They say it takes a village to raise a child. But how does anyone go about raising a village?
Raise the Village is an iPhone application that allows players to develop a village by buying items such as food, clean water and medicine. However, this app was created with a philanthropic twist: every item purchased virtually in the game is translated to a tangible product that is delivered to Kapir Atiira, a village in Uganda.
Players can download the app for free. The players’ dollars are converted to the game currency, florin, which can be used to buy items within the game.
All items are purchased from Uganda in order to support the country’s economy.
“We didn’t want to buy from anywhere else,” intern Ken Nguyen said, “because then the money won’t circulate in their economy.”
Co-founders Joey Sasvari and Cameron MacMillan, both graduates of the UF Masters of Entrepreneurship program, developed the app. Dr. Kristin Joos’s Social Entrepreneurship class inspired them to create a company that integrated charity with traditional work.
After graduation, Sasvari noted the craze of buying intangible products made possible through Facebook games and iPhone apps. Inspired to create “something bigger than ourselves,” he contacted MacMillan. Sasvari’s original idea was more of an individual game and resembled the Tamagotchi personal pet concept. However, with MacMillan, they decided to create a more communal game along the lines of Farmville.
The final step was figuring out where to help. Sasvari contacted Biko Evarist, a classmate from the Social Entrepreneurship class and fellow graduate of the Entrepreneurship Program. Biko was the first person from his village in Africa to attend college. He had moved back to Uganda after graduation and was doing philanthropic work there.
After touring two villages in March of 2010, the team selected Kapir Atiira. The village was exactly what Sasvari and MacMillan were looking for. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a religious military group based in Uganda, had ravaged the town and led to the collapse of their livestock economy.
Raise the Village aims to turn Kapir Atiira into a self-sustainable village. Ultimately, all the players – and villagers – will “win” when a school, water wells, an agricultural program, and a hospital are built and the village can support its self. Once Kapir Atiira is thriving, they will choose another village to partner with.
Currently, Raise the Village is revving up for version 2.0. The app, which was launched four months ago, has not put a heavy emphasis on self-promotion yet. However, with the arrival of 2.0, the team is planning on an advertising push that they hope will launch the app into the top charts.
Currently, Raise the Village has approximately 1,000 downloads a day; after the publicity the company is aiming for 50,000 downloads a day.
Sasvari currently maintains multiple accounts on the upgraded version of the game in order to see it in action.
During the reboot, the company added eight interns to the original team. Nguyen, a fifth year student in the Business and Entrepreneurship program, works on the economy of the game.
“If I was to give myself a title, I’d call myself Optimization Master,” Nguyen said.
Raise the Village is only the beginning. It is the first project of New Charity Era, their overarching Low Profit Limited Liability (L3C) company. Sasvari hopes that L3C will become the model for all businesses.
“We want to usher in a new era for giving that is sustainable,” Sasvari said.
L3C companies are distinctly different from nonprofits because they allow the company to expand and remain sustainable. The primary goal of any L3C company must be to further a social cause.
Since this model is still avant-garde, New Charity Era is registered as a Vermont company. Florida does not issue L3C business licenses.
Any challenges become trivial when they remember their cause. Thus far, none of the developers have taken a single penny for themselves. One hundred percent of the profits from the game have gone directly towards buying items and making deliveries.
Uplifting stories from the monthly deliveries make the work worthwhile.
“The jubilance I hear they have on delivery day makes it easy to work 14 hour days,” Sasvari said.
After a villager died, those attending the funeral wore Raise the Village t-shirts so that the charity would be present in spirit.
New Charity Era is careful to ensure that the entire experience is sustainable. Instead of turning the village into a charity case, villagers are a part of the process. By giving them responsibilities, such as tracking the shipments, the project avoids any condescending aftertaste. The company has created community leaders within the village.
“They have a part in helping themselves out,” Sasvari said.