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The founder of Kwanda on empowering systems for Black communities

The founder of Kwanda on empowering systems for Black communities

Heartbroken. Empowered. Enraged. Energised. These are just a handful of emotions we’ve experienced over the course of the last couple of weeks. Like many of you, they’ve compelled us to read, listen, and initiate hard but important conversations about race, and as part of this process, we as a company have sought out meaningful ways to support the black community. One of the ways we’re taking action is by supporting Kwanda, a modern collection pot for black communities. 

Founded by Jermaine Craig, a former Thread designer, Kwanda borrows from community models core to many African countries – think of it as a modern-day village. By granting a monthly pledge (the minimum is £1), which is used to fund projects, you gain access to the village and are granted voting rights and an equal voice amongst fellow villagers. We spoke with Jermaine to see how he and the team are doing during this crucial time in history and how people can make a meaningful, long-term impact in the fight against racial injustice. 

How has the Kwanda team been doing these past couple of weeks?

For us, most moments have been fueling. We’ve been well aware of the injustices faced in Black communities for some time, but, of course, it’s still tough to see the extent of these injustices. We’ve had relief in knowing that we’re getting up every morning and working on something that fights back this injustice. That’s something we’ve been able to lean on as a team and community. 

What was your experience prior to working at Kwanda? 

My background is in design, and throughout my career, I’ve used design as a means to break down complexity. I’ve spent a lot of time designing, and building technology products - developing systems, processes and cultures of thinking that helps people easily navigate complex products and experiences. Thread, of course, being one of the places I did that sort of work. 

What inspired you to launch Kwanda? 

There were many inspirations. Kwanda is a product of my lived experience. I was a person who had no care to ‘survive’. I was curious, and I wanted to be free to create. I knew that given a chance I’d be a benefit to the world, and this is the case with many in Black communities. Given a chance, they’d be of great benefit to the world. That potential within Black communities inspired Kwanda, and I’m using Kwanda as a vehicle to unlock that potential, as a benefit to the world. 

What are some of the ways Kwanda has made an impact thus far?

We recently organised and funded food assistance for various remote locations across West Africa that have been left in critical need due to the lockdowns. We also partnered with other Black-led organisations to raise money for Black communities affected by Covid-19 – a total of £28,000 was raised on our platform and distributed in grants that had real positive effects in our communities. 

Which initiatives are you particularly excited about?

We have a permanent initiative we’re working on right now in which we’re providing free professional group-therapy to cohorts of 4 ongoing and across different categories (Black women, Black LGBTQ, Black men, Black teenagers, etc.). Therapy changed my perspective for the better and was the thing that gave me the confidence and clarity to start Kwanda, so I’m very excited to see the beneficiaries of this initiative blossom in the same way I did. 

Why is Kwanda a great way for people to remain committed in the fight against racial injustice over time?

The model of Kwanda pushes you to commit over the long term. If you need accountability, it’s a great community to be a part of. We’re having ongoing, consistent, and nuanced conversations around racism, so it’s difficult to overlook the problem of racism if you’re engaged with the work we’re doing at Kwanda. Our transparency is also a great asset to members and us. You get to see the impact you’re having, and that’s very important for sustaining the energy against racial injustice. 

Why was it so important for you to weave African history and culture into Kwanda’s design and branding?

Black people spend their formative years embedded in African and Caribbean culture and then go into the world where all that they are familiar with cease to exist. It leaves you permanently uncomfortable. You’re forced to learn a new language, and you are blamed for not being fluent. We had to build Kwanda in the language of the communities it was designed to serve; otherwise we become a part of the problem. 

What are some ways people can get involved with Kwanda?

The best way to get involved would be to join [you don't have to be Black to join; all are welcome]. Once you’re in there is ongoing discussion around ways to mount this fight against injustice. You’ll find your place. 

What are some other ways people can support Black communities right now?

Donations to grassroots organisations that are Black-led are a big deal because these organisations have been underfunded for years. Black activists have been forced to choose between the fight for justice and survival because nobody gets behind them financially. Black communities have the human resource and creativity to fight effectively against injustice, but lack of funding makes this difficult to sustain. 

What are some helpful resources people can use to educate themselves more about systemic racism and the fight against injustice?

I’d recommend reading the book ‘Natives’ by Akala. I’d also dive into the history of ‘Black Wall Street’ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

In your opinion, what are some of the best ways to keep the momentum of this movement going? 

We have to realise how big a problem it is. The fight has to become second nature. In the same way, we have managed to adapt our lifestyles as a response to climate change, and we should be willing to adjust our lifestyles as a response to injustices faced by black communities. I think we also need to start thinking about Black communities as a specific case. The terms POC [people of colour] and BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] mean that any progress made by the BAME collective is attributed to Black communities even if Black communities share no part in the progress made. We need to rethink those terms.

Visit Kwanda’s site to learn more about how you can get involved.