What is regenerative finance (ReFi) and how can it impact NFTs and Web3?

On Sept. 30, NFT Steez, a bi-weekly Twitter Spaces hosted by Alyssa Expósito and Ray Salmond, met with Mashiat Mutmainnah to discuss how regenerative finance (ReFi) can provide more accessibility and inclusivity to blockchain technology. As a “mission-driven movement,” Mutmainnah explains that ReFi enables users to redefine their relationship with the current financial system and their relationship with finance and wealth. Currently, in many countries, millions of people lack basic, equitable access to the financial services that would allow them to meet their daily needs. What if there were newer models that could sustainably alleviate this? According to Mutmainnah, ReFi can redefine what money means and how it’s used. What is the impact of ReFi? Mutmainnah emphasized that ReFi brings awareness to how the present financial systems operate in an “extractive” and “exploitative” manner. She also drew a comparison to fast fashion by explaining that what enables a user to purchase a shirt for $5 comes at the expense of a child laborer. These “extractive” systems are no longer working for people since a core tenet of ReFi is equitable accessibility and distribution. Mutmainnah explained that often ReFi is seen as synonymous to climate, and while that is a pillar, ReFi has enabled “tangible and accessible use-cases.” Users can “plugin” and participate in models and systems that can increase their overall prosperity and that of the ecosystem. Therefore, ReFi can be considered a way of triangulating elements of sustainability via “stabilizing” the climate and “biodiversity,” while also keeping equitable access within global communities. This has the potential to create new financial models and systems that can increase prosperity. As Mutmainnah puts it:”ReFi is helping folks change the way they relate to money.” Related: NFT Steez and Lukso co-founder explore the implications of digital self-sovereignty in Web3Can Web3 and NFTs be used for social and public good?When asked whether NFTs could be used for social and public good, Mutmainnah referenced a pilot program that involved a “loyalty NFT rewards program.” Akin to Starbucks’ latest NFT loyalty program, Mutmainnah explained how a similar scheme could yield positive and sustainable benefits.For example, imagine purchasing an NFT that can grant the holder one free coffee for 10 days. In these models, NFTs can yield more economically feasible benefits than buying the item while also bringing more awareness to the good or service.Contrary to the hype and speculation circulating NFTs in 2021, more creators and platforms are expanding and exploring practical use cases from peer-to-peer and peer-to-business initiatives. However, that does not mean adoption comes with ease. According to Mutmainnah, beyond NFTs, there are many “infrastructure pieces” to explore, including building out more dynamic products that enable this. Mutmainnah explained that it’s a dance of sorts between “making a product frictionless” for seamless adoption and empowering the user to be an “advanced” user that takes full “ownership of their assets.”To hear more from the conversation, tune in and listen to the full episode of NFT Steez and make sure to mark your calendar for the next episode on Oct. 7 at 12 pm EST. The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.

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Blockchain interoperability goes beyond moving data from point A to B — Axelar CEO Sergey Gorbunov

Cross-chain communication between blockchains is more than just moving data from point A to B, but how it can connect applications and users for enhanced experiences and fewer gas fees in Web3, outlined Sergey Gorbunov, Axelar Network co-founder and CEO, speaking to Cointelegraph’s business editor Sam Bourgi on Sept. 28 at Converge22 in San Francisco. As the crypto industry has developed over the past few years, blockchain interoperability has seen a surge in demand, attracting venture capital and welcoming players, such as Axelar, which reached unicorn status in February. According to Gorbunov, the company, founded in 2020, started with a premise that cross-chain and multichain capabilities would come to define the crypto space. “The idea is not just to talk about how to connect A to B, but how to connect many to many, right? How to connect everybody with everyone else. And that includes applications and includes users,” he explained. Interoperability is a buzzword in the crypto industry that refers to the ability of many blockchains to communicate, share digital assets and data, and work together, thereby sharing economic activity. As an infrastructure, interoperability is crucial for broader adoption of the technology, as Gorbunov explained:”We need an ability for the user to execute one call on one chain, and that transaction actually taking place on other chains without them having to go and get a native token of that chain, pay gas, execute themselves and move it back and forth.”Axelar’s CEO highlighted that, beyond better experiences for users, interoperability also means higher economic outcomes, as interoperable chains can have unified liquidity and thus spend less on gas fees for transactions. “Our Web2 experience is a lot simpler, and we have to get to the same level in Web3 with simpler experiences, and that is what cross-chain enables us to do, to help build those simple experiences.”Related: Circle Product VP: USDC chain expansion part of ‘multichain’ visionAt Converge22, Axelar was announced as one of the networks set to integrate with Circle, the financial technology company behind the USD Coin (USDC) and Euro Coin (EUROC). Circle is launching a new cross-chain transfer protocol to help developers build frictionless experiences for sending and transacting USDC natively across blockchains. Earlier this week, Axelar disclosed a partnership with Mysten Labs, the infrastructure company behind the Sui blockchain, to deliver cross-chain communication for developers through General Message Passing and advance the prospect of a so-called “super DApp.”Writer and editor Sam Bourgi contributed to this story.

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Blockchain could help anonymously document war crimes

Human rights investigators appointed by the United Nations (UN) have confirmed war crimes have been committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. A report developed by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine was created in March 2022 to provide a framework for UN human rights investigators to report war crimes in the region. Erik Møse, chair for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, stated in the UN’s article that “investigators visited 27 towns and settlements and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses.” Møse also noted that “sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as remnants of weapons,” were inspected. While the report developed by the commission has allowed UN investigators to document war crimes in Ukraine, tools and protocols are still needed to enable individuals to accurately and securely report these acts. Additionally, the need to preserve war crime evidence has become critical as the War in Ukraine enters its seventh month. Given these challenges, industry experts believe that blockchain technology has the potential to solve many of the issues faced by individuals and organizations documenting war crimes. For example, Jaya Klara Brekke, chief strategy officer at Nym — a platform powered by the Cosmos blockchain that protects the privacy of various applications — told Cointelegraph that Nym is developing a tool known as AnonDrop that will allow users to securely and anonymously upload data. She said:“The intention is for AnonDrop to become a tool that democratizes the gathering of evidence that can be used to pursue human rights cases. In the current climate in Ukraine, this would be particularly important for the purpose of securely documenting and sharing evidence of war crimes anonymously.”“The core technology of Nym is a mixnet, which takes data from ordinary users and mixes it together using encryption to make everything look identical. It protects against people watching the network, along with metadata surveillance and IP tracing,” she elaborated. While Nym provides an anonymity layer to allow users to transmit data without revealing who they are, information then gets stored on the decentralized storage network, Filecoin. Will Scott, a software engineer at Protocol Labs — a company working with Filecoin on its decentralized storage solution — told Cointelegraph that some of humanity’s most important information is stored on Filecoin to ensure that data remains publicly available. Recent: Are decentralized digital identities the future or just a niche use case?A blockchain network combined with decentralized storage could be a critical tool for documenting war crimes since it allows individuals in regions like Ukraine to anonymously report, share and retain data. A Wall Street Journal article published in May 2022 stated that “Prosecutors say that, with Russian forces having occupied so much of the country, it is impossible to process all of the evidence of every potential war crime.” Moreover, Ahmed Ghappour, Nym general counsel and associate professor of law at Boston University, told Cointelegraph that it’s becoming critical for witnesses of human rights violations to come forward without fear of retaliation. He said: “In Ukraine, where witnesses of war crimes are facing a technologically sophisticated adversary, network level anonymity is the only way to guarantee the safety and security needed to provide evidence to prosecute perpetrators.” A work in progressAlthough the potential behind AnonDrop is evident, Klara Brekke noted that the solution is still in its early development stages. “We took part in the Kyiv Tech Summit Hackathon this year hoping to find individuals who could help us extend AnonDrop’s functionality. For instance, AnonDrop’s user interface is not fully up yet and we still need to find a way to verify the authenticity of images uploaded to the network,” she explained. Ghappour elaborated that verification is the next critical requirement for making sure evidence uploaded to the Nym network can be used in court. “I think one of Russia’s greatest strengths in this war is the region’s ability to deny that any evidence is valid. Russia’s use of deepfakes and misinformation is another strength. We need to guard against these attacks.” In order to combat this, Ghappour mentioned that image providence features must be implemented within AnonDrop to enable easy verification when documents are examined in a court of law. Even though such processes for image verification currently exist through tools like SecureDrop — a solution that allows individuals to upload photos anonymously for media outlets to use — Ghappour believes that these are limited to siloed organizations. “We want to take image verification a step further by democratizing the process, ensuring this feature is available to users rather than just media outlets.” Once image providence is implemented, verifying war crimes could become easier for court officials. Brittany Kaiser, a human rights legal expert, told Cointelegraph that she believes such a tool could help advance the human rights documentation space, where often individuals feel too at risk to submit findings themselves. “Through images alone, it is possible to verify typical indicators of atrocity crime, including, but not limited to, mass graves, torture marks, binding of hands, executions and other violations of international human rights law that amount to war crimes or other atrocity classifications,” she remarked. Given the potential for this use case, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that AnonDrop isn’t the only blockchain application focused on the preservation and verification of war crimes. Starling Labs — a Stanford-based research lab focused on data integrity using cryptography and decentralized web protocols — is also using blockchain technology to report war crimes. However, verifying the integrity of data remains the biggest challenge for both Nym and Starling Labs, even with image providence in place. For instance, Scott pointed out that progress must be made in order to make sure images are legitimate and that verification works well. He further remarked that access to the internet in various regions of Ukraine is censored: “There are distribution questions that are important to consider here.” Recent: Vietnam’s crypto adoption: Factors driving growth in Southeast AsiaChallenges aside, it’s notable that organizations responsible for prosecuting war crimes are considering using technology to help advance traditional processes. For example, The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague noted in its strategic plan for 2016 to 2018 that it could “support the identification, collection and presentation of evidence through technology.” The report further noted that the ICC is interested in developing partnerships with non-governmental organizations and academic institutions to facilitate the use of technological advancements for war crime documentation. In the meantime, Ghappour emphasized that Nym will continue to push forward with enabling AnonDrop to be used in regions like Ukraine: “Russia has prolonged wars in the past, so we need to progress with this project no matter what.”

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45% of ETH validators now complying with US sanctions — Labrys CEO

According to the CEO of blockchain development agency Labrys, Lachan Feeney, approximately 45% of all Ethereum blocks currently being validated run MEV-boost relay flashbots and comply with United States sanctions.Speaking to Cointelegraph in an interview on Sept. 30, Feeney noted that while reports have stated that 25% of all blocks validated since the Merge complies with United States sanctions, this is a lagging indicator and the current number is likely to be closer to one out of every two blocks.Feeney pointed out that MEV-Boost relays are regulated businesses, often U.S.-based, and are “censoring certain transactions in the blocks that they build, particularly transactions from Tornado Cash.” The CEO also pointed out validators have a financial incentive to use MEV-Boost relays, which would drive an uptick in their usage, noting:“The issue, is that from the validators perspective, these guys are paying them to sort of do this. So if you want to make more money, you just turn this feature on and as a validator, you sort of boost your yield.”MEV-Boost relays are centralized entities dedicated to efficient Maximal Extractable Value (MEV) extraction. With Flashbots being the most popular, MEV-Boost relays effectively allow validators to outsource block production and sell the right to build a block to the highest bidder.Labrys released an MEV Watch tool on Sept. 28, which can inform validators about which MEV-Boost relays comply with Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions. Referring to the motivation behind the tool, Feeney said:“We’re just trying to raise some awareness for those who are unaware that by running this software, they are potentially contributing to censorship of the network.”Feeney noted a worst-case situation often referred to as hard censorship, where “nodes would be forced by regulation to basically discard any blocks with any of these transactions in them.”“That would mean no matter how long you waited, no matter how much you paid, you would never get to a point where those sanctioned transactions would get included in the blockchain,” he explained.He also pointed out that even in the event of soft censorship, where sanctioned transactions would eventually be validated, it could take hours and require a high priority fee, resulting in a sub-par user experience.Related: MEV bot earns $1M but loses everything to a hacker an hour laterThese findings are reinforced by Ethereum researcher Toni Wahrstätter, who published research on Sept. 28 suggesting that of the 19,436 blocks verified by the Flashbots Mev-Boost Relay, none included a Tornado cash transaction.How many blocks from different MEV Boost Relays contain Tornado Cash transactions. Source: Toni Wahrstätter.Censorship fears were prevalent before The Merge. Speaking to Cointelegraph, the lead investigator for crypto compliance and forensic firm Merkle Science, Coby Moran, suggested the prohibitive cost of becoming a validator could result in the consolidation of validator nodes to the bigger crypto firms — who are much more susceptible to being influenced by government sanctions.

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