Celo Co-Founder Rene Reinsberg: ReFi Regenerates People as Individuals with Unique Talents

As Celo—a Proof-of-Stake protocol that aims to facilitate a global payments infrastructure by leveraging phone numbers—approaches the three-year anniversary of its mainnet launch, Crypto Events sat down with the Celo Foundation president Rene Reinsberg to discuss the project’s progress and the areas it aims to address in the future.

March 15, 2023 // CryptoEvents

Will you share some background about yourself and what brought you to crypto space?

My co-founders and I had previously worked on a company that spun out of MIT’s linked data / semantic web (the original web 3.0!) group with a deep appreciation for technologies that level the playing field and put power back in the hands of communities. In our case that was all around helping small businesses manage their online data.

The company grew quickly and was acquired by GoDaddy and a few years later, in 2017, when we got deep into Ethereum and smart contracts, we saw parallels, here applied to value instead of data, and realized that this innovation could bring the possibility to reinvent how the financial system works.

It felt like something that would be able to lead to massive improvements in terms of financial inclusion and bringing money more in sync with the communities it serves – what was missing back then was a way to make this technology work in the real world, for example on simple smartphones. That’s how we started working on what has become Celo. A lot of the ideas in our initial white paper have since been implemented by the community.


What role do cryptocurrencies play in today’s world and what is Celo’s value proposition in this context?

Celo is built for real-world solutions and use cases, providing the technological primitives and building blocks to create a more inclusive digital economy. That’s why Celo’s mission is to create the conditions for prosperity––for everyone. As a leading L1 with over 230M transactions, our ecosystem is truly global, with programmable, digital assets that provide greater financial access, especially for un- and under-banked communities.

What are these use cases? Easy-to-use payments which flow through the platform daily sent directly to mobile numbers; Mento assets that track the US Dollar, Euro, and Brazilian Real, making stable-value transfers simple; or community currencies like the Kolektivo Guilder in Curaçao that helps to improve societal wellbeing.

Projects also deliver UBI and social dividends, including ImpactMarket, which has disbursed $3.3M to 536,000 people across 26 emerging economies, and GoodDollar, which has 50,000 daily users claiming digital UBI.


As we know, Celo is also spearheading the regenerative finance (ReFi) movement. Will you explain the idea behind ReFi and why is it important for Web3 at all?

Derived from regenerative economics, ReFi is a financial system that rewards positive externalities and regenerates people as individuals with unique talents. It enables communities to prosper and thrive and promotes a healthy planet. For example, by using digital currency, such as natural capital-backed assets, ReFi can ascribe value to and promote habitat restoration or biological diversity. The more assets there are in circulation, the greater the value and incentives created for more pristine habitats and increased biodiversity.

Furthermore, mass-coordination problems, like the climate crisis or systemic poverty, require mass-coordination tools. Projects building at the intersection of ReFi and web3 are accelerating change and impact at scale––which corporates and governments cannot achieve alone.


What are Celo’s biggest achievements since the launch in 2020 and what are the next major milestones targeted by the project?

There have been many achievements, whether being the first carbon-negative, proof-of-stake, EVM-compatible blockchain to offer real-world use cases for everyday users around the world, being first to onboard corporates like Deutsche Telekom to participate as network validators, or being at the heart of web3’s regenerative finance (ReFi) movement. Over 1,000 projects in 150+ countries have joined Celo’s ecosystem since mainnet launched on Earth Day 2020.

This latter point, seeing mission-driven builders and founders around the world adopt and promote awareness for regenerative principles––as evidenced by the incredible outpouring of support we saw from the community in ETH Denver––means that we’re all building a better, more just financial system together.

Additionally, we’ve reached a number of technical milestones, including a focus on mobile, which can help bring financial inclusion and tools to the 6.6+ billion smartphone users worldwide.

This includes a consensus protocol and light client that uses cutting-edge cryptography techniques (zk-SNARKS) to help users sync with the P2P network with only a few kilobytes of data, mapping encrypted phone numbers to wallet addresses (so users can send crypto assets to friends and family in their contact lists), the ability to pay for gas with multiple forms of stable local assets (so there are no friction points or awkwardly getting stuck when transferring funds), or accessing our ecosystem of dapps, like Valora, a popular, non-custodial wallet, via low-powered smartphone devices.

As we look towards celebrating our three-year anniversary this Earth Day, April 22, we’ve also launched an updated roadmap with Celo 2.0––five years since Celo’s initial whitepaper, this look at the vision for the future of the community, includes: (1) further commitment to Ethereum, (2) rollup-driven horizontal scalability, (3) making Celo the fastest EVM-compatible Layer 1, (4) improved tokenomics, and (5) developer tooling.


Speaking of the broader crypto space, what are the main hurdles the industry needs to overcome to see more adoption?

Mainstream adoption of blockchain technology will take time and effort. One of the primary hurdles we see is the need for quality on- and off-ramps so users can seamlessly transition between crypto and traditional finance. This is why the Celo Foundation launched our Connect the World initiative (with off-ramping currently available in 49+ countries) last year, alongside FiatConnect, an open source API specification for easy integration by payment providers, which currently enables off-ramping in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Philippines, and India.

Rene Reinsberg is the keynote speaker at Blockchain Africa Conference, Africa’s leading blockchain and cryptocurrency event, which returns on March 16 as both in-person and online experience.