The recent economic crisis followed the beginning of the Lebanese revolution last October, and now it is now the turn of the Covid-19 epidemic to damage the country's economy. The situation significantly affects startups, causing some of them to go bankrupt. The new platform, Yallafund, serves as a lifeline for entrepreneurs through crowdfunding.
Since October 17th, Lebanon has been hit by an unprecedented economic crisis: the Lebanese pound (indexed to the dollar) has lost 30% of its value, and most of its citizens face the impossibility of withdrawing their currencies in dollars from banking institutions.
This catastrophic situation reinforced by the spread of COVID-19, which further impoverishes the poorest classes through the closures imposed by the general mobilization to tackle the epidemic. While many Lebanese made ends meet by holding down small jobs, this opportunity has now been taken from them with the closure of most shops and services. On March 29th, residents from the southern suburbs of Beirut, along with working class districts of Tripoli, defied the curfew to demand an end to the confinement, protesting against their incoming hunger.
A disaster which has reawakened solidarity among the Lebanese, as many initiatives born online during the thawra. One was Muwatin Lebnene, an instagram page that organized a drive for the needy on the occasion of the end of year festivities. Recently, it is the newly launched NGO Yallafund which seeks to help the country’s startups with crowdfunding campaigns. We met its founder, Carlos Kekwa, a young Lebanese entrepreneur…
What is your background and how did come up with the idea to create Yallafund?
Basically, I had a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and then I passed a master’s degree at Ecole Polytechnique Paris. Then, I decided to go back to Beirut by choice, because I love the city and I wanted to work there. Since then, I’ve been working in different startups for four and a half years. I went through Anghami, which is kind of the equivalent of Spotify in the Arab world, and then I created other startups including Clickfix, a company that offers home repair services for individuals with a single click. Yallafund is born out of my desire to save my own startup. With the revolution in Lebanon, it started to be difficult for us and I wanted to use crowdfunding as a way to secure at least half of our salaries, and be able to continue operating. Finally, I thought that I could use this platform to help other startups in the country as well.
Is it easy to raise money for startups in Lebanon?
Not really. The capital ventures here don’t invest much in your ideas. Either they see a real big economic potential in your company and give you $500,000, or nothing. It’s all about personal connections, and that’s never been my thing. To encourage people to contribute, we’re thinking about a solution to offer donors the opportunity to become shareholders of the startups they help, by receiving maybe 10% of the first revenues of the company.
How could interested startups join you?
All startups who want to add their names onto our website are able to do so, they just need to prove at least one year of existence, as I want to avoid people using this platform for fraudulent actions. On our side, we try to talk to associations like Beirut Digital District to make our association known among the startup ecosystem. The donations given through our platform would be directly sent to a European account and could be later transferred to an account in Lebanon, which will bring an added value to the Lebanese companies receiving this money, given our currency crisis.
Between the downfall of oil prices and the suspension of Capital ventures coming from the Gulf Countries, startups in the region might suffer in the coming months. Even if Yallafund still struggles to make itself known, the initiative can serve as an example of solidarity economy that could help Lebanese entrepreneurs, but also the rest of the world.