Kenya Dream Epitomizes The Art Of “Fun-raising” Philanthropy

Nithin Jilla was 14-yrs old when he became involved in Kenya Dream. Over the past four years, Nithin has generated national coverage for his from several leading cable news networks, as well as a number of local and regional newspapers. He has also combined his passion for dance to further expand Kenya Dream’s audience by establishing a series of Ken-Ya Dance showcase events festivals.

Nithin Jilla

You can watch my interview with Nithin below or on YouTube here:

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Guy Kawasaki must have had Nithin in mind when he wrote Enchantment, as his cause and his personality are both highly enchanting. He began working on Kenya Dream over 4-years ago – which is astounding, giving that he is now only 18. After an Adviser at his Cupertino High School told Nithin and his fellow Freshmen classmates about a school in Kenya that needed help with their educational facilities, Nithin, along with another student, created Kenya Dream and ran it as Co-Presidents. Nithin’s and the class of 2010’s initial inspiration was to, “…leave a legacy behind at our school, do something different, so we would be remembered.”  

I am a firm believer that people can, “do well by doing good”, as described in Nice Guys Finish First. This principle proved to be true once again at Nithin’s High School, when his class decided they did NOT want a prom. This decision ultimately resulted in Kenya Dream gaining national attention and Nithin’s class hosting one of the most over-the-top proms in the entire country.

According to Nithin, “Our class signed a petition, 97% of them, that all our funds we would normally raise for our Junior and Senior prom we would donate to Kenya Dream. We didn’t think about having a prom. We thought more about giving back to the community. When senior year arrived, an opportunity found us – the Dell SuperProm.”

Students were required to make a one minute video describing why they should win the award. Competing against 130 other schools across the nation, Nithin’s Cupertino High won the contest and attended a Prom that included appearances by Lil Jon, Far East Movement and Common. Winning Dell’s SuperProm allowed the students to donate four years worth of fundraising to Kenya Dream, while still enjoying the prom of a lifetime.

Although winning was great, the motivation to enter the contest was to spread the word about Kenya Dream. Per Nithin, “Our incentive for entering the contest was to gain a national stage for Kenya Dream. We had NBC, ABC, Fox, San Jose Mercury News (cover the story). We had a bunch of media come out to our school and publicize Kenya Dream.” The media exposure also led to a strengthened relationship with the Rotary Club as well as the school and community.

Kenya DanceAs made clear in Personal Pitch, Entrepreneurs must pull Donors into their orbit figuratively – non-profits have to do so literally. To this end, Nithin and the Kenya Dream team have leveraged their passion and appreciation for dance, as a means to further engage their target audience and spread the word about Kenya Dream.

Ken-Ya Dance was initially launched in 2009 in the Bay Area and has since been replicated with three encore shows, including one at the University of Irvine (UCI) in Southern California. Nithin describes Ken-Ya Dance as, “…a charity dance showcase featuring 15-to-30 dance crews, …(including) crews from MTV’s American Dance Crew. In the past we have had season champions Poreotics, Quest Crew, We Are Heroes, Super Cr3w. That really helped us bring in more students and adults – that’s how we built our network.”

I asked Nithin what he thought were the three most important skills that young entrepreneurs should devote time developing. “Do what you love. The second thing is Networking. Not just networking with people around you – set yourself apart and build a map of connections (beyond your friends). It is important that if we really want support from someone, we have to be willing to give them support and show them that we care about their cause. Lastly, never give up. Don’t be afraid of the risks involved, don’t be afraid of failure. We failed a lot of times with different aspects of Kenya Dream, but we learned from our failures and made improvements.”

Ken-ya Dance Team

Nithin notes that the money raised by Kenya Dream are spent on projects which , “focus on sustainability – making sure that whatever we do, the community members learn from it and are able to make it better on their own. So far, we have raised around $60,000 and we are using some of that money for three projects.

(At one school) we are building a science lab and providing all the equipment. At another school we are buying books for a library. Our last project is a big one. We’re helping out an entire small village. We are building a school and renovating other buildings. We are also establishing a medical camp within the community. One of the biggest problems they have is access to water. So we decided to bring in some water tanks so they will have easy access to water.”

Nithin epitomizes my belief that Now Is Never Too Early for an entrepreneur to make an impact on the world. Even though he is pursuing his undergraduate degree and working part-time, Nithin and his Kenya Dream team have a number of upcoming events during the next twelve months, including two more Ken-Ya Dance events. In addition, a new event, Ken-Ya Sing, will be held this November at UCI.

Any readers interested in learning more, and possibly donating to Kenya Dream, can do so at: Kenya Dream or via Facebook.

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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