SDF Blog

What We Learned at Meridian 2020

What an exciting past week it has been at SDF and for the Stellar ecosystem! Meridian 2020 started and ended in the best way possible – affirming our path forward to do good for the future and connect the global financial infrastructure.

When we first began planning Meridian 2020, we landed on the theme “Global Connections to Solve Real World Challenges.” 2020 has been tumultuous, and this past week has shown us how important it is, more than ever, to reach across borders and connect with one another. Whether the discussion took place on stream or chat, the exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives has been invaluable.

Here are some of our favorite highlights of the week:

Innovation keeps our eyes open wide toward the future

Day 1 of the conference began with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, giving opening remarks and taking our questions. The computer scientist touched upon his own motivations behind creating the web, wanting to realize “the idea of connecting people everywhere in the world — the sharing of ideas.”

However, the web hasn’t panned out the way he initially envisioned. The “sharing of ideas” on the Web has become increasingly divisive, and individuals are getting less and less use out of their own data.

“Currently, the utility you get from your own data is limited. The value a social networking silo gets from your data is far greater. That’s not fair,” Berners-Lee said.

His sights are now set on his latest open-source project, Solid, which allows people to store their data securely in decentralized data stores called Pods. By using Pods, users can take back agency over their data so that their data is working for them.

Berners-Lee’s desire to see beneficent apps and systems that “fix the world right-side up” echoed throughout the rest of Day 1’s sessions. Blockchain and fintech are rapidly improving in terms of technical capabilities, with developers and businesses focusing on how not to just better the user experience but communities as a whole. Our speakers tackled topics on:

  • What qualities are seen in successful entrepreneurs time and time again
  • How stablecoins and CBDCs can be used to advance financial inclusion through design
  • How tokenization on Stellar can democratize securities and protect investors at the same time

We also shared what improvements are being made to the Stellar network to maintain its decentralized, open-source, and universal nature while fostering sustainable use cases. SDF’s in-house dollar-savings app Vibrant is one such example of a use case and is prepared to emerge from beta soon.

Inclusion means thinking beyond your circle

What a huge honor it was to have Africa’s first elected female head of state speak at Meridian 2020! On Day 2, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf engaged us with her experiences leading Liberia and her insights on how inclusion and representation at both the individual and systemic level can stimulate economic growth. More importantly, President Sirleaf spoke to the harms that entire regions experience if they cannot receive what is appropriate for what they give.

These sorts of circumstances often lead to a nation’s greatest resource — talent — departing as well, whether it be for education, financial reasons, or just a life elsewhere. But if the talent could return and invest back in their home countries, they can help ensure that their communities are being properly respected and heard — a step closer to true global inclusion.

In her own inspiring session, Julie Hanna, Executive Board Chair of Kiva, explored how circumstances have led to where she is now. Having immigrated to the United States as a refugee when she was a child, Hanna ended up working in early-days Silicon Valley where she saw the impact technology could have on people – and how we often build tools for those within our immediate vicinity, and never beyond.

Her work at Kiva, a P2P micro-lending and crowdfunding pioneer, is just one example of what can happen when talent in underserved areas finally receive the capital and resources they need to act upon their ideas.

Attendees also got to listen in on sessions that explored:

  • How new business models are going to be the innovation that new entrants need to sustain themselves in the remittance market
  • How seamless cross-border fiat payments are made possible even if the currency is not globally traded
  • The brief history of anchor interoperability and anchor basics on Stellar
  • Why stigma still exists around blockchain and cryptocurrency

The day ended with a panel on driving diversity in fintech, where all speakers agreed on Dr. Anino Emuwa’s point — “We live in a world of innovation and also live in a world of big, complex challenges. This is a knowledge generation. Those challenges and those solutions that we need can only happen when we have all the talent available to us.”

Given how crucial diversity and inclusion are in a business and social context, leaders are thinking more critically on how to represent the voices of their employees and users. Yet, despite all the headway we have made in inclusion, there is still much progress to be made by way of inclusion.

Policy & governance encourages global collaboration

Day 3 of Meridian 2020 focused on what’s required to enable cooperation on an international scale. Jim Yong Kim, Vice Chairman and Partner at Global Infrastructure Partners, took the stage to share his experiences and insights on what is required of international institutions to enact solutions both top-down and bottom-up.

As the former President of the World Bank Group, Kim tackled challenges with no easy answers. For instance, why should developing countries live with intermittent energy and lack of climate-resilient resources to mitigate carbon emissions, when the vast majority is produced by wealthier countries? While an agreement was reached on that matter, Kim stressed “[t]he point here is you’ve got to carefully pick your targets when trying to make changes on the global level around issues of global governance and regulations. You’ve got to pick the right targets, get to the right meetings, and put pressure on the right way.”

Despite all the challenges multilateral organizations are facing, Kim ended on a hopeful note. He emphasized that the world opening up allows people to aspire in ways that were never possible before. As a boy growing up in South Korea, Kim never imagined he would become President of the World Bank Group — until he did.

Stela Mocan, the Lead of the World Bank Group Technology & Innovation Lab, also weighed in on how the world can open up to better serve people, this time via open source technology and digital public goods. It’s important “to keep learning from each other” and “to build on each other’s efforts” in order to collaborate, experiment, and work more efficiently using a new technology.

Other sessions on Day 3 focused on:

  • The value global organizations see in open source technology — and where greater collaboration is needed to operationalize it
  • The ways Compliance-as-a-Service empowers businesses, drives towards mainstream adoption, and promotes inclusion
  • How SEP-30 works and how key management defines the user experience of a product.
  • Where we can go with blockchain by creating new crypto-banking infrastructure for lending and high-yield assets

Growing global networks for maximum impact

The dream of building a network is to eventually achieve network effects. We turned to one of the most renowned network-builders of our time — Reid Hoffman, Co-founder of LinkedIn and Partner at Greylock — for advice on how to make network effects stick.

During his time at PayPal, Hoffman described the initial days as just trying to get someone to participate in the network, observing that “[t]o some degree, it almost led to the modern-era notion of airdrops – it’s like, ‘Hey, if I bring you onto the system, you get $10, and I get $10!’” But once people started joining the PayPal network and more liquidity was built, the ability to send and receive payments empowered participants to become their own merchants rather than having to rely on another merchant bank.

What’s a piece of advice he gives to entrepreneurs? “Go around and ask everyone you know, everyone who’s smart, to give you critical feedback. What really helps you is to hear why they think your idea won’t work” – advice he took himself when he started building LinkedIn, one of the world’s biggest social media networks today.

So what would the world look like if blockchain and crypto hit network effects and reach mass adoption? In a session on driving crypto adoption, Chief Strategy Officer of Coinshares Meltem Demirors gave her take below.

Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle, chimed in as well, noting that “[t]hings are mainstream in terms of technology when they disappear, when they’re invisible to people.” The user experience on blockchain will become so seamless that people will be able to benefit and improve their lives without needing to be tech savvy.

Here’s what else was discussed on our final day of sessions:

  • What the world will look like once crypto has been adopted
  • How to launch an exchange and build meaningful liquidity on blockchain
  • How SDF is working on adding first class support assets that meet compliance and regulations

And that’s a wrap!

If you attended the conference, we'd love to hear about your experience. If you have a moment, please take the post-Meridian 2020 attendee survey. Your feedback will help us make the next Meridian and future events better than ever!

Did you miss a session? Don't worry, you can still log in and watch them all on demand — just head to the Meridian 2020 attendee dashboard and go to "Agenda" on the side navigation menu. Click "Watch Now" on the session you want to view to access the video.

From all of us here at the Stellar Development Foundation — thank you for helping make Meridian 2020 a success!

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