Seeds is raising funds to make "Farmville meets Kiva" a reality. By Rachel Cook (Founder & CEO, Seeds)
Spending a night in a Nairobi prison helped me understand Kenya’s need for microlending better than ever.
While sitting inside a cab doing nothing at all illegal, an American friend and I were overtaken by four armed men in plainclothes at gunpoint, two of whom then told us to get back in the car and drove us away. We thought we were being kidnapped, but the men turned out to be corrupt cops who were only interested in holding us in a Kenyan jail overnight and then trying to extort cash.
After keeping us in cells with no light and a hole in the ground functioning as a latrine and accusing us of being terrorists, they drove us to an ATM in separate cars. When they told me to make my way to the cash machine I hurried into a shop instead, asking the woman behind the counter to call the Embassy on our behalf, something we’d been forbidden to do.
The cops came inside the shop and acted friendly at first, explaining to the woman that I was “their friend.” When she told them that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do, one of the cops grabbed me and pulled me into the parking lot, ripping the front of my dress, and tearing the bra I was wearing underneath in half, leaving me exposed. A crowd formed as the cops roughly tried to force my friend and I back into the car. In a slower moment, a kind older man offered me his sweater to cover myself up.
It was touch-and-go for a bit, but making a scene worked: legitimate cops were summoned and the Embassy eventually intervened thanks to a call from the shopkeeper. We didn’t have to pay a bribe, and were able to leave the country with only a few bruises and some torn clothes. We were otherwise fine.
This isn’t a story meant to warn people away from Kenya and countries like it - rather, it’s a more compelling argument to bring outside investment in. These men took jobs as police with the assumption that they would get a supplementary income through bribes. If there were more legitimate, reliable sources of income in the country, maybe this form of corruption would cease to exist.
Launching Seeds - Benefiting Women Entrepreneurs In Nairobi
This is part of the mission of my startup, Seeds, a for-profit, immersive social game and API for mobile microlending benefiting female entrepreneurs.
In a more indirect way, Seeds was born when I was a Futures/Equities Trader in Chicago. I made more money that I expected to in my mid-twenties, but the environment was weirdly sexist in ways I didn’t even realize still existed, especially among the young.
I was always the only or one of the few female traders, and while trading itself was fun, I wasn’t making anything innovative, and I wasn’t helping anybody who was truly in need. I wanted to figure out a way to help women; the sexism in the trading world had galvanized my desire to do that like never before.
The "Ah Ha" Moment
It all came together one night while I was sitting on a Chicago desk at 3am trading the European shift. I read an op-ed in the NYT about the positive effects of microloans: they could empower women in numerous ways, and they were a sound financial investment. I immediately launched The Microlending Film Project, a global exploration of their impact on women, which was ultimately shot on four continents.
When shooting in Nairobi in May 2011, I was amazed to see the vibrant mobile money transfer infrastructure in place. People living in sheet metal houses owned cell phones, and could buy produce at a roadside stand - simple by sending a text message. Cash transfer was safer and more efficient.
Gamification & Helping Women Entrepreneurs
When I learned that the average social gamer is a 43-year-old woman and microlenders skewed female, the idea for Seeds was fully formed. There was a huge opportunity in connecting those dots, and I filed a patent later that year.
Our more ambitious vision: to get the Seeds API embedded in every game ever built, imagining a world in which the 3 billion hours spent gaming per week are harnessed for for-profit investment in greater social good. We want kids in the future thinking the definition of the word 'game' is 'this fun thing I play that helps people...' before running off to play lots of games with their bionic fingers in flying cars and stuff.
I love that this is my life’s work, and that what led me here was a series of experiences focusing on benefiting women like myself, who were interested in launching their own companies and carving their own paths - and who only need a little bit of capital to make that happen.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest bloggers? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Rachel Cook is the Founder and CEO of Seeds, a social gaming startup currently raising a seed round of investment. She is the Director and Producer of The Microlending Film Projects. A former Trader who will never go to grad school, Rachel is a Duke graduate and lives in Manhattan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @playseedsyo.