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.
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!
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!
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.