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!

Apex Developer Summit Las Vegas 2022

Last month I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the premier event of the XRPL Ledger (XRPL) community – The Apex Developer Summit in Las Vegas, USA. At the event, which is hosted annually by Ripple and the XRPL Foundation I got to meet and engage with the XRPL community, which included David Schwartz, a co-founder and current CTO at Ripple.

Before jumping into a summary of David Schwartz talk on The next iteration of XRPL, recall that XRPL is a decentralised, public blockchain led by a global developer community – think of XRPL as a public good. XRPL makes use of a federated byzantine agreement algorithm that enables fast & cheap transactions with finality achieved in 3 to 5 seconds (in simpler terms, transactions with XRP or XRPL-issued assets complete in 3 – 5 seconds). You can learn more about the XRPL here and join the community on discord here.

Now, back to David Schwartz’s keynote, he started the talk with a look at the XRPL design fundamentals which include:

  • An integrated decentralised exchange (DEX) – the XRPL has features an inbuilt DEX since the beginning (circa 2012).
  • Invariant checking – the ledger has an ability to check for bugs without corrupting the ledger.
  • Rekeyable accounts – XRPL features rekeyable accounts, which is a feature that allows for changing the transaction signing key without changing receiving key.
  • Issued assets – XRPL supports the ability to issue custom assets (e.g. stablecoins or anything fungible that has value and behaves like currency) with ease.

David went on to note some of the exciting XRPL innovations which include:

  • XLS-20d – a proposed standard to issue NFTs on the XRPL i.e. mint/burn/hold/trade NFTs. The XLS-20d is designed for scale.
  • Project Clio – a development initiative to create massive storage reduction for servers that handle queries from clients. This will increase throughput, reduce cost to access the ledger and allow the ledger to scale (bearing in mind that the ledger cannot go any faster than consensus can).
  • Hooks -a feature of XRPL that allows developers to add smart-contract like functionality to the XRPL. Hooks are small, efficient pieces of code being defined on an XRPL account, allowing logic to be executed before and/or after XRPL transactions.
  • Sidechains – a feature of XRPL that allows anyone to run a sidechain to the XRP Ledger while having the freedom to decide how their chains work. You want XRPL mechanics but assets from other chains e.g. running an EVM sidechain to allow even more developers easy access to XRPL’s feature set and bring existing Solidity-based smart contracts written for EVM-compatible chains to the XRPL. Sidechains allow you to innovate at the blockchain level i.e. L1 level e.g. if you wish to tweak the TPS you can do so. Sidechains ultimately provide horizontal scalability.

In addition to David’s keynote, the summit included other keynotes on NFTs, blockchain and law, and new ways to build with some of the ecosystem tools. Here are links to the keynotes:

And then I earlier I mentioned that I got to speak at the conference. I gave a talk on how to send and receive XRPL-based assets in low-tech environments e.g. in place where there is no internet connectivity or smartphones. Here is the link to my talk – Transacting in Low-Tech Environments, Julian Kanjere – I will write a post on this soon.

 

2022 Impact Award from Ripple blockchain’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI)

Last month (Sept 2022), Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) hosted the 2022 UBRI Connect Summit at the University College London’s School of Management. The 2-day event brought together scholars, researchers, and thought leaders in the UBRI network to showcase blockchain initiatives, share knowledge, and inspire future research. This was very much aligned with the UBRI’s north star of championing blockchain research and development in academia. Themes covered at the event included financial inclusion, central bank digital currencies and decentralised finance (DeFi).

At the event, Titose Chembezi and I were awarded the 2022 UBRI Impact award for our work towards financial inclusion in emerging economies using blockchain technology. Receiving this award speaks to the global relevance of solutions coming out of emerging economies such as South Africa, as well as the research being carried out at the University of Cape Town and its Financial Innovation Hub. This also reaffirms my belief that financial inclusion is a human right, and blockchain technology can be a force multiplier in achieving economic access and opportunity for all, one block at a time!

#blockchain #financialinclusion #ripple #UBRIConnect2022

 

Asia Crypto Week 2022

Asia Crypto Week is a week where blockchain enthusiasts and industry veterans from around the world get together for a series of independently organised blockchain events. The week is primarily anchored on the world’s premier crypto event – Token2049, and concludes with the F1 Singapore Grand Prix. This year, Asia Crypto Week took place from Monday 26th September – Sunday 2nd September 2022. Thanks to the Algorand Foundation, I had the opportunity to attend the Algorand Tech Talk and the inaugural Algorand Greenhouse Hack Shack – both events held at the Flower Dome in the Marina Bay Gardens. 

During the tech talks on the first day, I particularly enjoyed the session on the London Bridge, presented by the team at Applied Blockchain. London Bridge is a secure bridge between the Algorand blockchain and Ethereum blockchain which allows the transfer of tokens between the former and the latter network leveraging the additional security of Algorand state proofs and trusted execution environments (Intel SGX). This was particularly intriguing as data privacy and security is one of the major themes in the FinTech projects I am involved with.

In addition to learning about the London Bridge, I also enjoyed learning about the AlgoKit which is a productised version of developer tools for Algorand that will be released in the next few months. AlgoKit, whose tagline is “a single tool to go from concept to mainnet” will have tools that include a command line tool for initiating and managing projects, a one-click network simulator and a VS code plugin etc (similar to Truffle, Ganache and the VS Code solidity plugin by Juan Blanco if you familiar with the Ethereum ecosystem). 

All in all, it was great to network with peers and investors, listen to talks from technology leaders and get my hands dirty during the hack shack workshops.

Outside of the Algorand events, I got to network with some of the TOKEN2049 crowd, enjoy the views from the top of the Marina Bay Sands and capped of the weekend with the F1 Marina Bay Night Race which did not disappoint.

Food for Thought from FoodPrint – June 2022

Julian here, founder and CEO/CTO at FoodPrint. I’m excited to be sending out an update on how we are progressing as an AgTech startup. FoodPrint is a digital food supply chain platform connecting producers, buyers and consumers. At FoodPrint, we believe in short, sustainable and transparent supply chains – they are the answer to fairer and more sustainable food systems across the globe.

I’m especially excited about 2022 as we have been setting structure and process to the business – our team has grown and going forward we will send out regular updates such as these.


Funding
2021 was a good year for us. We won the Inqola FEED Innovation Prize (South Africa), which was followed by funding from the Algorand Foundation (Singapore). With this funding, we have been able to grow the team, build our WhatsApp chatbot and anchor our supply chain solution on the Algorand Blockchain to bolster trust in the supply chain data.

We are looking to raise some seed funding in the near future, if you are an investor and would like to chat, reach out here.


Team and Partnerships
The FoodPrint team is growing, and in particular, our tech team is firing on all cylinders. We have an immediate need for a Community Manager – someone with expertise in agriculture, connections to farmers and cooperatives, entrepreneurship and community building. In addition, we are also seeking to partner with more AgriHubs/food cooperatives and bulk produce buyers/retailers – we would like them to hop on board as early adopters of our platform. If you can assist with either, drop us an email here.


Product Updates
WhatsApp Chatbot
At the end of 2021, we started work on our WhatsApp chatbot, and I am excited to say that we are almost ready to pilot this. Using our low-tech WhatsApp chatbot, farmers can register to the FoodPrint platform, and everytime they harvest and sell produce, they record this on the chatbot – creating a digital record (anchored on the blockchain) that links them to potential buyers and finance service providers (in future). The WhatsApp chatbot will be free
to use for smallholder farmers.

If you are a farmer, and would like to try out our chatbot, send a WhatsApp message to us here – https://wa.me/+27711463479 –  and you will be notified once the chatbot is live.

FoodPrint QR Codes for Track and Trace
The FoodPrint platform also supports product-specific QR Codes for consumers to scan, and read the claims or the story behind the food they are buying or about to consume. Here is an example – scan with your mobile device – and see what a provenance record looks like.

If you are a food retailer or business, and wish to provide a unique experience for your customers
(a digital touchpoint to drive consumer engagement), or a farmer wishing to tell the story about
your farm, get in touch here.

Harvest Box
We have partnered with PEDI AgriHub in Philippi Cape Town, and are piloting a fresh produce harvest box in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town! We are especially excited about this as this is an immediate way for us to add value to local farmers and provide the farmers they support with market access. The harvest box contains fresh, quality seasonal produce. If you would like to purchase a weekly fresh produce box, you can get in touch here.


Visit to University of Zurich Blockchain Center
And lastly, last month, I had the opportunity to share how FoodPrint is bringing blockchain technology to food supply chains in sub-Saharan Africa at a blockchain workshop in Zurich, arranged by the University of Zurich Blockchain Center and University of Cape Town. This was well received and networks established – innovation and collaboration feed and build upon each other!


That’s all for now. Until the next update, eat your greens!

Julian Kanjere
Founder
https://www.foodprintlabs.com

CBDC in Africa Symposium Invite 2022

Central Bank Digital Currencies in Africa Symposium 2022

Last month, I attended the Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) in Africa Symposium at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business (GSB). The event, which was put together by the Algorand-UCT Financial Innovation Hub, comprised of a diverse audience which included central bankers, policy makers, financial technology (FinTech) professionals and academics. The panel discussion had two sessions, the first discussed CBDC projects being carried out by African central banks (notably the Central Bank of Nigeria and the South African Reserve Bank), and the second took a broader view on not just CBDCs but ongoing payments innovation.

What are CBDCs?
CBDCs are an especially hot topic at present, particularly amongst central bankers and the fintech community across the globe. Central Banks are harnessing the technology used in crypto assets to develop CBDCs. But what are CBDCs? CBDCs are a new and digital form of sovereign currency on an alternative and more efficient payment rail – a rail that is typically based on distributed ledger technology (DLT) e.g. blockchain – and not available in cash form. Essentially, CBDCs are akin to traditional fiat currency (footnote – fiat currency is government-issued currency that is not backed by a commodity such as gold.), albeit on a different payment rail. The promise of CBDCs is reduced frictions in financial services and payments e.g. cheaper and faster payments (especially since there is no need for multiple intermediaries between the source of a transaction and its destination – as is currently the case), as well as increased interoperability and programmability (which unlocks innovation) within financial services.

Central Banks and their digital currencies
Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana are some of the African countries that gone beyond research and launched CBDC pilots in one form or another. Nigeria, which is arguably leading the charge, launched the e-Naira project. South Africa launched the project Khoka pilot and recently participated in project Dunbar. Ghana launched the e-Cedi project. Other countries such as Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have hinted at exploring the use of digital currencies, and are presumably in research stage – see the BCG CBDC tracker.

A recurring theme from the discussants was the cautious approach adopted by central banks as CBDCs are unchartered territories that will require amendments to policy and legislation, which they would want to get right. Another topic of discussion was privacy preservation – the need by citizens to maintain a level of transactional privacy (restrict a state’s oversight into an individual’s transactions) – something afforded by cash. The consensus here seems to be affording privacy for small value transactions and providing quasi-privacy or the ability to inspect – on-demand – large value transactions for regulatory purposes.

The first session ended with a thought-provoking question – whether proceeding slowly and cautiously by central banks is of more negative consequence than moving fast and being wrong – food for thought.

Q&A with the panel of central bankers
Q&A with the panel of central bankers

CBDCs and ongoing payments innovation
The second panel discussion zoomed out from CBDCs and considered more general and ongoing payments innovation. Interoperability between payment mechanisms and systems was highlighted as low hanging fruit with potential upside. For example, in the case of South Africa, a number of FinTech payments startups allow scanning of QR codes for payments but are not necessarily interoperable (e.g. Zapper and SnapScan), which would be a plus for merchants and a boost for commerce. Similar to QR Code payment apps, a comment was asked about why loyalty points are operated behind closed silos instead of being opened up and becoming tradeable across different providers and merchants (e.g. FNB eBucks, Standard Bank uCount, Pick n Pay smart shopper points etc). The rapid payments program (RPP) by BankServ Africa was highlighted as an innovation enabling interoperability initiative. The RPP is an interoperable payments platform that will bring together banks and non-bank FinTechs as service providers, and offer easy to use payment options for South African’s.

As in the first session, the theme of regulation reared its head again – with the sentiment being that although regulation moves slower than innovation, it is necessary. But of course overregulation can kill innovation altogether – there is a risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water!

One of the panellist’s took a necessary step back and put across a cornerstone notion that the problem we are trying to solve with CBDCs and payments innovation is not necessarily a problem of a broken past (i.e. present day financial infrastructure is relatively robust and functional) but more of what can we do for the future (from a technology, people and policy perspective) to improve from where we are. Ultimately, the focus should not be the payment rail but what it enables.

Lastly, one of the open questions arising from this session was whether CBDCs and current payments innovation will make a huge dent in solving the problem of financial inclusion – another piece of food for thought.

UCT FinTech grad students and James Wallis (VP of Central Bank Engagements & CBDCs at Ripple)
UCT FinTech grad students and James Wallis (VP of Central Bank Engagements & CBDCs at Ripple)

Summing up the conference, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in payments innovation and infrastructure, but fundamental shifts can be hard to recognise. The benefits of using blockchain as a payment rail are hard to ignore – faster transaction speeds, lower costs and programmability – all of which increase efficiency and participation and unlock innovation. CBDCs promise to be the next evolution of money, and not only central banks but fintech players need to be adaptive, agile and anticipatory.

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Reimagine with Eric Schmidt

Winning the Schmidt Futures Reimagine Challenge 2020

I am excited to share that I have been selected as 1 of the 20 global winners of the Schmidt Futures Reimagine Challenge 2020 challenge. Launched in August 2020, the Reimagine Challenge called on students from across the world to submit innovative solutions to spark global movements for change and build back from COVID-19. Following a rigorous evaluation process, the Reimagine Challenge team went on to select 20 winning submissions, having received 838 submissions from across the world.

Titled  “Using Technology to Elevate the Status of Smallholder Farmers and Amplify their Contribution Towards Achieving Food Security“, my submission was based on the FoodPrint Farmer platform – a blockchain-enabled platform for digitising smallholder farmer operations that I am currently building. FoodPrint was birthed whilst exploring use cases of blockchain technology in the MPhil in FinTech degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT). You can read my submission in the Reimagine Challenge Anthology which can be downloaded from here.

What it means to be named a winner

It is humbling to be named a winner in a global competition. It underscores the relevance of emerging technology in solving challenges faced in emerging economies, as well as the potential of novel data-driven business models going forward.

Being named a winner also reminds me of a quote from Brian Tracey that I try to live by – “I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances. Be more active. Show up more often.”

Relevance of such challenges for students around the globe, and especially African students

Challenges such as the Reimagine Challenge provide an opportunity for students to exercise creativity outside of the traditional academic setting, validate ideas on the global stage and accrue some innovation capital. For African students in particular, they additionally provide an opportunity to not only build diverse international networks but also demonstrate the ability to compete and contribute on the global stage! It is especially encouraging to note that 4 of the 20 winning submissions are from the UCT.

What comes next

In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, ideas do not come out fully formed. There is further prototyping and piloting required before realising product-market fit for the FoodPrint Farmer platform. Outside of building FoodPrint, I am proceeding with further research and engagements on Blockchain Technology and Data Privacy, as well as technology mentorship in South Africa.

Keep Moving Forward.

Julz

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Footnotes
  1. Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative by Eric and Wendy Schmidt. Eric Schmidt was the CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011.
  2. For the Reimagine Challenge 2020, Schmidt Futures received 838 submissions from students enrolled in 264 schools in 40 different countries, representing 86 nationalities and speaking 53 primary languages.
  3. Shout out to everyone who has played a part in shaping the FoodPrint idea. This includes A/Prof Co-Pierre Georg, Oranjezicht City Farm MarketUCT MPhil FinTech class of 2019, UCT GSB’s Solution Space and the Oribi Village team.
  4. Links to official announcement and press coverage:
COVID19ZIM Aggregator

COVID19ZIM Aggregator

It is incredibly difficult to keep up with news about Coronavirus (COVID-19) – the infectious disease that currently has no vaccine and has taken the world at large by surprise. Nationwide curfews and lock-downs have become the order of the day.

Whilst the world has been battling to contain COVID-19, misleading news about it has also been spreading rapidly – especially on social media platforms, which does not help the situation. This is often exacerbated by the fact that it can also be difficult to find locally relevant information aggregated in a central place.

To this end, I have created Covid19Zim Aggregator – an online application that I hope can be a useful tool for accessing centralised, easy to understand, relevant and actionable information about COVID19 in Zimbabwe. This information includes statistics, emergency contact details and service provider details. The statistics are gathered from sources such as the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) in Zimbabwe and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Covid19Zim Aggregator is mobile friendly – it is accessible, optimised and fully functional from a cellphone.

Features of Covid19Zim Aggregator include:

  • Statistics about COVID-19 in Zimbabwe (as reported by MoHCC)
  • Contact details for the hotlines setup by MoHCC. One can call the hotline by simply clicking on the contact number whilst viewing the Covid19Zim Aggregator on their cellphone
  • Twitter link for MoHCC
  • WhatsApp link for MoHCC. One can WhatsApp the  MoHCC by simply clicking on the WhatsApp link whilst viewing the Covid19Zim Aggregator on their cellphone
  • Health Tips
  • Mobile Friendly (accessible from a cellphone)

Features coming soon:

  • Service Providers and their contact details (e.g. hospitals)

You can access Covid19Zim Aggregator here – https://covid19zim.herokuapp.com

#FlattenTheCurve #StayHomeSaveLives #Covid19Zim #TellAZimbabwean

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Footnotes
  1. Covid19Zim Aggregator is an independent and unofficial web application.
  2. Comments section is at the end of the page.
  3. This project has officially been archived as of 18 Feb 2021.