Kwanda gates are open again

Posted by Jermaine

Posted 2 January 2024

Quick Summary

Our village gates are open again. We've made some pretty deep changes, and we want you to be clear on them before deciding whether to rejoin the village or not. We're also hosting a vote a few days from now.

Full letter

On this day four years ago, I was writing up the last lines of code that would launch the Kwanda platform as you've all come to know it. Four years later, I'm doing the same.

When we closed our village gates earlier this year, the question for most people was 'why?'.

Well, here's what happened …

We launched Kwanda in February 2020 as a series of experiments. We knew there was a need for more transparency and accountability in the non-profit sector, but we kept an open mind as to how we'd use the funds we would raise.

We got off to a great start. Kwanda was buzzing on the internet, our membership steadily grew, and we formed a tight-knit community. We held regular video calls with our members and were building collaboratively. We invested capital into various projects: business grants, free therapy, farming, clean water, scholarships, and more.

... Then, months later, George Floyd died, and that summer, protests erupted worldwide. Anger turned into determination, and people sought a place to convert their money into practical action. Given the work we'd done already within Black communities and our level of transparency, we were thrust into the spotlight as the organisation to trust.

Within 72 hours, we went from 200 members to 2000, and while we welcomed and embraced this opportunity to make a more considerable impact ... it put a ton of pressure on our scrappy infrastructure.

Once you hit a specific size, it becomes essential to focus. You need to draw a line in the sand about who you are and what you do, but more important than that - who you are not and what you won't do. We were very resistant to this as we'd only been alive for a few months, and we had many more experiments we were still excited to deploy. We needed more time to be ready to turn Kwanda into an institution. We were the type of non-profit that used Bitcoin to skirt government bans and get cash and medical aid to protestors in Nigeria. We didn't want to lose that energy.

What we pulled off that summer seemed like a giant feat. We stayed scrappy but embraced the scale. We deployed over £100,000 into projects all over the globe. We built clean water wells and sustainable farms, funded disaster relief in the Caribbean, educated girls across Africa, and much more. However, internally, our costs ballooned, and we struggled to maintain all the systems we built to manage the complexity of the multiple experiments we juggled in various regions and on varying timelines.

After two years of holding together, we were indeed burned out and decided to close the operation and rest.

... and, since then?

It's been nearly a year since we decided to close, and since then, we've reflected deeply on the lessons learned and how we should re-emerge. We've learned quite a bit, and I'm glad to say our village gates are officially open again; the experiments are over, and we have set a course.

If you're reading this, you were an ex-villager at Kwanda, and although I'd love for you to rejoin, you must know what Kwanda will look like moving forward before making that commitment.

So here's what you should know:

Narrowing our focus

We fund sustainable infrastructure development and social programmes on the African continent. This will be our focus. If there are low-resource opportunities to provide impact elsewhere, we will embrace them.

Scaleable technology stack

We've invested in building robust technology upfront to withstand scale. As of the time of writing this email, our historic spending on engineering will move to near-zero (a saving of approximately £3,000 per month).

Volunteer-based organisation

We're scrapping payroll, at least until we're well able to support a payroll. We will be a volunteer-based organisation, meaning fewer full-time hours are spent at Kwanda. Still, there will be far less pressure on the organisation and an ability to expand with volunteer roles.

Lightweight experience

Your Kwanda dashboard will allow you to manage your monthly contributions and preferences and cast votes. We've stripped off many superfluous parts of the Kwanda experience that were picking up dust. We will thoughtfully introduce features over time, but we will only assume that these features are a requirement if there is an apparent demand for them.

... We've made these adjustments based on our learnings, conversations with villagers and surveys that revealed surprising insights about why we all came together for many years under Kwanda.

Those insights have filled me with confidence that there is still a role for Kwanda to play in the world. I hope you feel the same. So ... If you want to change the world with me, I ask you to join us once again ... because it takes a village.

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