20 years ago, in the middle of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, I worked out a plan for Sonvela that would take at least 2 decades to fulfil. The lockdown I spent in Italy might have taken away a lot of my physical freedom, but it gave me back so much in the form of intellectual freedom. With the whole world on pause I was able to spent my days reading, thinking and creating a roadmap that could help solve some of the most critical problems of Cape Verde.
I'd created Sonvela in my mind towards the end of 2010, as I was preparing my first time living in the incredible Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro. I was lucky enough to meet a few inspiring people, who's community development initiatives I wanted to support. This made me think, for the first time in a specific way, about what I could do to contribute to Cape Verde's society.
Supporting and setting up different small projects and building Sonvela Arte were amazing experiences. But especially around 2019 I started asking myself if it was the best way to move forward. These doubts were caused by two main reasons: Getting funded was extremely hard, while spending was very easy. Also, I wanted things we did to be way more impactful, and Sonvela Arte had (despite the many challenges) helped me gain the confidence I needed for this in different ways.
As I kept reading and studying various subjects daily the insights kept coming and were making much more sense. It started to feel logical putting different pieces together. Until, at one point, it was time to announce the shift that Sonvela would be making. It felt right to me. The meaning of the word 'charity' had changed, something that started with Sonvela Arte. Back then, in 2014, I don't think I even realised it. The goal of self-sufficiency I had set out to reach with Sonvela Arte was probably more out of necessity than a conscious choice. I also had never thought about the scale this approach could reach before.
I came the conclusion that we'd be able to be way more impactful when I understood that I needed to focus on solving (difficult) problems. Sonvela's early projects were about acting on the consequences of the issues people faced in the communities in and around Mindelo, mainly. When I began to understand this, I also started to get why sometimes I would feel exhausted from my charity work. I guess deep down I knew things could go on forever, without ever making a lasting change. It couldn't, since we were not attacking the problems.
In early 2021 we made our first investments in Cape Verdean entrepreneurs. That first year we focused on super talented tech founders and their startups. My thesis back then was that this group, a new generation of tech entrepreneurs, had the capacity to go after the most critical issues we were facing in the country. From unemployment to the situation in our health care sector, I trusted on their abilities to identify problems and creating solutions that had a market for them.
It was incredible that these investments led the way for these companies to develop their products ánd create jobs. I can't believe we've been able to help create thousands of jobs so far. Betting on tech as abled us to solve so many problems when it comes to housing, education and gender inequality as well. I think I'm actually the most proud of the fact that we were part of creating this amazing cultural shift in the country.
Almost 20 years ago, when we set out to build a Tech Hub here, the island of Santo Antão was facing some issues due to little investment focus from the government. Habitants of the island felt neglected and young people were leaving home for a job search in Praia or Sal and Boa Vista. Years of talk about building an airport or university on the island had amount to nothing.
The island needed an initiative that would be able to bring out the best of it, and change the direction of the future it was headed towards. Staying in Cape Verde's second biggest city would have probably made more sense, but for this dream project I wanted an inspiring environment of clean mountain air, nature and agriculture. I felt that this was what we needed to thrive together, while finding and building solutions for existing (local) issues at the same time.
What we've been able to build here sometimes feels unreal, but at the same time the talent for it has been here all along. When I saw what Cape Verdean tech talent was building without any financial support, I started to imagine what they would be capable of if we would start to invest in them. If you look around, the drones you see, the micro-mobility, the agri-tech and all other experiments going on, it was all built here in our country.
So much of the talent that we see today would be excluded from achieving great things in the traditional educational system. That same can be said for the focus on (local) politics. Both are designed to favor a small part of society, no matter where you look. Things began to change when we started to invest in our people, giving them a real chance. I'm very proud of that fact that right now, as I write this, we have people from all over the country here building technology that will make this an even better country for many.
Now, with all that we've been able to achieve, we're looking forward to the next 20 years. Just like we did in 2020, we've created a strategic plan that will lead us into 2060 and solve more of our country's problems. We'd love for you to join us on this beautiful journey.