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Stellar Cryptocurrency to Help Poor South African Teenagers
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Bitcoin cheerleaders have maintained, that digital currency technology can help lift the world out of poverty and revolutionized money, all at the same time. A very lofty goal, but how are the poor going to join the cryptocurrency revolution, when most don’t have access to computers and internet? Most of the bitcoin innovation and development is aimed at smartphone applications. In poor African countries, very few people have smartphones, a large majority of the population own mobiles that are equipped with text messaging capabilities.
A South African nonprofit, Stellar Development Foundation, backed by payment processorStripe,  is attempting to give cryptocurrency functionality on a text messaging based mobile platform. The stellar cryptocurrency is based on bitcoin’s blockchain technology, the idea behind stellar, is to form an intermediary between traditional currencies. Stripe will attempt to build a digital wallet functionality that is compatible with the existing mobile social networks that are being used in South Africa. Stellar will allow users to earn mobile airtime credits. In some countries mobile credits are used as a currency.
Stellar will be offered as a plugin to users who already use social networks build on the Vumiplatform. Vumi is a freeware platform developed by the Praekelt Foundation to allow text messaging services to run on mobile phones which do not have data plans. Vumi is utilized by UNICEF and the Gates Foundation to disseminate educational programs in Africa.
Stellar will initially be aimed at educating teenage girls living in poverty about money and savings accounts. Teenagers will be rewarded with airtime credits by sending messages and other activities on the social network. According to Praekelt, the experiments savings account program will initially be launched in South Africa, but there are plans for Indonesia as well.
The Praekelt Foundation hopes that, stellar, someday will become a base platform on which more sophisticated financial application can be deployed. Stellar could one day become the channel through which government aid programs can be more easily implemented. Stellar is currently only used by the Praekelt Foundation, but the hope is that other charitable and nonprofit organizations will see the value and join in.
Digital currency technology is still in its infancy and governments are still grappling with regulatory approaches. Stellar is a great idea with a very noble goal, but its success will be hampered should governments take an aggressive stance towards cryptocurrencies. Kenya’s M-Pesa, a mobile money service was only allowed to proceed after wireless carries received regulatory approval. Whether stellar receives the same treatment remains to be seen.

 Traderman  February 20, 2015

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