Posted on May 20, 2017
‘Onja’ as an organisation is committed to unlocking opportunity to the world’s poor on an unprecedented scale.  Onja is a social enterprise empowering gifted students to code their way out of poverty – Highly intelligent teenagers from extremely poor communities learn to code, increase their earning power by a factor of 25, and later pay forward education...
 
Ben Lucas is the Founder of Onja and joined St Johns Rotary recently.  He spoke of his vision and the club also became a supporter of this and is exploring whether a Rotary Foundation Global Grant is possible.  The following is a copy of two recent emails that provide the club with an update:
 
[First email]
 
On Tue, Apr 4, 2017 at 2:54 AM, Sam Lucas <sam.lucas@onja.org> wrote:
Hi all,
 
This is a small update for Rotary members to track Onja's progress. I intend to send one out every few months, detailing our progress and key challenges. 
 
Key Progress: 
  • I presented at 5 rotary clubs in New Zealand over the past couple of months, and am now a member of the st Johns club! 
  • We are now working towards an international rotary grant through the st Johns club. Rotary New Market have quite extensive experience in creating international grants and have indicated their willingness to help out where needed. 
  • I spoke about Onja at my local church too, and a professional videographer who heard me speak offered to help. He made a this short video to supplement the crowdfunding video: https://vimeo.com/209855616
  • We've almost completed a 25 page proposal that we can serve as a base for the international grant proposal, and for information for donors.
  • I had a little bit of time off in New Zealand, and managed to go surfing once a week or so!
 
Key Challenges: 
  • I've just landed in San Francisco, the idea being to continue fundraising here. I'm hoping to speak at rotary clubs and also talk with companies, and individual donors. I have very little in the way of connections to kick this process off. Simon Jones is working on a connection through rotary, but if anyone else has any personal connections to rotarians, or other people around San Francisco who might just be a lead to something then please let me know!
 
Many thanks to you all, 

Sam
 
[Second email]
 
From: Sam Lucas [mailto:sam.lucas@onja.org]
Sent: Thursday, 18 May 2017 11:01 p.m.
Subject: Re: Onja Progress Note
 
Hello all, 
 
This is a small update intended for Rotarians to track Onja's progress. 
 
I recently spent five weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area (which includes Silicon Valley). As you will know, this is a spot renowned for its technology innovation/startups. It was more-or-less the same price for me to travel to Madagascar via San Francisco, compared with flying directly to Madagascar - and with a friends couch to crash on, I figured I might as well make the most of the opportunity to talk with some foundations and wealthy individuals. 
 
I am now in Madagascar, and have been here for about one week.
 
Key Progress: 
  • I, Faso and Fita (two Malagasy friends involved in Onja) met with Mr Dimitris Skourtelis, the president of the 'Rotary Club Antananarivo Ivandry', a very well respected club in Madagascar. Mr Skourtelis very quickly understood the potential Onja has to create rapid and large scale opportunity not only in Madagascar but throughout Africa and immediately offered his club to act as the Host Sponsor for our project - an offer we are absolutely honored to receive. We also attended a club meeting last night and were very well received by the club. They are very impressive, managing several large projects, and has extensive experience with International Rotary Grants.
  • While in the US, I targeted a few wealthy individuals. They were very difficult to reach but with some hustling I managed to get hold of one or two. Most notable, a man called Ali Partovi, who between him and his brother have a net worth of half a billion dollars. We had a few phone calls, but I wasn't able to actually get a meeting before I left. He wants to focus his efforts on the non-profit he has founded, but he is certainly interested in what we are doing so I will keep him updated and perhaps he will contribute in future. 
  • I had the information memorandum printed really nicely and people seemed to love that. When they flicked through it they realized that it has all been clearly thought through etc. If anyone is interested in reading through that just let me know and I will send you a copy. 
  • A few weeks ago I had quite a nice conversation with Jesse Mulligan on radio NZ about our work in Madagascar. Here is the recording: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/201839425/the-expats-teaching-kids-coding-in-madagascar
Challenges:
  • I met with a handful of foundations in the US. Generally I got a meeting with someone senior, and generally they were very interested in what we are doing. Mostly they said they cant get involved now as we are too early-stage for them. Once our first class in Madagascar graduates that would be the time they get involved. One donor advised fund said they will circulate our material to some perspective individual donors, and another family foundation indicated we would have a good chance of receiving a grant but we would have to become a US registered non profit to qualify, and the maximum grant they give is $15,000. 
  • In the US personal networks seem to be particularly important, which naturally made things difficult for me. 
 
Many Thanks to you all, 
Sam
 
 
Onja's Radical Model:
 
Recruit: Onja finds capable students who can’t afford the education they need.
 
Educate: At Onja’s live-in academy students will study English and Computer Programming in an intensive two-year course.
 
Outsource: Once students graduate, Onja’s outsourcing agency employs them to make software for international buyers, where they will earn a salary 25 times what they otherwise would have earned.
 
Repeat With Seven Times As Many Students: The outsourcing agency will generate an income, which will be used to educate more students. The work completed by a single Onja graduate will generate enough income for Onja to educate a further 7 students, who will in turn go on to work for the agency and allow even more students to be educated, and this is how Onja plans to offer opportunity to the world’s poor on an unprecedented scale.
 
 
 
“Onja” in Swahili is “Taste”
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