Innovation. Cultural awareness. Appropriate technology. Co-creation. Bottom of the Pyramid. Value creation. These buzzwords are used daily in the GSSE, where we are challenged to think outside the box when considering how to “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
When conducting research, I often times find myself forming hypotheses on issues far greater than I feel qualified for. Subsequently, we are encouraged to present as if we were pitching to investors. This is, after all, a business program. One thing that we haven’t been taught yet, is how to actually get in the room with an investor. Landing a meeting with an angel investor or venture capitalist feels like this unrealistic dragon that I, as an infant entrepreneur, may never conquer. As a co-founder of Jamii Funding, the closest my teammates and I have gotten to such an opportunity was submitting our application for Shark Tank. This financial obstacle is shared among aspiring entrepreneurs around the world. So many bright ideas drown because they fail to generate seed funding. It’s not their fault, but VCs, angels, and banks fund only 10% of startups in Kenya, where we are piloting this summer. While many view this as a problem, GSSE teaches us that this is an opportunity. So, why can’t the other nine out of ten startups benefit from alternative finance mechanisms, such as crowdfunding? #blueocean
While donations, fundraising, and charities have been around for centuries, the modern version of crowdfunding is a relatively new concept, and close to unheard of in Eastern Africa, as our research in Kenya and Tanzania has suggested. While Kickstarter is only five years old, this website has raised over $1 billion in contributions towards incredibly diverse projects including technology, product design, food, and the arts in North America and Europe.
The point is this: crowdfunding works. As of yet, no crowdfunding platform has shown that they can reach the proper scale to maximize impact on the African continent. Another common GSSE lesson: don’t reinvent the wheel.
At Jamii Funding, our mission is to support entrepreneurs who are creating social assets to be shared within their communities.
This summer, we have spent the past month visiting a variety of entrepreneurs, while vetting their businesses and projects. At the Kenyan Federation for Alternative Trade, over 100 artisan groups are trained to create new products and grow their businesses. At the Basecamp Foundation, the women of the Maasai, a historically masculine-dominant tribe, are empowered to generate income through education and communal banking. At the SEED Junior Academy in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world, people are building a school for children living there. While their impact is immeasurable, these entrepreneurs don’t always qualify for traditional loans, investment, and finance. We have found no shortage of everyday people, who are making profound impact within their communities. By utilizing local knowledge and skill sets, we believe we have the opportunity to empower hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses in Eastern Africa, by helping fund projects that will help them maximize their impact.
As an industry, crowdfunding is not old enough to drive. By the time this industry reaches maturity, there will not be a corner of the world where crowdfunding is not creating impact. At Jamii Funding we are among early entrants into the African market. Current trends suggest that someone will become “Africa’s Kickstarter.” We have the audacity to think that we might have a chance!