Idris Elba on his Stellar journey to unlocking human potential — Interview

    2023.11.10 | exchangesranking | 504onlookers

    Presented by Stellar Development Foundation

    In a modern world where technology is advancing rapidly thanks to tools like blockchains and AI, there are still many places grappling with age-old problems. Poverty, lack of access to clean water or electricity, and financial exclusion are battles many communities still face daily. And while progress is being made, especially in connection to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), some regions are still struggling, notably Africa and South America.

    Map of poverty levels across the world in 2023. Source: WorldPoverty.io

    Map of poverty levels across the world in 2023. Source: WorldPoverty.io

    Although we live in a highly digital age, the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged seems to widen. But to solve real-world struggles, we need real-world solutions. That's where the promise of blockchain technology has been highlighted. Unfortunately, much of the blockchain space is still dominated by speculative trading and abstract use cases detached from daily realities.

    Enter the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF), a nonprofit organization that supports the growth and development of the Stellar network. The Stellar network aims to bridge the digital divide, providing practical blockchain solutions to tangible problems that can help impoverished communities. With a specific focus on accessible financial services, SDF, through its support of the Stellar blockchain, aims to bring financial inclusion to the unbanked and underbanked populations across the globe.

    The Stellar blockchain enables low-cost, near-instantaneous cross-border transactions, which can be a lifeline for individuals in emerging economies. By doing so, the Stellar network isn't just showcasing blockchain's potential; it's applying this revolutionary technology in ways that directly benefit people, especially those in disadvantaged communities.

    Companies and projects worldwide are already taking advantage of the Stellar blockchain. Arf, a global remittance platform, utilizes the Stellar blockchain to offer regulated financial services, ensuring same-day settlements for financial institutions, thereby eliminating pre-funding and counterparty risks while maintaining transparency and traceability in transactions. Getpaid, on the other hand, leverages the Stellar blockchain to enable seamless crypto payments, catering to various financial services by expanding global crypto payment options. Lastly, Félix, in collaboration with Bitso, provides a WhatsApp-based payment platform, facilitating U.S.-based Latino immigrants to send remittances to their families in Latin America quickly and affordably, thereby solving the traditional remittance conundrums.

    These use cases depict the Stellar network’s ability to support real-world solutions for financial issues, demonstrating its potential to redefine cross-border transactions, business payments, and remittances with blockchain technology.

    Real-world impact through blockchain technology

    The essence of SDF's mission has resonated with Idris Elba, a well-known actor with a substantial humanitarian footprint. Elba’s alignment with SDF isn’t just a superficial endorsement; it’s a shared set of visions to leverage technology for real-world impact where it’s most needed.

    SDF’s latest campaign in collaboration with Idris Elba, “Where Blockchain Meets the Real World,” highlights the technological potential of blockchain and showcases its ongoing, real-world applications.

    Elba, with his extensive humanitarian work, including his role as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and his foundation’s efforts, embodies the principle that technology should, first and foremost, benefit humanity.

    Idris Elba on his partnership with the Stellar Development Foundation

    During this year’s annual edition of the Meridian Conference, an event focused on networking and opportunities for blockchain developers, organized by the Stellar Development Foundation, Cointelegraph representatives had the chance to pick the brains of Idris Elba and SDF executive director and CEO Denelle Dixon.

    Cointelegraph: Mr. Elba, you're known as a filmmaker and actor mostly, but you're also very involved in humanitarian work. What drives your passion in that field?

    Idris Elba: I guess I’ve lived on both sides of the world, right? I grew up where no one really cared about my voice. Didn’t come from much. My parents came from even less in West Africa, and they came to England and wanted to work. Fast forward to this point in life, and I can be the voice of that kid I was back then. They’ve got more talent than me but less accessibility. So how can I voice that? How can I be their beacon? I'm not a governor, I'm not a politician, but I’ve got enough of a platform to be these people’s voice. My focus is and always will be the people. Even more so because, as an actor, you're celebrated by people.

    Idris Elba at the Stellar Development Foundation Meridian Conference 2023. Source: Stellar

    Idris Elba at the Stellar Development Foundation Meridian Conference 2023. Source: Stellar

    CT: Ms. Dixon, Stellar is a well-known brand in the Web3 space, but can you tell our readers a bit more about the Stellar Development Foundation? What is its mission?

    Denelle Dixon: The foundation is really unique because it is a nonprofit entity. So there's nobody making money behind the scenes on this. We really are focused on the mission, which is creating equitable access to the global financial system.

    For now, we think the best way to do that is to leverage new technologies to make it so that we can actually create, change, and impact the world in a very substantial and positive way. We do that by building stuff ourselves, but mostly by relying on builders who can craft ideas and create things to make solutions based on the problems that they're facing.

    So, for me, the one thing growing up and working in Silicon Valley for so long was so much about, like, we can build it for you. And what SDF does is we say: No, you can build it for yourself, and we will provide those open-source tools for you to do it.

    CT: Mr. Elba, why did you choose Stellar? How did you find out their mission overlapping with yours?

    Idris Elba: We’ve been talking for about a year or so. And at the pinnacle, where we met, it was the tail end of the big explosion, the buzz of blockchain and NFTs and the highlights of wealth and the low points of corruption, all of that was happening. Then Stellar came through with this really crystal shining light, which put the focus on solution-based efforts. Blockchain technology can be used in these weird extremes, but actually, there's this really good line that chimed with me and continues to offer so much growth potential for good ideas, you know? Something’s good when it keeps giving you ideas. But having an interest in the technology, I was unsure where to land… Stellar was absolutely like the sort of welcoming hug, saying, come in and check this out. And I was not just told, hey, this is what could be in it for you, but educated from scratch.

    CT: You have extensive on-the-ground experience in Africa. In your opening talk at Meridian 2023, you mentioned that the very basics, like electricity and access to clean water, can sometimes be inaccessible to people in the region. What do you think are the main pitfalls that hinder the community from reaching financial accessibility and inclusivity?

    Idris Elba: There are many factors. And I don't want to over-speculate, but the landmass of Africa as a whole is just a big expanse of land. And for the West, we look at our landmass, and we pack it in like ants. And that over-packed, overstimulated part of the Earth is just going to grow and grow on top of itself.

    In Africa, there are miles between villages. There is no sense of that infrastructure that we're used to in the West. So with that mindset, you know, that I don't need houses and homes and lights, it's just a different perspective. It's not a hindrance. But it means that they just live slightly differently. So electricity to them is not the same as how we use it.

    Global access to electricity

    That said, within these communities, there are still these amazing bright thinkers in every single sector, from entertainment to medicine, coming up with solutions to numerous problems. However, they mostly don't have the articulation tools to do it.

    So it's kind of like okay, well, everyone has a mobile phone. Everyone wants to be able to have a mobile phone, and everyone should have a mobile phone. But it doesn't mean you need to live in a skyscraper to have a mobile phone or run a business. Having connectivity means you can do any sort of business venture within the settings of your own comfort, your traditional village, and be connected to the rest of the world.

    And so, I'm more focused on what the potential could be. Stellar is actually allowing builders to have access to technology-based Lego pieces and building blocks, so they can create whatever they want and need from these pieces.

    CT: Do you have a very vivid personal experience from your time spent there and your humanitarian work that just shows how easily technological advancements can change a person's life?

    Idris Elba: In Kenya, especially around the climate crisis, we visited some farmers who had figured out a way to use Google Maps and a weather system to calculate when rain might come and where there would be rainfall. And just using this mapping service. We use Google Maps to find a coffee shop. And they got used to the geographical nature of this app, and the weather system, which we overlook all the time, to sort of find ways to climate-proof their life and work. It’s this innovative thinking that allows them to be more protective over their food security. It's impressive. We overlook the tools we have in that phone right there, while there are people who can make entire movies on it, or find innovative ways to bring food security to their families.

    CT: Ms. Dixon, what's next for Stellar? What are your top priorities regarding projects, collaborations, and your work together?

    Denelle Dixon: The main project we're working on, and we just announced it’s now on testnet, is the Soroban smart contract platform. It opens up so much opportunity. And it's funny because we didn't have it on the network for years. And so now having it on the network is just going to make it so that builders and creators have access to so much more. Idris was speaking this morning about filmmakers often not being able to get funding. Well, they can do that now. They can get lending through the capabilities the Soroban platform brings.

    [Editor’s note: Soroban is a smart contracts platform that allows developers to create decentralized apps (DApps) on the Stellar blockchain. Smart contracts allow for automating processes such as loan approvals directly on the blockchain if certain requirements are met.]

    Denelle Dixon announcing the Soroban Testnet launch at Meridian 2023. Source: Twitter

    Denelle Dixon announcing the Soroban Testnet launch at Meridian 2023. Source: Twitter

    There's so much opportunity for all these amazing builders to do this on the blockchain easily and to make it so that it's accessible to people who didn't have that before.

    But honestly, for us, what's most important is just really to focus on the bread and butter. It's the foundation that you need to put in play. It's making sure that the builders out there have the tools that they need. It's making sure that we are focused on the work to be able to deliver on our mission.

    And we've done so much work. We've been the blockchain that is focused on utility since its inception. The on and off-ramp and all practical applications that no one else thought about because it was all the hype of rising token prices we’ve managed to bring to the table. Bringing that all together now and having Soroban and more new developers come to the network, it's just a huge opportunity to be able to crack into the wall of financial accessibility globally.

    In wrapping up this interview, when asked to describe their mission in a word or phrase, Elba chose "Interstellar," while Denelle Dixon said it's all about "Empowering humans." Their words are a simple yet powerful reminder of the vast potential and human-centric mission that Stellar embodies, aiming to create a meaningful impact in everyday lives.

    You can learn more about the Stellar Development Foundation here

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