What if you could earn money and help society at the same time would you do it? Of course you would! Well the GEM project is a mobile rewards platform that is trying to achieve just that. The South African Startup and SEED Award nominee has created a system that allows people to earn “GEMs” by doing community work. We interviewed co-founder and director of GEM project, David Shields, to learn more about their plans for the future.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be at the GEM project
Business partner, Camilo Ramada and myself have been in the digital space for quite some time. Camilo is a pioneer in mobile payments and has been at the forefront of the industry for over 10 years. I’ve done media, PR and digital marketing for a variety of brands over the last four.
One night Camilo and I were chatting about the South African socio-economic situation; more specifically, about how people are immobile to creating opportunities to do good – particularly if communities don’t acknowledge and appreciate such behavior.
We decided that we’d like to create a platform that rewards users for taking initiative and helping their communities in various ways ( e.x. recycling waste or doing a street clean up etc). Two years later, we have GEM – a mobile platform that does just that.
When was the GEM project founded, who are the key founders, stakeholders, investors
GEM is a fully-fledged non-profit organization that was formally established in September 2014. The idea was conceived about two years ago and we’ve been working towards a sustainable future ever since.
At the moment the team consists of five people – all part-time. Myself and Camilo are the co-founders and directors of GEM. We are joined by Gary Greenburg (Head Developer), Lisa Cook (Graphic Design) & Jack Kaminski (Project Manager). The team is small but highly dedicated, both to the cause and the company.
What is the GEM project?
The GEM Project is a mobile rewards platform for volunteers in South Africa. Users earn GEMs (points) by doing community work, for example separating waste, planting trees etc. Users download GEM via USSD by dialing *120*GEM1 # or as an app. Once they’ve signed in, they are able to see which volunteering opportunities are available in their area. When they’ve decided on a day and a place, the app tells them how many GEMs they’ll earn as a token of appreciation.
These GEMs are donated by corporate and public sector sponsors which are distributed evenly to the social partners that host these events.
GEM not only rewards people for volunteering their time at charities but also helps impact on behavioral change i.e. rewarding people to go for HIV and pregnancy tests or recycling their waste at schools and varsities.
Users are rewarded within three days of completing their activity and can use their GEMs to buy data, electricity, airtime or movie tickets straight from the GEM platform.
What markets do you target?
Anyone over the age of 16 that has a cell-phone can use GEM.
It’s easy enough so that your grandparents can use it, but cool enough so that you’re friends want to use it. We have officially signed up 600 volunteers since we launched our two pilot projects in November last year.
For now, we’re based in Johannesburg, South Africa but in the next two years you can expect rollout in the rest of the country as well as other parts of Africa.
How are you different from your competitors?
At the moment, no competitor exists. Although to be fair, you could say that GEM is a hybrid between a micro-jobbing site like M4JAM and a website that connects good causes with people willing to help – like Forgood.
A lot of our viewers are in the United States, help us understand your business by telling us a comparable business in the states. Example you are the “Amazon of South Africa”
It’s kind of like “Kiip” for brands, but with social development as the key to accessing your rewards.
How is GEM changing the industry?
For the first time in South African history, GEM is helping to establish a sustainable online relationship between civil society, the public sector and the private sector and moves these entities to work hand in hand and achieve a greater common goal – social development.
By helping others, people have a chance to help themselves and by doing so, are able to network and create tight knit communities that contribute to long-term networking and social cohesion.
Are there any upcoming promotional events or websites you would like the readers to visit?
To find out more about GEM you can visit our website: www.gemproject.org
To find out about upcoming events and start earning GEMs, visit http://mobi.gemproject.org/ on your mobile or simply dial *120*4361# from a South African number.
Otherwise, check us out on Facebook and Twitter:
What is next for you guys?
The third and final pilot project will go live in the trendy and bohemian suburb of Greenside, Johannesburg between March and April 2015.
This will be to test our initiative in a suburb environment, which connects residents to local businesses and charities and maintains the relationship in a sustainable way.
We’ve also been in discussions with Johannesburg’s Waste Management Forum, which is looking at using GEM to reward schools for recycling PET bottles, paper, glass and other such containers.
Lastly, we’ve made contact with various municipalities that are looking to reward residents for taking positive social action. The next step is to finalize these campaigns and to begin working with the public sector in making our communities more proactive and consistent with one another…
Are you currently looking for partnerships, investors etc.
We’re in the midst of defining our strategy to attract Venture Capital, while at the same time we are engaging with governments, businesses and social organizations for upcoming projects. If you would like to say hi, get in touch and email us: email@example.com
If you would like us to consider you for a Startup Spotlight, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org