Yonah A. Welker (Yonah Artemis Welker) is an entrepreneur, impact investor and influencer known for his passion and dedication to the OEI Domain (Openness, Education, Impact). Driven by the story of his rare neurological disease and a long-term improvement process, he has turned it into a comprehensive entrepreneurial journey at the intersection of venture capital, innovation and empowerment.
Currently he is the founder of the Yonah Fund. The Yonah Fund empowers individuals and ventures across the emerging communities of Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America with a key focus on impact ventures in such fields as Education, Health, Disability and Inclusion.
Fund Site: yonah.org
Official Site: yonahwelker.com
1. What is the Yonah Fund about?
It’s better to talk about the “Yonah Project”. Because our fund is a kind of the first step in our long-term work that encompasses various works, initiatives and projects which are divided on distinguished entities by 2030 year. Currently, the Yonah Fund empowers individuals and ventures across the emerging communities of Africa, Asia Pacific and Latin America with a key focus on impact ventures in such fields as Education, Health, Disability and Inclusion.
However, our mission is much broader. We have 3 main goals. Firstly, we would like to demonstrate that we have a whole “generation” (we call them “genes”. It’s like our indigo kids) across the emerging communities which is able to create amazing things, Secondly, we would like to help them to empower and scale their work. And thirdly, we plan to spread the “changemaker lifestyle’ across these regions and beyond through media projects and series.
2. Why did you decide to jump to the impact field and this long term project in particular?
Before 2014 I was a kind of a venture capital “guy”, mostly involved in hardware, machine learning and big data. I’ve made 2 exits (not very successful actually), collaborated with various startups and ventures across the Silicon Valley and beyond. However later I have realized that today venture capitalists are mostly focused on “trying to convince people that things work” instead of creating of the innovations, technologies and startups which ACTUALLY work. Call it “hustle” or somehow. But it’s a key reason why we have a little progress in such areas as a mental health and neuroscience for instance (I had the opportunity to check this on myself).
At the same time my entrepreneurial way has been hugely driven by my personal story (i’m a disabled person with a pretty rare neurological disease). So my passion to entrepreneurship was always connected to my personal limitations (and experiments in this field as well). Does this hustle ecosystem make me feel sad? Sure! So once I just decided to change my life and focus on impact ventures and everything that helps to inspire this mindset / lifestyle.
3. How did you come up with the idea of the Yonah Project?
Just after my latest big data startup, I’ve decided to spend few years in volunteering work, collaborating with impact ecosystems and programs across the US, Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa with a specific focus on youth and young innovators. It was really inspiring! Moreover it became a huge ideation basis for our current (and future) initiatives.
In particular, during this journey I realized 3 things:
- There are thousands of people like me who face real life issues (from disability to poverty or education access) and ready to solve it (before that I feel myself very depressed and isolated with circles of “successful” entrepreneurs who share nothing in common with me. So it was a kind of “like-minded people seeking” journey);
- We feel empathy and energy that inspire both myself and our peers. I have never felt anything like this before!;
- Together we are able to build sustainable projects and initiatives. So I just need to follow my guts and create a good plan.
Besides. I also realized that I don’t want to come back to my “CEO” work. That’s why I distanced myself from any operational processes and decisions in the Yonah Fund . Some people don’t believe me. Because I’ve spent my own money and resources on this project… But that’s how it works…Today I prefer to delegate things, because I work with like-minded people who share similar values and vision. And some of them are much smarter than me in finances for instance. 🙂
4. What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
Initially I was afraid that this journey is too risky for me (or even fatal in some way). I have taken huge risks when spent all my resources on this work and left my previous ventures without any output in terms of the revenue (at least on this stage). Yonah Project really differs from everything I’ve done before. You know, before I come from the detailed research, business plan, figures, mathematics. Everything was calculated both in my life and ventures. I was a kind of “the robot” for doing things.
Maybe It was satisfying my partners, but not me. But the worst thing, that I haven’t felt that my work really matters Once I asked myself: so what would happen if my company will not exist? Do you know what? Nothing will change actually. Later I realized that the biggest risk for me is just spending my lifetime on things that both don’t matter for me and people like me. That’s why I’ve decided to change my life and work / venture approach.
Sure, I’m still driven by a good plan and consciousness. And I don’t want to advice anyone like “Follow your guts”. Venture, innovation and entrepreneurship are much more comprehensive things However today there is a more place for an intuition in my agenda that helps me to move in the right direction (I hope :))).
5. What were the beginnings of the Yonah Fund? How did you finance it?
Just in the beginning we have built the key rules which formed the basis of our work. For instance, it meant that the Yonah fund is a network that is:
- Independent (we don’t involve external funding on the early stage to define our own mission, vision and culture);
- Community-driven (we mostly rely on our extensive talent network and young peers to do things);
- Impact-focused (we value impact over revenue when we evaluate projects and works).
Initially we used our own resources to bring it to the life and then attracted some support and external help to scale it. After that I have distanced myself from any operational processes, delegating this work to the team of people I trust. As for me, I have chosen a “lead trustee” role that mostly involves me in things related to culture, education and working with our Genes. I like this work. And I believe that I bring much more value as a “Gene engineer” than CEO.
Besides, I would like to repeat that the Yonah Project has a long term profile. So it’s still under development process by 2024-2030 (it will also involve some multilateral organizations as well). So every year our fund’s team experiments with various models and approaches. For instance, we have launched the fellowship program in the last year and gathered something about 1000 applications (including ideas, works, projects, ventures and stories) across the globe without any promotion (it was our goal), using only our network. In this year we have started some experiments in Africa and Latin America.
We plan to try many things before 2024-2030 both in terms of the approach, focus fields and format. Besides, we try to combine our work in the Yonah Fund with our other initiatives, including our upcoming media channel. It’s a pretty complex work, so it’s hard to discuss each project not describing “the whole picture” and vision.
6. How do you attract public attention to the issues which your fellows, ventures and peers tackle?
It’s better to say, how our fund’s team plans to attract attention in the future. Because until 2020, we try to work in kind of “stealth” mode, mostly collaborating through our channels, partners and peers. I’ve already mentioned one example related to our fellowship program. But actually that’s how we are working in the next few years as well! We don’t need any attention. Instead, we need to learn how to solve various issues in the most effective and beneficial (for people) way.
Moreover, we consider “public attention” not as promo activities, but the whole long term project dedicated to the new mindset and lifestyle. We believe that it’s not enough to create a video or Ted Talk to solve any problem. You need to spend at least 10-20 years, creating, collaborating, helping and educating to actually change people mind and attitude regarding specific issues and problems. However even a such work is just a beginning to empower development of some regions and communities which we are involved in.
7. How do you make sure that your approach actually works?
I believe that your social idea works. If you are able to grow and promote something relying mostly on the word of mouth and community (or even scale it across the globe), That’s why our team is trying to avoid any promotion or marketing that will push our work to people (until 2024).
I don’t want to be a pathetic. However I use the term “family” talking about the Yonah community and our peers (encompassing all of our projects and initiatives, including upcoming media channel). We have spent few years, building our core values, vision and underlying what make us like-minded people (I think there are about 6-10 parameters that unite our peers).
Sure, currently we are pretty small (in comparison to my previous experience). But it’s good to see that our small and clean international aquarium works. 🙂
8. What is your fundraising advice for other impact entrepreneurs?
I would like to mention 3 main things which reflect our latest initiative.
- Don’t use any fundraising until you leveraged any other methods (from your own savings to your family and friends);
- Remember that sometimes crowdworking is better than crowdsourcing (ask your community to help you via sharing time, skills and knowledge);
- Consider your community and peers as a key long term capital (invest your time / resources back to your community to make it more powerful).
9. What advice for scaling could you share?
I’m not sure that such advices have any value for your fellows because I believe that if you are able to build something which actually works, so it is not a deal to figure out how to scale it.
Sometimes I mention that we need more real surgeons, scientists and artists, not hustlers, because if you able to perform a brain surgery in Zurich, so you are able to perform it in Tokyo or Berlin. The problem is that just few people who are really able to perform it.
Don’t think about scaling. Think about a surgery and recovered patient. It’s the real deal.
10. How do you plan to change the system?
We are not able (and plan) to “change the system”. But we are able to change ourselves. I’ve started our conversation discussing myself. I’ve spent more than 15 years trying to figure out what to do with my autoimmune disorder, aftermath of Cushing syndrome and cognitive issues, experimenting with a training, medication, chemical treatment and educational approaches.
Do you think, I was able to fix my health issues? Nope, my journey it’s just in the beginning (life is not a movie, I’m sorry). But now I know much more than ever how to actually fix it. Moreover, I have learnt various techniques and knowledge that allow me to help others as well (ohh, I’m not a doctor, but I can discuss it in hours). Our economy and communities work in the similar way. Start from yourself, then share it with others through entrepreneurship, innovation, education, creation, art..
People are not ideal. So you can’t guarantee that everything will work. However let’s to be optimists, we may consider that many will share your experience and attitude as well. So there are good chances for an evolution of socio-economic system and solving of various issues in Eastern Europe or Indonesia for instance.
By they way in the past I even used a motto on my business cards, hoping that people will share this attitude – “Hackers, Painters and World Without A Clutter”. There was a random call to action as well… 🙂
11. What is the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the SocialInnovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Do you know what distinguish the real social innovators and humanitarians? They try to solve complex issues coming from own pain, limitations and failures. They bring understanding, empathy, courage and love for other people, because they were not able to get it for themselves.
That’s why they are very… very fragile.. like big kids…
So my advice is simple – don’t make compromises with your dreams, conscience and mission. Save yourself and then help others to do the same.
Name: Yonah Welker
Occupation: Entrepreneur, Impact Investor | YonahFund, YChannel
Country: US, South Africa (since 2019)
Quick Bio: Yonah A. Welker (Yonah Artemis Welker) is an entrepreneur and influencer is known for his passion and dedication to the OEI Domain (Openness, Education, Impact). Driven by the story of his rare neurological disease and a long-term improvement process, he has turned it into a comprehensive entrepreneurial journey at the intersection of venture capital, innovation and empowerment.
Сurrently he is the founder of the Yonah fund (formerly WM Network), that exclusively empowers ideas in the OEI domain. Besides, he is involved in various works, ventures and projects dedicated to education, empowerment and development across the US, Africa and Asia Pacific communities.
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