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Location: New York City, New York, United States United States
Founded in: 2017
Stage: Pre-launch
Number of employees: 1-5
Short URL: vator.co/karavan
Referred by: Tech.co
Followers (2)
Awards and mentions
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Innovation Grants, sponsored by Columbia Entrepreneurship, aim to incentivize and support the creation of novel products and unique business models. Prize grants of $5,000 to $15,000 are awarded to teams with the most innovative product or business model. Awards will be granted to teams that the judges believe will benefit the most from mentorship and seed funding.
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Karvan

Startup/business
New York City, New York, United States United States
http://www.karvanapp.com
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Company description

Karvan is a mobile app that uses a grassroots non-monetary economic system to facilitate skill, service and work exchanges between refugees and citizens. Asylum seekers are prohibited from earning money in many countries. They are forced into poverty, despite being both willing and able to work. They come from a wide array of backgrounds and possess unique and highly individualized skills. However, they suffer from abuse and racism almost everywhere they go -- partially due to the negative stereotypes associated with their unemployment, as well as the physical and social segregation they face in their new home countries. Using our time-based points system (60 minutes = 60 points), refugees, asylees and citizens can earn points, which they may use to access the services they need. These exchanges are mutually beneficial, enabling all parties to feel like active and valuable members of society.

Around 1% of refugees will ever be resettled and granted permission to earn money. Our mobile app connects the 65 million displaced worldwide with citizens through mutually-beneficial exchanges. Our users form new communities of solidarity, which are highly personalized, yet leverage the power of global networks. They exist in spatial orbits that are at the same time smaller and larger than the nation. They are made possible through individual, invested engagement. We don't just teach a man to fish, we question the very foundation of the industry, asking “why some were born rod in hand, while others were not”, and are building an economy that not only resolves the issue, but equalizes the playing field, ensuring that the same inequality will never plague future generations.

 



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Team
Business model

While we haven't launched our app yet, we do run a Facebook group with around 5000 members. The group is very active and dynamic, and skill exchanges are occurring daily all over the world. We have also raised over $18,000 through crowdfunding. We have received mostly very positive feedback. People love the concept, as well as the novelty of the points system. People have suggested we create game-like challenges and rewards (e.g. Pokemon Go) in order to motivate further activity. The only negative responses we have received were hate speech towards Muslims and refugees, but rather than dissuade us, these instances only consolidated the need we saw for such an app. We are currently constructing a survey to deliver out -- both to users on our group and randomly to others. We will gather more data using metrics and KPIs when we launch the app. 

We launched a crowdfunding campaign, and have raised over $10,000 in two weeks. We hope to gain bigger donations once we secure 501c3 status in the US (currently, we are registered in the UK as a NFP charitable company). We will be selling merchandise (fair trade, ethically-made clothing & accessories), which should generate some profit. We will also allow users to 'purchase' points. This will be useful for people who would like to 'buy' services from refugees but do not have the free time to earn points. As a non profit, we can offer tax write-offs for donors. We have also just entered into a partnership with Crimson Consulting (valued at $160m). We are working with the Crimsons team to devise a curriculum for teaching English to refugees. Karavan will receive a portion of the revenue from Crimson clients who participate in this program. 

 

Users create profiles detailing the skills and services they would like to offer. They can search for services (e.g. "guitar lessons"), and our GPS system locates users nearby or online who are offering the service. We have an identity verification system and use ratings, reviews and location services to maximize security. We will also organize monthly meet ups for users in the community to meet. All information is encrypted. When users match, they may use our messaging service and arrange appointment times within the app calendar. Both users must 'check-in' and 'check-out' before and after each session, and will be prompted to leave reviews. Users will have a 'wallet', showing their balance, as well as an all-time points earned ranking. In the future, points will be able to be earned and traded for more tangible products, and we will also partner with existing apps and companies to expand our offerings. 

We are operating with a hybrid model. The parent company, The Karavan Foundation, will be able to collect donations, which it will use to invest in social empowerment projects -- one of which is the app, a separate for-profit entity. The Karavan App will then repay its loans to the foundation, which are thus then free to be used for further projects. 

Competitive advantage

Since our app will be available in many languages, we will market ourselves to the displaced populations around the world, as well as to communities of engaged young people and social activists. We are partnering with large organizations, such as Islamic Relief and World Vision, and will be able to access their networks. Currently, there are exchanges already occurring daily on our Facebook group, and we have users from within home countries (such as Syria and Iraq) as well as those from host countries -- totaling 40 countries so far. 

 

There are some companies delivering similar services, but our points-system is unique among them. Thumbtack, for instance, connects users who are searching for skills and services with other users who offer them. Their use of currency excludes those who are 'out of the system' -- refugees, homeless people, or anyone else who does not have a social security number or bank account. They also disproportionately compensate those who offer more 'in-demand' services, thereby accelerating wealth inequality rather than equalizing it. Our app does not disproportionately favor those in elite occupations, as we don't believe that a person's ability to receive help should be dependent on their education or productive capacity, but rather on their being human. Other refugee-specific apps provide goods and services through donation. We see this as unsustainable. Our model integrates social good into a free enterprise, concierge economy, wherein refugees are recognized as valuable and important