Lurein Perera and his friends encountered a homeless man while walking back from dinner on a cold night in October of 2018. He asked Perera if he had money to spare, but the student was not carrying any cash.
“What stood with me since then was he said, ‘Don’t worry, this happens all the time,’” Perera, MCAS ’21, said. “And that was kind of the moment where it was like, okay, we’re a world that’s going increasingly cashless, and people who depend on cash donations and cash gifts are becoming increasingly marginalized, and that was the basis for GiveCard.”
That moment inspired Perera to create GiveCard, a nonprofit aimed at providing specialized debit cards, digital donation systems, and financial planning services to the homeless, according to its website.
After planting the seeds of the company, Perera and other Boston College students who joined the GiveCard team met with Gautam Yadama, dean of the BC School of Social Work, to explore resources the school could provide to help them understand the methodology of creating a nonprofit and addressing a social issue.
Kelsey Werner, director of social and community based systems modeling at the SSW, created a course titled “Designing Interventions to Address Complex Social Problems” to provide the GiveCard team with these resources.
“Separately, I’d had this idea for a course concept that was meant to be a highly applied course that was introducing students to different innovative methods to understand a complex social problem, so it was a very natural fit for what GiveCard was talking about doing,” Werner said.
Windsor Niermeyer, CSOM ’21, who manages the finances of GiveCard, said Werner’s class helped the GiveCard team gain a greater understanding of how growing cashlessness affects homelessness.
“Despite the amount of research we had done, it was very compartmentalized and fragmented, and I don’t think until really we took the class where everything kind of came together and we got a holistic picture of not only the problems and the possible solutions but again the implementation and how we wanted to approach the problem,” Niermeyer said.
Collaboration with partners and investors was crucial for the success of GiveCard, according to Natalie Dryja, fundraising team member and MCAS ’22.
“We were prototyping these ideas and then we could get feedback from people who actually had experience and were able to steer us in the right direction when we weren’t headed that way,” she said.
Perera said that some of the biggest challenges for GiveCard include a lack of funding, dealing with bank regulations which require an address to be tied to a debit card, finding a bank that would accept their program, and the young ages of their team members.
“There’s a laundry list of reasons that people wouldn’t believe in us,” Anna Peterson, GiveCard web developer and MCAS ’21, said. “We’re risky, we’re a non-profit, but we’re also a start up, and we’re young, and we’re not creating a product that makes money, it’s not a consumer product, and it’s a lot of variables and it seems like a huge problem to tackle, so a lot of people they don’t really want to join something risky or something that you’re not for sure what’s going to happen.”
Though the process of establishing the company as legitimate has been difficult, the GiveCard team said that the experience of founding a company that benefits the world is a rewarding one.
“Solving those problems and figuring out what to do next with those roadblocks and adapting to the situation has made us stronger and gave us a bigger perspective on what the problem was and how we can solve that problem,” said Alexander Janke, a media and branding team member and MCAS ’21. “Don’t let roadblocks stop you.”
Perera is hopeful for the future of the program and said team members will be working for GiveCard after graduation in preparation of its launch.
“It’s a better way to move money,” Perera said. “At its core, we’ve rethought how giving works.”
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor