Dear NMKR community! We are delighted to get a chance to interview our new guest, Co-founder & CTO Phil Lewis of Empowa.
Empowa is the key to unlocking affordable and greener homes for more people in Africa. With decentralized financing, they can finally afford what many others take for granted - a home of their own in an African nation. We hope you enjoy hearing about their story. This is RealFi in action!
NMKR: What inspired you to start developing Empowa? Please tell us what makes it so special.
Phil: Having an established career building technology solutions for social impact sectors, I was keen to find ways to use the capabilities being offered by blockchain; and particularly Cardano in which I had already invested significant time; to continue this goal.
When Glen introduced me to the challenge of finding ways to reduce the cost of capital in emerging economies, it struck the right cords. Glen had experience in the affordable housing space, but traditional financial systems were unable to make it attractive to investors, so interest rates remained high. This prevented any meaningful progress, which has resulted in the majority of people on the African continent not being able to access safe and reliable property, a cornerstone for personal wealth creation in developed countries. Perpetuating the cycle.
Empowa was born from the recent emergence of several important blockchain initiatives, all needed to address this challenge.
1. Cardano is an important step in the journey of trust for blockchain. By following a scientific and formal methods approach, organisations are now able to trust the technology to safely manage large funds of money. Something earlier generations of blockchains have been unable to provide.
2. Decentralised Finance (DeFi) has demonstrated that capital can be raised and distributed without the need for centralised entities. While DeFi’s technology has been proven in several blockchain ecosystems, Empowa (along with other Cardano projects) are looking to extend this to a real world application. #RealFi
3. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) have demonstrated their ability to realise value in a digital asset. By leveraging different forms of NFT value, Empowa can offer collectors a way to offset the perceived risk of investing in African housing, and allow the cost of financing to become affordable to those who need it. Empowa’s NFTs also function as a fractional representation of the funding provided, so like with any blockchain tradable token, collectors are not bound to the long term commitments that are usually associated with property finance.
NMKR: What are the major challenges you're facing right now? We would like to know about your team's plans to overcome them.
Phil: At Empowa we are aiming to build an ecosystem of capabilities never before attempted. This is challenging, as unlike many other blockchain projects, there are no examples to use as a guide or to iterate on.
This makes the Empowa project a true journey of exploration. We know that we will need to test and learn from different approaches, and that the end goal of scaling to meet the (current) backlog of 50 million homes, could be decades away.
This not only makes communicating our solution difficult; as it is often changing; but also requires us to strike a balance between the expectations of our crypto and non-crypto contributors.
We have therefore asked people to join our journey, which has allowed us to build a community that appreciates there will be challenges along the way. We know that our core team will not have all the answers, so we have already established a culture of listening to our community, by collecting feedback after each milestone and allowing it to inform our future direction.
NMKR: What are you doing to get people to use or invest in your project? Please share some thoughts about your growth strategy.
Phil: There are two types of investors, with overlapping interests in the Empowa ecosystem:
Institutional investors are interested in the potential for risk mitigation offered by Empowa (compared to traditional investment in Africa) through the smoothing effect of the Empowa Token (EMP), as a representation of the value of all property development projects across multiple countries. Combining this with the attribution of measurable impact (especially aligned to the UN SDGs) to NFTs, makes Empowa an attractive option for institutions looking for socially conscious investments.
Retail investors, while also interested in the impact attributed to NFTs, are also drawn to other value made available through our NFTs, such as their collectability, artistic elements and utility within or external to the Empowa ecosystem.
We are therefore always looking for partnerships with projects that can offer additional value (blockchain based or otherwise), with our longer term approach to incentivise curator roles, to facilitate the connection between housing developer projects and value creators.
NMKR: What do you think about NMKR? Tell us what we can do for you in the long run so we both win!
Phil: We have been using NMKR since our very first NFT release in October 2021 to our Founding Community. These FCNFTs have allowed us to reward those that were early supporters of our project with ongoing benefits.
I have been impressed with how the NMKR platform has evolved since then. The easy to use yet flexible integration options available, allows projects to focus on the core value they want to offer in their NFTs, without needing to worry about the distribution mechanism.
As a RealFi project we are excited to start exploring the NMKR Pay feature that allows NFTs to be purchased using credit cards, as this will open our project to a broader market of people interested in supporting impact projects. We would also be interested in a feature to support the use of other Cardano Native Tokens as payment.
NMKR: What's your vision for the future of blockchain/decentralised technologies like Cardano? Please tell us what you're doing to make that future a reality.
Phil: I have a personal interest in identity systems (having worked for over a decade, implementing identity and access management systems) and how they can contribute to governance solutions for communities, organisations (including DAOs) and even society. I am therefore excited for the potential that decentralised identity solutions (such as DIDs and Verifiable Credentials) can offer, including the role they will play in the Empowa ecosystem.
People have always tried to predict the future by extrapolating from their current perspective. History has taught us that these predictions are usually wrong and that technology of the future is usually more wondrous than we can imagine. It is this unknown, the inability to see over the event horizon, that excites me the most about working with and contributing to technology solutions for humanity. I am optimistic that, despite our recent troubled times, our global community will come to leverage the new tools of blockchain and its built in inclusiveness, to eventually give everyone a voice and the freedom offered by decentralised technology.