It’s rare and humbling to stumble upon a startup with a humanitarian heart and a vision of changing the world. We’re in an age where entrepreneurs are feeding tech-enthusiasts with wonderful and bizarre remakes, re-models, and re-inventions of apps, gadgets, games, and networking platforms. Knowable.org is looking at something a little different. Embracing the global online-sphere of social-networking, it’s a non-profit business in the making. As its website nicely puts it, it’s a place that “connects creative and unconventional ideas in order to solve everyday problems in developing countries.” VentureVillage met up with its founders to get to know more about knowable.org.
How Knowable got founded
“We want to give people the power to solve their own problems,” says co-founder Emanuel Schwarz. Schwarz’ path neatly collided with Simon Höher’s in Berlin, where they talked over a beer at a small café in Wedding back in May this year. The determined duo graduated from the country’s European-renowned research institute Zeppelin University in Germany’s south, before thinking of how to turn their visionary idea into reality.
“We wanted to start something different to an NGO,” says Höher. The burgeoning team, wanted to create something that left behind used and abused concepts of handling money and projects in developing countries. “We want to engage with people at a grassroots level, not through money but with knowledge,” says Höher. It’s about looking for new answers to big, old and recurring problems, “there are things going seriously wrong and international developments are failing,” Höher adds. “It all boiled down to knowledge-networks, the potential for connecting ideas and underlying tech developments.” Thus, the ambitious project was born.
How it will function
The networking platform is expected to connect practical knowledge in the form of simple step-by-step guides, much like a virtual manual. “We leave the ideas, evaluation and feedback to local communities,” says Höher. Knowable.org, aims to present the information in a clean and easy-to-understand way, featuring anything from how to use basic resources to make a soccer ball, to income-generating ideas. Take the picture below as an example. Mudiwa shared her idea on how to turn recycled water bottles into birdfeeders. So far, she’s sold them on the local market and generated an additional income to help pay for her siblings’ school fees.
But, what about the majority of the project’s target audience who have little to no internet access? Even if access were available, many in developing countries have never seen a computer or are literate enough to use one. Knowable.org is looking to tap into existing structures like NGOs and local support groups to deliver the information on the ground. It aims to be a supporting platform rather than a competing one. “We have already received responses from NGO’s in Africa who expressed interest in carrying it out,” says Höher.
What makes Knowable, Knowledgeable?
With university degrees under their belts, Höher and Schwarz have both had experience working and living in developing countries. “I grew up in Germany and my father is from Mozambique. So, I visited him when I was young and saw how basic challenges can affect everyday lives,” says Höher. Höher also worked in cooperation with UNESCO, and the African Union, organising intercultural projects in Europe.
Schwarz spent a year in Honduras working on a project for blind and visually impaired people. “The people in the area didn’t know what compost was. Once we told them, it greatly helped them improve the growth-rate and sale of their flowers,” he says. “It was a huge help, and such a simple solution that’s saving them time and money,” he adds.
Knowable’s advisory board includes Professor Burkhard Schwenker; chairman of the supervisory board of Roland Berger, and Helmut Wilke; also a professor. Wilke, currently works for Global Governance at Zeppelin University, and has been awarded accolades for extensive work across knowledge management and development cooperation.
What’s to come in 2012
Still in its conceptual stages, the Knowables are currently garnering a team of developers to push ahead with a beta-launch before April. The company is also looking at getting social-investors on board, “we need someone who trusts the idea enough,” says Höher. In terms of how it plans to make money, knowable.org hopes to use selective advertising for small and developing companies that are related to the website’s content. It’s also looking to make the website accessible across various mobile and laptop devices. “We have a big focus on accessibility and openness,” says Höher, “we want the project to be locally-driven by communities.”