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Xochitl Cazador, Head of Ecosystem Growth at Celo – Interview Series

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Xochitl Cazador is the Head of Ecosystem Growth at Celo, a mobile-first platform that makes financial dApps and crypto payments accessible to anyone with a mobile phone.

Could you share the genesis story behind Celo?

Celo’s mission is to build a financial system that creates the conditions for prosperity — for everyone. The word Celo means “purpose” in Esperanto.

Celo was inspired by extensive research in emerging markets and developing countries — Tanzania, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. On the Celo Platform, value can be transferred faster and cheaper than traditional bank wires using globally accessible technology. Since cryptocurrencies are completely programmable, a wide array of financial services can be created without costly intermediaries

Celo is a mobile-first blockchain powering a global payments infrastructure that makes decentralized financial (DeFi) tools and services accessible to anyone with a mobile phone–bringing the powerful benefits of DeFi to the users of the 8 billion smartphones in circulation today.

With its interoperability, cross-chain compatibility and vision for inclusivity, Celo’s native and non-native digital assets are able to circulate freely, at extremely low costs and high speeds, across devices, carriers, and countries–making money mobile, global and accessible like never before.

One of your key focuses has been making cryptocurrency more mobile friendly, why do you believe this has been historically overlooked?

The Ericsson Mobility Report shows that today there are already around 8bn mobile devices with subscriptions. And the connectivity is improving – in four years, over 90% will have 3G connectivity or better. A mobile-first blockchain could bring real use cases to blockchain, but developing for mobile is hard.

  • First of all, the blockchain needs to support ultra-light clients. Celo works on even simple smartphones, up to 700,000x faster than some other blockchains. Celo’s identity protocol allows users to associate their phone number with one or more addresses on the Celo blockchain. This allows users to find each other on the Celo network using phone numbers instead of cumbersome hexadecimal addresses. Therefore, with Celo it is possible to send Celo Dollars (cUSD) by simply clicking on a contact in the user’s mobile phone while keeping phone numbers private on the blockchain. The same works for Celo Euro (cEUR) or in the future, any other digital currency on Celo.
  • Secondly, developing for mobile is hard: small screens force developers to focus on what’s important. But if you build with mobile-first in mind, you will ultimately make better desktop products as well, when you scale up your designs.

Earlier this year we announced that Deutsche Telekom, a leading telecom provider, joined the Celo Alliance for Prosperity. DT made a strategic purchase of CELO native assets to explore blockchain use cases in partnership with Celo. T-Systems MMS will stake these tokens to become a validator and participate in the governance of the Celo network.

How does Celo differentiate its stablecoins from competing stablecoin products?

Celo can be the base layer for many different assets. The Celo stablecoins are different from other stablecoins in that they are embedded stablecoins at the protocol level. This means transaction fees (as low as $.001) can not only be automatically deducted, but they can also be paid in multiple currencies. If you send a Celo Dollar (cUSD) today, it not only arrives within 5 seconds, as the block time of Celo is about 5 seconds, but you can also pay for gas in the same currency. There is no need for another, volatile currency. And for example, if you send a Celo Euro (cEUR), you can pay for gas in cEUR.

Furthermore, Celo stablecoins are decentralized, smart contract based and algorithmic. This means the stability mechanism is open source. Smart contracts are in place to expand or contract the amount of outstanding stablecoins, depending on changing levels of demand to keep the price stable. This expansion and contraction mechanism is underpinned by an on-chain reserve. In the future, this will enable interesting currencies, such as nature backed currencies for example. Stablecoins that are collateralized by tokenized carbon credit, or forests. Today there are different kinds of stablecoins on Celo: cUSD, cEUR, local currencies, and more coming in the future.

How big do you believe that the stablecoin market can become?

There can be stablecoins for certain use cases, in different currencies, local or global stablecoins, and so much more. The Celo Platform enables all these different types of stablecoins. The World Bank estimates that the remittance flows to low and middle income regions worldwide are higher than 600bn in 2021 (source p.20 link). Globally, sending remittances costs an average of 6.38% of the amount sent (link), and there are many regions in the world where these costs are higher than 15%. We can see that in this use case alone the market share of stablecoins has room for rapid growth. On Celo there are so many more use cases than just remittances: there are many DeFi use cases including payments, saving, lending, borrowing, microwork, charity.

Could you discuss how the Celo platform is designed with mobile scalability in mind?

Celo was designed to enable a new universe of financial solutions accessible for mobile users and takes a mobile-first approach that provides the opportunity to positively impact 8B+ smartphone owners globally, creating a global financial ecosystem where any end-user can onboard into the Celo ecosystem with just a mobile phone number. Celo’s technology innovations allow it to truly work across devices, carriers, and countries. Celo is scalable, fast and inexpensive, and uses a PoS consensus protocol, a hyper-efficient light client, and full node incentives for scalability. With its interoperability, cross-chain compatibility, and vision for currency inclusivity, Celo enables digital assets to circulate on chain at extremely low costs and high speeds across devices, carriers, and countries, making money mobile, global and accessible like never before.

Celo is supported by a mission-aligned network of technologists and international organizations, the Alliance for Prosperity, committed to building an inclusive financial system that creates the conditions for prosperity—for everyone.

Celo uses Address Based Encryption, could you discuss how this protocol works and why it simplifies life for users?

Celo enables the possibility for a simplified interface through its phone number PKI: a lightweight identity protocol that maps cryptographic hashes of phone numbers to public keys—making it easy for any user with a mobile phone to send and receive digital currencies to anyone in the world by tapping into the biggest social network in the world: everyone’s contact lists on their phones. Payments can even be sent to a phone number before the recipient has created a Valora account.

Celo also provides the option to pay transaction fees (“gas”) in multiple currencies. Users can pay transaction fees in ERC20-like tokens on the Celo platform, including stable value assets, enabling a simplified user experience.

What are some of the primary use cases Celo is focused on?

Celo use cases include decentralized finance (DeFi), powering mobile and online work, enabling faster and affordable remittances, reducing the operational complexities of delivering humanitarian aid, facilitating payments, and enabling microlending.

Some examples of dApps on Celo are:

  • Ubeswap is a mobile-first DeFi exchange, a mobile compatible fork of Uniswap running on the Celo blockchain. Ubeswap is open source on GitHub and available on Safari for iOS and any browser on Android.
  • Moola is working on algorithmic money markets on Celo.
  • Valora: Global payments app native to the Celo Platform available on both iOS and Android devices.
  • impactMarket enables any vulnerable community to create its own unconditional basic income system for their beneficiaries, where each one can claim a fixed amount on a regular basis and make payments for free.
    • Distributed close to 1M cUSD
    • More than 15k beneficiaries
    • Communities in Brazil, Venezuela, Ghana

Celo supports “ultralight” sync mode, could you elaborate on what this is and why it matters?

Unlike other blockchain projects, a standard smartphone can function as a light client on the Celo network. This unique innovation is possible through fast sync for ultra-light clients that make block headers optimized for fast mobile phone synchronization. This makes Celo over 170,000x lighter than other blockchains.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Celo?

Developing methods for cross-chain communication that are fast and affordable is a crucial component of gaining widespread adoption for decentralized applications (dApps). By establishing connections between blockchains, developers can connect the people, services, and technologies that allow everyone to benefit from a more open and connected blockchain ecosystem.

Celo is working on a gas-efficient interoperability standard for cross-chain communication named Optics. The project is focused on enabling seamless interoperability between layer-one blockchains, and an upcoming deployment connecting Celo to Ethereum. This work is part of a broader set of projects, including Cosmos and Polkadot, that focus on developing a future vision for a connected world of blockchains.

Optics is designed to minimize gas costs to the users of the system. It is trustless and non-custodial, making it a powerful tool for developers to build decentralized cross-chain applications.

We recently announced that Opera will integrate Celo Native Asset (CELO), Celo Dollar (cUSD), and Celo Euro (cEUR) stablecoins in its Crypto Wallet. This integration enables millions of Opera users to make purchases, send peer-to-peer remittances, trade, or cash in and cash out in Celo’s native asset or cUSD stablecoin from the browser’s built-in crypto wallet.

We’re excited to share that PayU, one of the largest payment providers for emerging markets, is making a significant purchase of the Celo native digital asset (CELO) — its first purchase of this kind — and joining the Celo Alliance for Prosperity. Starting in the fall, PayU is also giving its nearly half a million merchants the ability to accept Celo’s stablecoin, cUSD, as a payment option. We’re thrilled that PayU chose cUSD for its payment processing solution. This integration with cUSD is just the start and opens up opportunities for merchants to accept cEUR and other stablecoins as a form of payment in the near future.

Valora has announced it is becoming an independent, standalone company, and has raised a $20 million Series A round to help fuel the company’s growth. Celo’s key differentiators are fully utilized within Valora today: the ability to send crypto/funds to any mobile phone number in the world, replacing long public keys with just your phone number, and the ability to pay transaction fees with the same stablecoin.

Valora has 200K users with a balance and 53K monthly active users in more than 100 countries. At the same time, Celo has also grown, with a DeFi ecosystem of developers building on the platform — all of whom are now using Valora as an entry point for people to access decentralized financial apps and services.

We are seeing a lot of positive momentum and we are working on many more exciting DeFi projects coming soon to the Celo Platform. Watch this space!

Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Celo.

Antoine Tardif is the founding partner of Securities.io, the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 blockchain & AI projects. He is the founder of Unite.AI a news website for AI and Robotics. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.

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