Online donations have radically transformed the philanthropy space as it’s given local organizations the opportunity to reach a global audience. Being able to establish credibility and showcase results virtually have ushered many small non-profits into the graces of Millennials, the most giving generation.
A generation who is less concerned about the size of the organization, its celebrity face, or a mission statement accompanied by ambitious goals, rather, its results. And transparency around where dollars are going and how they're being used.
Africa, often seen as the continent constantly in need of charity, given the decades of stereotypical imagery of philanthropy. Has a current model of philanthropy that needs to evolve in order to ensure donations fulfill contribute to causes they are intended to support.
Today, many young Africans on the continent, tired of their perception in the media, and the lack of accountability and transparency from charitable organizations, are looking to implement new philanthropic models that will change their countries for the better. Eugene Bos, is one of those young pioneers who is leveraging technology to create a new model for the old practice.
Wero, acquired in 2019 by a non-disclosed Dutch company, is a donation platform for millennials who want to make a tangible impact. The platform helps users make donations to causes that they care about by 1) matching them with a charity that fits their values, 2) vetting charities based on how much money goes directly to the cause, 3) tracking donations, and set recurring giving.
I spoke with Eugene Bos, Digital Experience Designer at Adidas x Reebok, about building and selling Wero, the challenges he faced during the design process, and Tech in Africa.
Share your journey of becoming a designer.
My life has been the Hollywood movie of believing in yourself, having passion, and facing obstacles but not giving up.
My journey started in 2010; I was studying computer science at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. In my second year, due to financial reasons, I had to drop out. With nothing to do after leaving school, I bought a cheap computer, went on Youtube, and started teaching myself design, animation, and design thinking.
I got an opportunity to work as a computer technician at SOS-Hermann Gmeiner College, an international school in Ghana. After a few months in that role, the leadership team saw that I was really passionate about design, so they moved me to the design department.
I worked there for about four years, learned a lot, and built my portfolio. After that, I got a job at Huawei Technologies, where I started as a visual designer. Within three years, I moved up the ranks to head Creative Visual and UX Design for the whole West Africa, where I oversaw every billboard and media design in the region.
Now having a little bit of money, I started traveling the world. While in Amsterdam, I met this beautiful girl who is now my wife, which is ultimately why I relocated to Holland.
With no connections or network here, I decided to attend Ironhack’s 3-month design boot camp to get some formal training. The program gave my design approach structure and helped me to start freelancing. Simultaneous to freelancing, in January 2019, I started building Wero, and it was acquired seven months later in July.
I helped with the transition, and once it was sustainable without me, I left. I then became a product designer in a dutch SAAS company where I worked for six months. They were going to renew my contract, but COVID-19 happened. They couldn't meet the demands of the design team, so I was fired.
This was two weeks before my wife gave birth to our son. I was shattered, but I kept reminding myself that I come from Ghana, and I’m not going to let this get me down.
I applied for a position with Adidas but didn’t get the job. The person who interviewed me said he liked my passion and energy and recommended that I apply again in a month for an opening position. I applied and interviewed and got the job; now I’m a Digital Experience Designer at Adidas
What led you to create Wero, and what value does it provide to the marketplace?
I worked for a charity organization, and often my coworkers and I would say to ourselves, people are sending us money, but where is this money going?
There was no transparency. You couldn’t see how the money people gave was spent. Some heads of charities would use it for themselves. I knew there had to be a better way.
Then, I read this book on effective altruism, a philosophy that emphasizes giving with your heart and head to ensure your contribution has impact. Because as much as people give with with no strings attached, they still want to know what is happening with their money.
I began connecting with the charity organizations I worked for and asking questions like what if we have a platform that creates transparency and connects the giver and the receiver without a middleman. That’s essentially how Wero was born.
The basic principle is connecting the giver and the receiver. The giver gets updates from the organizations they donate to on the Wero platform. With the ultimate goal that as the givers get updates, they’ll be inclined to give more, and create this giving loop.
What was your design process for building Wero?
It started with one question: how can I help people who gave, gain clarity on how their money is spent. I have a huge network of charity organizations, so I posed the question on LinkedIn and social media.
I then got some qualitative data through interviews, quantitative from surveys, and had some brainstorming sessions with charity organizations, which gave me some really good insights. I created an affinity map and started working on possible features.
After, I created the user journey and identified pain points and opportunities to develop features. Then, I identified specific goals for that platform, started wireframing designs, and did user testing with people here in Amsterdam, and got some friends to help me in Ghana.
And through that, I came up with the concept, the name, logo, color scheme, and the entire design itself. During the process, I got a lot of feedback, which I implemented and helped shape the platform into the final design before it was acquired.
What role did empathy play in building your product? And how important is empathy in the UI/UX Design process?
When it comes to Wero, empathy is what gave birth to it.
Overall, in product design, empathy is thrown everywhere. Personally, how I define empathy is being human. I read a book that said when you see someone suffering, sympathy says, “I’m so sorry you got hurt.” But empathy is, “I can see you’re hurt. Sorry about that.” Empathy is not putting yourself in someone’s shoes, but being that person at that moment.
I believe empathy unlocks certain things in us as designers. Also, when I face tough moments or decisions, empathy keeps my ego in check. And it’s not just for the product; empathy is everything about being a designer.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the design/development process?
While I was still running Wero, finding my competitive edge was the first major challenge. There are many charity platforms, so discovering what made Wero different was critical. I also struggled with imposter syndrome, being that I was a black designer from Ghana in Amsterdam.
During the acquisition stage, the challenge was deciding whether to stand by what I believe in or forgo it and make a lot more money.
While some developers were building Wero in Ghana, I was connecting with investors here in Amsterdam to get funding. But when two investors offered to acquire Wero, I had to make the tough decision whether to sell or not and whom to sell to.
When I started Wero, I had no intention of selling it, I wanted to take on the project myself, but I got to the point where I had to be realistic. I was in a new country, married, and about to start a family. I had to decide whether I wanted to put all my time into the project. And work-life balance is really important to me, and family always comes first, so I decided to sell.
Deciding between the two offers was also a challenge. The higher offer would significantly alter the purpose Wero was created to serve, while the lower offer aligned more with my initial vision and would give me a lot more control over the end product. I decided to stand with what I believe in and pick the best-suited person for Wero.
As a designer, you’re constantly trying to balance business with user needs. And so trying to find that intersection point was a challenge. Also, I reminded myself that Wero was never about gaining financial independence; it was about making an impact. The person who would make the most impact is whom I went with, not the person I would make a lot of money from.
What do you believe are the keys to being a successful UI/UX designer in Africa?
It’s tough to be a designer in Ghana because as much as you can be super talented, the opportunities to grow your skills and match to the world’s standards are not there. I had to learn through Youtube.
Also, there are not many people who will believe in you and give you a chance, which can kill your energy and motivation. I remember starting a design company with some friends, and all the obstacles we faced were draining.
The advice I would give is to follow your passion, have a purpose, and turn each obstacle you face into a lesson. Believe in yourself, realize that you’re unique and that there’s only one you.
When I started out, I was always comparing myself to other designers and worrying that I didn’t meet up to their standard. I only rose above that mindset when I realized that there’s only one me. My experiences go into my design. With everything I create, there’s a piece of me inside.
So have your passion but also never lose yourself because there’s one you. I think having that mindset when starting as a designer will give you the energy to go after your goals. There were many times I wanted to give up, but I believed in what I could give so much that I was willing to go the extra mile.
Again, I’m a living testimony. It’s easier said than done, yes, but looking at where I’m from and where I am now, I’m still in amazement to be working for a global brand like Adidas amongst awesome designers. I’ve been through the process, and it’s tough, but you have to believe with your whole heart.
Even if you get knocked down, stand back up. That’s what happened to me, I lost my job four months ago, and now I’m here. It’s tough, but the journey is worth it.
Built In Africa. What does that mean to you?
When I hear the phrase Built in Africa, I don’t just think of a product. I think of people going back to their roots, whether they were born and raised in Africa or not. I wrote an article called When Africa Meets Design, and it talks about being inspired by where you’re from and allowing it to fuel whatever you create as a developer, designer, engineer, etc.
I also think of Africans who are making a global impact and inspiring other Africans to do the same. Personally, I’m driven by my purpose to inspire others who come from nothing and let them know that they are something.
Wero is just the beginning of what I want to do. I recently started speaking with some animators in Ghana. I want to invest in a place and start an animation company to tell the African story the way it’s supposed to be told.
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