Welcome to DARE Stories – a new series hosted by xPlot in collaboration with creators all over the world. Here, we let creative entrepreneurs tell their story – of daring, of innovating, and building their own. First out: Raul Romero and his Yakera.
During our annual event, we asked you to tell us your stories; of your creative challenges, ideas, and successes. In collaboration with DARE Clan, this storytelling series introduces creative entrepreneurs from around the world, telling us the impact and change they bring about, all in their own words.
Raul Romero is the founder of Yakera, a crowdfunding platform that allows people in the developing world to tell their stories and receive support directly into their bank accounts using blockchain technology. He is an international student at Kenyon College, where he pursues an International Studies degree.
This is Raul's DARE Story.
I was only 17 when I left Venezuela. I got on a plane, packed with a suitcase and a scholarship, with the uncertainty of the crisis rumbling in the background as I embarked on an unexpected path to high school – and then college – in the United States. As I have been away from home, the situation has only worsened. The small business that provided my family with the means to make ends meet was forced to close a couple of years ago, amidst mass migration that rendered most of the homes next to our cheese shop empty.
Economic mismanagement has led to hyperinflation and a massive decline on Venezuela's living conditions.
While I pursued my education and thought about my academics, with a roof over my head and meals in the cafeteria, Venezuelans lost 24 pounds on average, forced to eat less by the increasingly high food prices.
Despite the conditions, the regime would not let any aid into the country. Trucks with US-sponsored aid were consumed by flames at the border, prevented from entering the country by a regime that sought to monopolize and politicize the distribution of food in the nation.
Venezuela had deeply changed. I felt powerless as my family suffered, only able to provide help with the little money I was making as a student worker.
That’s when it came to me. I had witnessed the power of crowdfunding in the US. Communities coming together and people donating a few dollars for a cause they felt connected to. However, existing crowdfunding platforms only served the United States and a few European countries, constraining those in Venezuela, Latin America, and the developing world from accessing a community of help. I spent a few minutes putting a flyer together and calling a few friends for a meeting in one of my college’s classrooms on a Thursday night. We spent a night discussing what to do, and figuring out one fundamental question:
How do we deliver support to people in Venezuela and the rest of the world when international regulations and government restrictions make it so hard to send money across borders?
The answer was a Mexico City-based fintech startup: Airtm. We partnered with Airtm and launched Yakera, a blockchain-based crowdfunding platform that allows individuals to tell their stories and receive immediate support directly in their bank accounts. Once a person decides to retrieve their funds from Yakera, via Airtm, they are matched with an individual who is seeking to exchange Venezuelan Bolivars for US dollars – all while Airtm holds the funds in escrow, ensuring individuals receive money directly in their bank accounts.
Humanitarian aid, though almost non-existent within Venezuela’s borders, has been historically perceived in the world as a kilo of flour or rice, without too much questioning on the long-term effects in the local economy and in individual agency. Let’s set the example of the kilo of flour. If an aid organization gives an individual a kilo of flour, they are (often wrongly) determining that a person’s priority is one kilo of flour, while running inefficient supply chains that do not contribute to the long-term development of countries by competing with local producers and markets. In the same example, a government agency would buy a kilo of flour from a company, pay for shipping costs, contract extensive personnel on the ground, and determine a plan to distribute the flour in a neighborhood, paying for additional transportation and operating costs in the country.
In Yakera, we make humanitarian aid delivery more efficient. Individuals tell their stories, receive contributions, withdraw them in their local bank account, and then have the freedom and agency to decide how and where to purchase the things they need, prioritizing their own needs over anything else.
Dignity and agency are the principles that sustain Yakera. People know how to best meet their needs; better than we do, often purchasing goods and services from other small businesses in their communities, creating a loop of prosperity in the country.
In a year and a half, we have built a platform that enables these transactions to take place. We started with a pilot in Venezuela, working with a local organization to find individuals willing to tell their stories. As we told a couple of community leaders the word got around: several dozen started messaging Yakera from several parts of the country and even from Colombia. Refugees seeking immediate support for healthcare expenses, small businesses trying to buy sewing machines, industrial coffee grinders, or a mixer for cakes, and people looking to cover their tuition expenses. The impact of these technological innovations can extend beyond Venezuela. That’s why we’ve reinvisioned the product while we prepare for expansion and releasing new features.
Daring to change every day, working hard day and night to make this happen and mobilizing a team and resources to enable Yakera has allowed me to put in practice what I carried in my suitcase: dreams, grit, and resilience to innovate and disrupt industries and wrongly-unchallenged principles.
––––––––––––––––– This article is written by Raul Romero, in collaboration with DARE Clan and xPlot.
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