (ACE) Conference Barcelona 2023

In January 2023, I attended the Algorand Centres of Excellence (ACE) Conference in Barcelona. The event, hosted by the Algorand Foundation, brought together over 120 researchers and students from the various Algorand university hubs across the world to advance blockchain education and research. Universities represented included UC Berkley, Monash University and University of Cape Town.

The sessions at the conference covered a wide range of topics including protocol engineering, security and practical applications of blockchain. I got to present on blockchain use cases in emerging markets and how at FoodPrint Labs we’ve built a WhatsApp bot for that is integrated with the Algorand blockchain for record keeping, traceability and access to financial services by farmers in emerging markets.

I also enjoyed a presentation from UC Berkley on research they are doing on DeFi attacks categorised by protocol type (yields, bridges, lending etc) – although bridges have a low number of attacks compared to other protocol types, they rank high in monetary loss resulting from the attacks (i.e. funds are drained from the bridge pools).

John Woods, CTO at the Algorand Foundation also used the opportunity to announce the release of AlgoKit, which is a one-stop shop tool for developers building on the Algorand network. AlgoKit gets developers of all levels up and running with a familiar, fun and productive development environment in minutes. The release of AlgoKit is inline with the Algorand north star of not only providing a robust ledger but best in class experience for developers building on it.

All in all, attending the conference was a great way to kick-off the year, mingle with university innovation units building on Algorand and exchange ideas!




Falling Walls Lab Cape Town 2022

#FallingWallsLab is a 3-minute world-class pitch competition, networking forum and stepping stone for students and early-career professionals from around the globe by the Falling Walls Foundation (FWF) in Germany. The FWF – channelling the iconic image of the crumbling concrete blocks of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – are on a relentless pursuit to find out: Which are the next walls to fall? To answer this question, FWF hosts the annual Falling Walls Science Summit in Berlin where winners from the Falling Walls Labs events – which take place at renowned academic institutions around the world – compete on the global stage.

In September 2022, I had the privilege of of taking part in the Falling Walls Lab Cape Town event at the University of Cape Town (UCT), which was hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. I gave a 3 minute talk titled Breaking the wall of smallholder farmer poverty in which I spoke about FoodPrint and how we are using WhatsApp and blockchain technology to provide farmers with production records, financial services and connect them to markets.The novelty in our approach is how we are combining existing and ubiquitous apps like WhatsApp and 4IR tech to provide both utility and agency to users in emerging markets who find themselves in low tech environments (unreliable internet/low resource smartphones etc).

Looking at the numbers, there are 33 million smallholder farms in Sub-Saharan Africa from which 70% of the continent’s food supply is produced. Looking at the bigger picture, there are 600 million smallholder farms worldwide producing ~1/3 of the world‘s food. However, smallholder farmers comprise a large proportion of the world’s poor living on less than $2/day but this can be remedied through the use of accessible technology to provide credit, insurance and access to markets.

Out of 12 participants, the top 3 were awarded prizes – I was awarded 3rd place. The overall winner – Emma Horn – went on to represent UCT at the Falling Walls Science Summit in Berlin where she placed 2nd overall!

Here is a link to the highlights of Falling Walls Lab Cape Town – watch here. Special mention to UCT for hosting and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for putting together the event.

Thoughts on FTX Crypto Exchange Collapse

2022 has been a “cold” year for the crypto industry – crypto prices collapsed, Terra’s USD stablecoin crashed and last month, the FTX crypto exchange filed for bankruptcy. The resulting contagion affected crypto-lenders such as Genesis Trading, Gemini and Galaxy (and there is a possibility that other crypto trading venues may fail in the near-future).

To the outside observer, it is easy to conflate the FTX failure as a failure of crypto or more broadly blockchain/web3 (perhaps akin to attributing the dot com busts in 2000 as a failure of the internet). In my opinion, this is not the case, the FTX failure was a failure in governance, risk management & fiduciary duty. It was a failure resulting from centralisation and not a failure of blockchain technology.

How can this be avoided in the future? Distributed ledgers do need governance that is responsible and transparent e.g. proof-of-reserves. In particular, centralised exchanges (CEX) as compared to decentralised exchanges (DEX) do require some guardrails of sorts – e.g. periodic stress testing (liquidity risk & counterparty risk) and reporting. The hope is that regulators come forward with sustainable and not draconian measures as a result of knee-jerk reactions, and trading venues move more towards transparent governance and reporting.

One of the recurring questions in the wake of the FTX failure (together with the others from 2022) is whether crypto has any real-life utility. I wrote a post on crypto utility, financial inclusion and stablecoins where I cite real-life projects (Mandla Money, Stellar Aid Assist) that are using stablecoins to drive financial inclusion and/or deliver humanitarian aid – proving that crypto does indeed have utility apart from speculation.

Although much of 2022 has been crypto winter and dominated by bad press, I share the same sentiments with Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman that “crypto technology’s potential for beneficent societal impact may eventually compare with the impact of the telephone and internet on the economy and society.

Crypto Utility, Financial Inclusion and Stablecoins

Is there any utility in crypto? This is a recurring question from crypto sceptics, who tend to argue that there is no utility outside of speculation. In this post, I give 2 examples in which crypto can be used to drive financial inclusion in emerging markets – particularly through the use of stablecoins (a cryptocurrency whose value is pegged to another asset class e.g. USD Coin (USDC) which is pegged to USD). Worldwide, there are 2 billion unbanked adults, and these fall into the financially excluded category. According to the South African National Treasury, financial inclusion is the provision and use of affordable and appropriate financial services by those segments of society where financial services are needed but not provided, or they are inadequately delivered.

Case 1 – Mandla Money SMS Wallet. Firstly, in September 2022, I gave a talk at the Apex Developer Conference (hosted by Ripple & XRP Ledger Foundation) in Las Vegas on how crypto-assets can drive financial inclusion in emerging markets (click here to watch). In my talk, I made reference to one of the innovative projects that I have been involved with – Mandla Money SMS Wallet – which is a digital wallet that allows users to receive, transact and store value using digital assets via SMS (text message), with no need for a smartphone or an internet connection. The Mandla Money SMS Wallet is built on top of the XRP Ledger (XRPL) which is a decentralized, public blockchain that is fast, energy efficient, and reliable. By making use of stablecoins issued on the XRPL, together with SMS technology which has been around for a while, anyone with a mobile device (including feature phones) has a means to access previously unavailable financial services.

Case 2 – Stellar Aid Assist. More recently (December 2022), Stellar Development Foundation announced the launch of Stellar Aid Assist which makes use of stablecoins to deliver digital aid at scale (e.g. in Ukraine). According to the Stellar team, cash-based interventions serve as a lifeline to millions worldwide in support of basic needs and Stellar Aid Assist – which is fast to deploy and rapidly scale to meet a moment of crisis – gets money into the hands of those who need it, quickly and at low cost.

Considering that there are 2 billion unbanked adults worldwide and that it is possible to send crypto-assets in low-tech environments (where there are no smartphones or internet access) using blockchains such as XRPL, Algorand & Stellar, it is clear that there is a real opportunity to drive financial inclusion in emerging markets through use of blockchain payment rails and stablecoins. So, is there any utility in crypto – I believe the answer is a resounding YES!