Keela: Born out of need.
The Very Beginning
Keela’s goal is to be the technology used by nonprofits, supporting them in working better and empowering more positive change.
However, Keela’s story, its very origins, are deeply personal to me— and in many ways, a by-product of my family’s intersectional and intergenerational history. It’s a testament to the value and spirit of civil society, which has defined my family.
I was born in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the eldest son of two incredibly hard-working and loving parents, who have, like so many immigrant parents, dedicated their whole lives to providing their children with the opportunity to change the world.
My parents’ commitment to their children’s future is inspiring, but given our family history, not all-together surprising. My family has lived on four continents over the past four generations—and their migrations were usually not by choice.
My great-grandparents left what is now India due to religious persecution, sailing down the western coast of India and the eastern coast of Africa, chasing a better life, safety, and opportunity in Tanzania.
After a generation or so of living in Tanzania, my forefathers experienced a change to their peaceful existence with growing political unrest in the region (e.g. Uganda). A nationalization agenda by the Tanzanian government that specifically targeted South Asians provoked fears of persecution in our ethnic community. This time, my grandparents (with my parents, as young children, in tow) fled Tanzania and moved to England.
Their arrival in London represented a new beginning. It was here that my parents began to truly thrive. Underlying their hard work, success, and opportunity was a strong sense of community; it was families, religious institutions, scholarships, and civil society that supported my Mum and Dad to blossom and become the amazing people and inspiring parents that they are today.
When my parents moved to Canada, they never forgot how civil society had transformed their lives. They instilled in my brothers and I, that becoming part of our community, giving back, and contributing to civil society was important. It was our fundamental duty to ensure that we built and supported a country, that is strong, diverse, and inclusive.
For as long as I can remember, the nonprofit sector has been part of my life—from raising money, to volunteering, to eventually leading organizations. This sector is in my DNA. The more involved I got, the more I realized the enormous impact that nonprofits have every day, how much they are an essential part of the fabric of our community.
My first foray into leadership was at the age of 17, when I founded an event called Hockey for Hope, a 12-hour hockey game that raised $16,000 in one day for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. When I was 21, I founded End Poverty Now and at age 24, I wrote High on Life: Stories of Hope, Change, and Leadership—which showcases the amazing work of 17 young change-makers from across the world.
But it wasn’t until I went to graduate school that I truly began to understand the broader value of the nonprofit sector. There, as part of my research, I learned how important civil society and the nonprofit sector are to our very democracy. Many scholars believe that a lively and empowered civil society is both a precondition to establishing democracy and a requirement to maintaining it.
Thus, building and strengthening the nonprofit sector isn’t just about supporting important and life-changing organizations in our community, it’s about ensuring the success of a fundamental pillar of our society. A strong sector makes each of us fundamentally more free, protecting us all from the terrible injustices that have afflicted too many people across the world.
An Idea was Born
Keela wasn’t founded in one day. It was an evolution of ideas and experiences over decades of my life.
I enrolled in law school at Osgoode Hall in Toronto. After a year, feeling restless, I took a year away from school to work with the United Nations, where I was posted to Belgrade, Serbia and Cairo, Egypt.
This is where I experienced impact through a different lens and reaffirmed my understanding that, without civil society, we cannot build thriving democracies. My belief in the importance of nonprofits was strengthened and I returned to law school with an increased passion and a deepened interest in the nonprofit sector.
It was during law school that Keela was truly born. I was working with a local Toronto nonprofit that struggled with technology and scaling. I realized that, while technology is transforming almost every aspect of our lives, small nonprofits (integral to so many communities) didn’t have access to powerful, transformative tech.
Did you know, according to McKinsey, more than $60-billion per year, in the US alone, is lost to administrative inefficiency and wasted opportunities.
I viscerally felt this missed opportunity in the organizations that I worked with. Then, one day, I realized … maybe technology can solve it.
What started as a crazy idea quickly became an obsession. I began exploring what technology for nonprofit organizations could mean. To be clear, other tools existed, but I needed to approach the problem (and opportunity) differently, more accessibly. I needed to find a way to elevate every nonprofit, no matter their size, allowing them to further their impact, and strengthening civil society in a bold way.
Today, Keela is on the cutting edge of innovation in the sector. Our tools are driven by Keela Intelligence—analytics, reporting, even AI, to help our customers work more effectively. At the time we were founded, I couldn’t have imagined what we would become.
Keela officially certified as a B-Corp, solidifying our legal commitment to impact. Today, we proudly remain a B-Corp, always prioritizing people over profit and never forgetting our commitment to the communities in which we operate.
Keela’s origin story, and our organization’s values, are actually encapsulated by our name, “Keela”.
Tanzania still holds a special place in my heart and my family history. Our company’s name is an ode to that. “Keela” is an iteration of the Swahili word “kila”, which means “every” or “all”. Our name reflects our value of inclusion, but more personally, it serves as an important reminder that Keela’s mission is to serve and support every organization that is building our community and civil society.
In this way, I truly believe that Keela helps strengthen our democracies across the world—and I hope my grandparents would be proud that their legacy of resilience, of hope, and of community spirit lives on, not only in their grandchildren, but also in this wonderful organization that we have built.
Nejeed Kassam, CEO and Founder of Keela