SVCF’s Donor Circle Celebrates Africa's Young Tech Entrepreneurs

Donor Circle Meeting
SVCF Donor Circle for Africa meeting, Nov. 2017.

The United Nations estimates that the world population will reach 9.8 billion in 2050, up from 7.6 billion currently, and half of the growth will occur in Africa.[i] This trajectory promises great economic opportunity for the continent – yet challenges persist in so many areas. Especially in rural regions, millions attend schools without high-quality, relevant textbooks, tend farms without access to adequate weather and market information, and are marginalized from their basic and legal rights.

Fortunately, many African entrepreneurs are taking matters into their own hands and finding innovative solutions to these problems.

At our offices in Mountain View, the Donor Circle for Africa at Silicon Valley Community Foundation heard from three of these inspiring entrepreneurs recently – Tonee Ndungu, Alloysisus Attah and Gerald Abila. The Donor Circle for Africa is a collaboration of Bay Area philanthropists focused on learning from social entrepreneurs to determine the best ways to leverage collective resources in Silicon Valley for the benefit of nonprofit groups and entrepreneurs in Africa. The circle meets monthly on the fourth Friday of each month, and we welcome new members to join us for thoughtful conversation and action.

Ndungu, Attah and Abila spoke with us at a learning opportunity and networking event at SVCF on November 13. The conversation was moderated by SVCF donor Noosheen Hashemi, president and co-founder of the HAND Foundation, and co-hosted by the Global Philanthropy Forum and King Baudouin Foundation United States.

From Tonee Ndungu we heard that in Kenya, for every 1 teacher there are 6,000 phones – yet schools struggle to find enough educational materials for their students. But one third of the economy is transacted via mobile money. Ndungusaw an opportunity here, and together with his father (a local school head teacher) he developed Kytabu, an innovative textbook content-leasing app for students. This app leases educational content for tablets and phones via mobile payments, then allow learners to rent a page, chapter or a full book for a time period that works for them. Kytabu – which comes from “kitabu,” the Swahili word for “book” – is making reading materials accessible to 11 million students in Kenya, and the company is working to scale its efforts.

Alloysius Attah
Alloysius Attah of Farmerline (right)

After farming for 15 years in Ghana and personally experiencing the formidable challenges small farmers face in rural villages, Alloysius Attah started Farmerline to fix an information and service gap. His agri-tech startup worked with partners to profile and serve 200,000 farmers with information related to affordable but quality farm inputs, weather forecasts and farming techniques through voice-messaging system. Because many farmers are illiterate, information is provided via voice message and in multiple local languages. Farmers using the platform have reported profit increases of up to 50 percent, and Farmerline is hoping to expand its services to 11 nearby countries. Farmerline is aiming to position itself as the “Amazon for African farmers,”an inclusive marketplace where farmers can access high quality services at affordable prices.

Troubled by people’s lack of access to – or even understanding of to – the law in in his home country of Uganda, Gerald Abila started BarefootLaw, East Africa’s first online legal service. His goal is to providefree legal advice and support to those who need it most. BarefootLaw combines technology (including text messaging, social media, radio and video conferencing) with traditional community-driven methods (such as partnerships, clinics, walk-ins and theatre)to deliver legal information, guidance and support on a mass scale. Through this platform, Abila hopes to make access to justice and the law readily available to 50 million people across Africa by 2030. Abila noted that by empowering the most vulnerable to understand and defend their basic rights, the company contributes to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16, which is to provide access to justice for all.

These three entrepreneurs were the 2016-2017 winners of the King Baudouin African Development Prize, which rewards outstanding contributions to development in Africa, initiated and led by Africans. The prize awarded by the Belgian foundation seeks to draw public attention to the many inspirational stories, including challenges and successes, emerging from the African continent.

All SVCF donors who are interested in issues affecting African countries are invited to get involved in SVCF’s Donor Circle for Africa. For information about participation, please contact Sawako Sonoyama Clarin at