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Raising for good

In a tough environment for finding impact venture funding, social enterprise app developer Volition has turned to crowdfunding.

Journalist

Mary Hurley

Volition founders Erika Butters and Neville Pugh

A new app, developed by social enterprise Volition, promises to empower disabled New Zealanders to be the decision-makers in their own life. 

The Volition app will function as a personal preference bank for its users, allowing disabled people to capture and share what is important to them, and assist parents and carers in documenting and sharing critical information. 

According to Statistics NZ, one in four Kiwis identify as having a disability. Many of those people report finding it a challenge to communicate their preferences to their support network. Graham Lewis* is one of them. 

Lewis is proud to have a learning disability and to live independently, having previously lived in a residential group home. However, he finds coordinating his support workers frustrating, especially when a new supporter is brought into the team – which happens frequently. The average turnover in the support workforce is 36 percent

“I’ve got to repeat myself. I need to tell [them] what I like and don’t like,” he says. “I’m a person. They need to listen to what I want.”

The new app is the brainchild of Volition cofounders Erika Butters, former director of The Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust (PASAT), and Neville Pugh, Kapiti president of People First and cofounder of Change Maker. The pair founded Volition in 2019. 

Butters says the app is designed to put disabled people in the driver’s seat of their own lives.

“We want to ensure that decisions about disabled people aren’t made without disabled people,” she says.

“Volition can record everything from what they like for breakfast in the morning to their advanced care directives. Then support providers can tailor their services to meet the specific needs of the people they serve.”

There is no comparable tool within New Zealand or overseas, Butters says. 

Having been in active development for the last nine months, the app is in its final stages of testing and refinement, with a public release planned for later this year. 

To do that Volition is aiming to raise $40,000 through a PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign which closes on June 30, 2024.

“We’ve had an amazing team of developers, many of whom have been working on a volunteer basis because they believe in what we’re doing. But software development has a real price tag associated with it. The funding is to pay for the final round of development and the testing of that solution,” says Butters. 

Volition's interface

Raising with best interest

Recent research by the Schwab Foundation’s Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship has found that there are approximately 10 million social enterprises worldwide, accounting for three percent of all businesses globally. Over half of these social enterprises are led by women. 

The same research highlights a significant funding need of $1.13 trillion to realise the potential of these social enterprises.

That funding gap is something the Volition team knows all too well. 

Butters and Pugh took part in an impact accelerator programme last year. While the cohort before theirs received a $20,000 non-dilutive grant for participating in the accelerator and the following cohort received a safe note through the accelerator’s partnership with Venture Capital, Volition’s cohort got nothing.

Butters believes the impact ventures in Volition’s cohort weren’t as sexy as those in the flanking accelerators, one of which was climate tech.  

With the world in a period of economic restraint, funders not only want the dollar return but also to be able to report in a very measurable way what their dollar has achieved, she says. 

“It’s harder to have metrics around: ‘How does wellbeing improve when you support somebody’s autonomy and self-determination?’” she says. 

Selecting preferences

Building community

Having looked into funding options, Volition’s decision to go down the crowdfunding path was twofold. 

The first is that the organisation prioritises building up a community and bringing those people along with them on the journey. 

“It’s important to us that we are connected with our community, that they can see our intention and how we’re trying to achieve this, so they can be aligned and supportive with what we’re doing,” Butters says.

Crowdfunding offers an engaging, albeit risky, way of doing that, she says. “We’re not coming from outside; we’re coming from within, trying to work with people to solve this problem.” 

The second reason for choosing crowdfunding was that it seemed a more viable raising option in tough circumstances for social enterprises.

“The environment out there for any new enterprise or venture is tight, but for social-impact-focused enterprises, it’s even tighter. We thought we needed to approach this in a different way.” 

Butters says the engagement with the PledgeMe campaign has been fantastic.

“It has absolutely achieved that first priority for us, of connecting with our community, helping to spread the word about what we're doing, and inviting them to come along the journey with us.” 

With the funding, Volition still has a way to go: “It's anyone's guess as to what may happen in the next [few] days.” 

Butters says the campaign has led to the development of partnerships with other agencies, which may come in handy later down the line. 

“We will be seeking investment later in the year after we have launched and released so we can look at global expansion.” 

See Caffeine’s discussion on if crowdfunding is right for you here

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Journalist

Mary Hurley

Mary Hurley brings three years experience in the online media industry to the Caffeine team. Having previously specialised in environmental and science communications, she looks forward to connecting with founders and exploring the startup scene in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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