Interview

Financial Inclusion & the Future: Stellar Development Foundation Head Speaks

Denelle Dixon recently sat down with Finance Magnates to discuss the SDF's goals and the future of financial inclusion.

Blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies are considered by many to be revolutionary because of the power they have to support financial inclusion, offering greater security and independence in the developed financial world, as well as capturing ‘long tail’ finances in developing economies.

Stellar, a cryptocurrency network launched in 2014, has made the accessibility of its global financial services a core factor of its mission since the beginning:

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Recently, Finance Magnates spoke with Denelle Dixon, who heads the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF), a non-profit organization that supports the development of the Stellar ecosystem, about how Stellar and the SDF are working to continue to foster financial inclusion -particularly, in a post-pandemic world.

Denelle joined SDF just over a year ago. Previously, she served as the chief operating officer at Mozilla, where she established her ‘open-source roots.’

“The Foundation helps maintain Stellar’s codebase, supports the technical and business communities building on the network, and serves as a voice to regulators and institutions,” she explained. “Our ultimate goal is to create equitable access to the global financial system.

“I came to SDF because I believe in the power of blockchain technology and that open-source projects like Stellar provide for limitless growth and creativity and exceed all other models for building — particularly for building networks.”

What Is Stellar?

Indeed, Denelle explained that Stellar is: “an open, decentralized, fast, scalable, and uniquely sustainable network for financial products and services.

“It’s both a cross-currency transaction system and a platform for digital asset issuance,” she added. “Stellar is made for payments and asset issuance. It was created for developers and connects financial systems so they can work together on a single platform.”

The network supports more than one type of digital currency: “Stellar is multi-asset, and XLM (the native currency on the network) is used for transaction fees, which protect against spam and DDoS attacks, account creation, and as a bridge asset to facilitate trades between pairs of Stellar assets when there is no direct liquid market for the pair.”

The Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) exists in parallel to the network: “[the SDF] helps maintain Stellar’s codebase, supports the technical and business communities building on the network, and serves as a voice to regulators and institutions,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to create equitable access to the global financial system.

“Stellar is an open, decentralized, fast, scalable, and uniquely sustainable network for financial products and services.

“It’s both a cross-currency transaction system and a platform for digital asset issuance. Stellar is made for payments and asset issuance. It was created for developers and connects financial systems so they can work together on a single platform.

“Stellar is multi-asset, and XLM (the native currency on the network) is used for transaction fees, which protect against spam and DDoS attacks, account creation, and as a bridge asset to facilitate trades between pairs of Stellar assets when there is no direct liquid market for the pair.”

Growing the Stellar Network and Community: Progress and Goals

One of the most important topics of conversation in the Cryptosphere has been centered around usability; often, cryptocurrency networks are created and designed from a conceptual point of view. Therefore, it is possible that these networks can exist in a vacuum, without enough users or use cases to be sustainable in the long term.

However, Denelle confirmed to Finance Magnates that, “Our community is thriving and there are many companies building exciting projects in the Stellar ecosystem. We recently made sizable investments into DSTOQ, Abra and SatoshiPay. We also just announced that eight projects made the final round of our Stellar Community Fund comprising a 3 million XLM prize pool.”

Denelle also said that the network is “experiencing very healthy growth” in terms of users.

“The total number of accounts is approximately 4.5 million and over the course of Q2, the number of total payments from those accounts grew almost 40%.

“We’ve also seen an increase in average daily operations, reflecting the network’s strong throughput. The average daily volume on Stellar’s Decentralized Exchange saw sizable growth, an increase of over 70% from last quarter. We’re very happy with the decentralization of the network which is consistent with Q1.”

Denelle also pointed to Samsung’s recent integration of Stellar into the Samsung Blockchain Keystore.

 

“This means that Stellar users can now store their private keys on certain Samsung Galaxy smartphones and that developers can create blockchain-based apps and services for those phones,” she stated. “It’s a big deal and means a lot to our ever-growing ecosystem.

“With this integration, we’ve opened up to a new network of users that can benefit from the combined innovation of Stellar and Samsung. This is really just the beginning of an ongoing effort between SDF and Samsung to recruit, on-board, and support developers in the Stellar ecosystem.”

Investments and Product Launches

Denelle said that SDF is also in the process of continuously making moves to continue the growth of the Stellar ecosystem.

“To foster sustainable use cases on Stellar, SDF announced two strategic investments from its new Enterprise Investment Fund in Q2,” she explained.

One of these was in Abra, a financial services and technology company that operates a cryptocurrency wallet and exchange app.

The investment “will facilitate Abra’s integration with Stellar as its blockchain back-end and Abra’s expansion of financial services that will soon bring an array of new products powered by Stellar,” Denelle said.

The other investment was in SatoshiPay, which Denelle described as: “a platform for connecting the world through instant payments and one of the earliest adopters of Stellar.

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“This will help SatoshiPay expand their business to tap into a growing B2B cross-border payments market,” she explained. “Q2 also brought the much-anticipated beta launch of Vibrant, a wallet that will soon be generally available in Argentina where users will be able to hold, share, convert, and send value.”

Additionally, COINQVEST also launched its Enterprise Cryptocurrency Processing Platform for Online Merchants on Stellar. The platform allows online merchants to accept payments in digital currencies and instantly converts them into user bank accounts.

“Financial inclusion is a core tenet of SDF’s mission, and blockchain technology has huge potential for underserved communities.”

Stellar recently launched the DSTOQ app, which is designed to make investing more affordable and accessible for emerging markets.

In general, Stellar seems to have had a more explicit focus on building products and services for emerging markets as well as marginalized communities.

Part of this effort is Stellar’s recent involvement with the USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice.

 

Denelle explained that the Institute is “a nonprofit that engages in interdisciplinary research, education, and advocacy to confront injustice and systemic violence.

“We chose to support them because their cause is especially relevant to today’s challenges and aligns well with SDF’s commitment to inclusiveness and equitable access,” she said. “For the entire month of July, we matched XLM donations made by our community up to 2 million XLM.”

Denelle said that supporting the institute is part of SDF’s “ultimate goal of equitable access to the financial system.

“Financial inclusion is a core tenet of SDF’s mission, and blockchain technology has huge potential for underserved communities,” she continued.

Therefore, the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries, as a whole, have great potential to enact positive change in the world: “cost-effective digital payments can be created and traded regardless of any native currency or participant’s banking status. The ability to create inexpensive and accessible banking infrastructure should be available to anyone anywhere.

“We know that reaching that goal takes time,” she added. “Programs like these enable our community a more immediate way to help organizations that are creating vital change in the world today.

“This initiative, and the other charitable programs we’ve organized this year, are about what we can do right now to help causes aligned with our values. The SDF is mission-driven and we have an active community.”

Addressing Economic Problems in Developing Economies: ”less spending power in developing countries slows global economic growth.”

Denelle added that the global events that have rocked the world throughout 2020 have increased the urgency of the need for global financial inclusion.

In particular, “the global pandemic has only accelerated the urgency to deliver on our mission,” she said.“In many ways, the economic impact of COVID-19 highlighted the very issues that SDF and its partners are working to address.”

 

The economic fallout of the pandemic may have hit developing countries the hardest, which could have a lasting ‘chain-reaction’ effect on the global economy.

“Less spending power in developing countries slows global economic growth, and ensuring that people have access to financial resources and services in these challenging times is a must.”

As such, “we have been consulting closely with our partners that offer remittance services, micropayments, and other resources, to work towards furthering access to people in the countries hit the hardest by this pandemic.”

In Five Years’ Time, SDF Wants to Have Made “a tangible impact on increasing equitable access to the global financial system”

What’s next for the Stellar Development Fund?

“Our goals over the next year target a number of key areas,” Denelle said.

These include: “continuing investments from the SDF Enterprise Fund, investing in and supporting powerful use cases, offering new products, and increasing user acquisition.

“We launched our Enterprise Fund earlier this year, and so far, we have made three investments and have been speaking with more exciting prospects. With the Enterprise Fund, we want to provide the means to projects looking to unlock the world’s economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered.

“Focusing on these pillars, we want to look back five years from now and be able to confidently say that SDF and its ecosystem have made a tangible impact on increasing equitable access to the global financial system.”

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