“On a mission to amplify the voices of marginalized youth”: How jiiWA came to be
In Indonesian, the word “jiwa” means soul.
“It’s this concept of taking your own energy and sharing it with others to contribute to something greater,” said Steve Surya, CPO and Co-founder of jiiWA — a Toronto-based startup that’s built technology hand-in-hand with nonprofits to help them (and their funders) better understand the people they serve through data.
Surya said he lost a bit of passion in what he was doing in his previous career and was looking to be a part of something that gave back to the community. Both Surya and CEO and Co-founder Kristina Flynn realized they were happiest when they were doing something for others, and that’s when they decided to bring jiiWA to life two and a half years ago.
“Steve and I have known each other our whole lives” Flynn said. “And we’ve always been drawn together by this desire to do something bigger than ourselves.”
Before coming up with the idea behind jiiWA, Flynn and Surya merged their backgrounds in philanthropy and technology to build a product that would “democratize corporate giving” — allowing for consumers to choose which charities would receive corporate donations. But they soon realized they were solving a problem no one had.
“After that, we thought: ‘It’s not about the solution, it’s really about the problem,’” Flynn said.
In response to a problem statement about enhancing youth development at a Ryerson University hack competition, Flynn and Surya pitched jiiWA, and turned to the power and prominence of data when it comes to improving businesses and the services they provide.
“If you look at where the world is going, data is paramount. It’s necessary for businesses to succeed, but also to help refine their missions and where they should focus their efforts. That seemed hugely pertinent to nonprofits,” Flynn said.
“We thought, ‘What do we know about nonprofits?’ And what we knew from my experience is that most of them are collecting data on excel spreadsheets and struggling to integrate the people they serve into that process. This obviously isn’t in-line with the expectations of today’s businesses.”
After winning the hack, they received immediate interest in the technology and began working with one of their first partners, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
“There’s a growing expectation by funders that a nonprofit should be able to define how their donations are having a direct impact on the people they’re serving,” Flynn said. “Collecting data and gaining accurate insights isn’t possible on excel spreadsheets. We use technology to simplify that process.”
CTO Graham Brereton worked with Surya at his previous job when jiiWA was still just a side hustle. After realizing the service jiiWA provides was something missing in the intersection of technology and philanthropy, he was inspired to become a part of the team.
“I see software development as creating tools to help people,” Brereton said.
Flynn said one of the biggest takeaways about jiiWA is that they operate with an approach of “people-first philanthropy.”
“There are so many ways that technology benefits society. But it feels like the tech sector has forgotten philanthropy and we want to change that,” she said. “We want to make sure that people have access to the best services possible and are given a voice in bettering those services.”