Amina here. This week, I caught up with Chris Abdur-Rahman Blauvelt, Founder & CEO of LaunchGood. LaunchGood is a crowdfunding portal primarily meant for Muslim causes.
Amina: Chris, please tell us about yourself, your co-founders and how you all came up with the idea of Launch Good?
Chris: I started LaunchGood along with Amany Killawi & Omar Hamid. We all come from a different place – I’m a serial entrepreneur previously in film, Amany a social work activist mentoring Muslim teenagers in Detroit, and Omar a professional designer and young Muslim leader in Atlanta – but what brought us together was our commitment to serving the Muslim community and maximizing its own potential, with a high level of professionalism and resourcefulness.
A bit more detail: In 2010 we had a Sundance film (Bilal’s Stand) and I did a Kickstarter (then a new crowdfunding platform) t0 successfully crowdfund over $20,000 to finish it off. I was the first Muslim to really use crowdfunding and fell in love with it. In particular I was impressed with how it was such an empowering and inspiring tool for creatives in America, and I wanted to do the worldwide with the global Muslim community. I knew of Amany through some mutual work in Detroit and she’s probably the hardest working person I know, so I asked her to join me. I found Omar through a website he designed and we hired him to design LaunchGood. He did an amazing job, but wouldn’t stop working and improving it and he’s such a genius we invited him to be our third co-founder and he agreed. It took us about 16 months to build the platform, and finally in October of 2013 we launched LaunchGood.
Amina: Can you share some numbers such as funds raised, successful campaigns about Launch Good?
Chris: Since October 2013, LaunchGood has helped raise $18+ million for 1793 campaigns across 82 countries! We always list our stats in our footer – transparency is an important value to us.
Amina: What percentage of campaigns are charity based compared to campaigns related to entrepreneurial/innovation ventures?
Chris: About 20% of our campaigns are entrepreneurial/innovation ventures, with the rest being more charity – but a lot of our charity is quite creative! We encourage that, for example providing iftars in Cuba (which just opened up to America).
Amina: Tell us about the most successful entrepreneurial ventures that raised funds via LaunchGood?
Chris: One of our favorite is “Qirtas”, an Elephant clock toy by a female Saudi entrepreneur, Saja Muzaini. While she was studying design in Germany she discovered the famous 12th century Muslim entrepreneur Al-Jaziri and was fascinated by his invention of an Elephant clock – a 6 foot water-powered structure that accurately told the time while also reflecting the cultures of the Muslim world at that time: Egypt, Arabia, India and China. She felt these are the stories we should be telling our youth, and developed a prototype toy that kids could build and learn both something of science and civilization. She came to LaunchGood to crowdfund the startup costs and doubled her goal of $15,000! Saja is a great example of the young Muslims we want to support globally who are building the future while cherishing the roots of our past.
Amina: When it comes to funding successful technology-based ventures, what challenges do you see convincing Muslims to back such ventures?
Chris: There’s definitely a risk-adverse mentality to Muslims, and sometimes an inferiority complex, that is rightfully grounded in the trauma of colonialism. But we’re past that now and we need to reclaim our role as leaders for mankind. Allah says in the Qur’an, “You are best nation brought forth for mankind” – and historically Muslims contributed richly to human civilization, from modern medicine to universities and so much more.
Muslims have that potential, and as the success stories pile up I’m confident that we will be more willing to take the necessary risks to back more ventures.
Amina: How does LaunchGood differentiate between Zakat-based funding and non-Zakat Funding?
Chris: We accept both, and on our site we let campaigns declare whether they are zakat eligible or not, and for donors to mark off if their donation is zakat.
Amina: Which Charity based campaign moved you the most? Share us few details about the most successful charity based campaigns?
Chris: We had one recently that really floored me – Muslims United for Jewish Cemeteries. After Trump was elected in the US, discrimination against all minority groups jumped, especially anti-semitic acts, and one of those were the desecration of Jewish graves. A couple of Muslim leaders – Linda Sarsour and Tarek Elmessidi – decided to raise $20,000 to fix one of the grave yards. It got funded in just 3 hours, and by the end of the night the story was so hot that JK Rowling tweeted it and caused our site to crash!
But the story didn’t end there: later that week, a mosque in Florida suffered an arson attack. They set up a LaunchGood to raise funds for the fire damage repairs, and noticed the majority of donations were in multiples of $18. Turns out 18 is a special number in the Jewish tradition (like 786 for Muslims) and Jews from across the world were donating as a way of saying “thank you” to the Muslims for their support of the Jewish Cemeteries!
Amina: What are future plans of LaunchGood? Are you planning to expand the team beyond the US to countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, India, etc.?
We already have! We’ve done campaigns in 82 countries, and our team is spread out across the world – currently USA, Canada, UK, Turkey and Singapore. We’re always looking to add exceptional talent, and if someone is interested they should reach out. Beyond crowdfunding, we’d like to get more in the space of training and providing workshops and eventually spaces to help Muslim entrepreneurs thrive.
Amina: If someone is new to LaunchGood, where do you recommend they start?
Chris: We created this incredible program called The Ramadan Challenge, a 30-day giving challenge – it’s the perfect place to start for those new to LaunchGood! Sign up to give as little as $1 (or £ etc.) each day of Ramadan, and we’ll inspire you with a new campaign each day from some corner of the world. Instead of hearing so much negative news about Muslims, you get to hear about Muslims doing good in all sorts of ways across the globe! Check it out at launchgood.com/challenge.