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Kevin Imani, NEAR Kenya Regional Hub Lead, on Their US$ 50,000 Grants for High-Quality Web3 Projects

Blockchain tech has been having a moment for a while now, and pretty soon Web 3.0 will become the new decentralized normal. Kevin Imani, NEAR Kenya Lead and CEO of Sankore 2.0, talks about the work the NEAR Kenya regional hub does to support the building of Web3 projects on NEAR protocol to grow the blockchain ecosystem.

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Blockchain tech has been having a moment for a while now, and pretty soon Web 3.0 will become the new decentralized normal. Kevin Imani, NEAR Kenya Lead and CEO of Sankore 2.0, talks about the work the NEAR Kenya regional hub does to support the building of Web3 projects on NEAR protocol to grow the blockchain ecosystem.

The emergence of blockchain was bound to disrupt the whole tech industry, given that it has facilitated the decentralization of the World Wide Web. With blockchain at its very foundation, Web 3.0 provides an open field for creating, controlling, and owning digital assets through permissionless, peer-to-peer transactions.

This is obviously going to be a game-changer. You can expect almost every industry sector, from energy, technology, and healthcare, to media, to utilize web 3.0 blockchain tech in their day-to-day processes in the next ten years or so. So if you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon, I suggest you strap yourself in.

We shared an interesting conversation with Kevin Imani, NEAR Kenya Lead and CEO of Sankore 2.0, a blockchain hub supporting developers building Web3 projects on NEAR Protocol. Below, he gives his insight on the future of blockchain tech and Web 3.0 in Africa and the impact of NEAR Kenya since its inception. 

Tell us about the work NEAR Kenya does.
It’s an extension of what the existing NEAR ecosystem is doing, but specifically in Africa. We started thinking about how to implement and involve larger communities within Africa in the blockchain world. Given that we had a good relationship with the NEAR foundation, it was an opportunity for us to work with them and start thinking about building a model for that starting off in Kenya. Very quickly, we witnessed organic growth and expanded into over 10 countries. And so the company is now predominantly doing that - focusing on building an ecosystem for Web 3.0 projects. Think of it as the entry point of Web3 talent. 

You are very accomplished. How and when did you figure out your passion and purpose? Most of us struggle with that. 

Thank you, that’s very kind. 

I believe that purpose is never static - rather, always evolving. If we adopt that perspective, we will find that every step, achievement, and mistake contributes to the constant pursuit of purpose. Making mistakes is also an important part of it because anything worth doing is likely to have many hurdles and failures along the way. This can often mean the difference between progress and stagnation in the continuous pursuit of purpose.

I don’t think there was a specific point when I figured it out. It was more of a quick rush to refine my interest and not be too anxious to verbalize the kinds of ventures I wanted to get into. I think I also had a relatively good network of people in the private and public sectors and both within blockchain and outside of it who helped me in that pursuit.

You founded Sankore 2.0 last year to help build Open Web and Web3 solutions in Africa. What did you intend to achieve? 

Indeed, it was last year. Isn’t that crazy? (laughs)

When I started it, I was hoping to accomplish two things: 

First is the historical narrative that we’ve grown to know it represents - an attachment to its values, which is the primary objective. Sankore is mainly based on the values we want to have and the framework of our story. 

During the 16th century, Sankore was a mosque in Timbuktu, Mali, run by Mansa Musa, who was the emperor at the time and known to have the most advanced mathematics, science, technology, literature, and medicine. There was an incredibly high prestige of knowledge production and sharing in Sankore, and it was the most advanced learning center at the time. People knew that if you wanted to figure out where the future was going, you had to go to Sankore. 

Those values were exciting to me, and I wanted to echo them in today’s 21st century through Sankore 2.0. I knew that I wanted to focus on tech and thought blockchain is currently one of the most innovative technologies. 

Our focus is on two core objectives:


  • Striving to be a key entry point for Web3 talent in Africa

  • We also aim to have a thriving Web3 ecosystem - that includes enabling the community to have the support and resources to produce high-quality projects.

Secondly, we wanted to become the reference point of blockchain innovation regardless of the industry, whether it is tokenisation, verification, education, or anything else. 

How has the journey grown the company during this period?

The company has grown really fast. I would even argue that it was way too fast. However, the cool thing about that is the story was and is being sold before we even produced anything. A lot of people both externally and internally believed in our story and wanted to follow our journey and contribute because of it.    

Who or what was instrumental in the NEAR Foundation - Sankore 2.0 collaboration to form the NEAR Kenya regional hub? 

We cannot fail to mention Illia and Marieke, the Co-Founders, for choosing to partner with Sankore 2.0, and fully supporting the NEAR Kenya regional hub. They understood the necessity to expand and have a regional presence of the NEAR ecosystem in order to get mass adoption. Therefore, they entrusted our team with executing the mandate of NEAR Protocol, on the continent. That support was significant and we do not take that for granted. 

Our team and our partners have been essential to our success as well. We would not be able to build such a formidable network without them. This is the network that allows us to catalyze such a thriving Web3 ecosystem all across Africa.

What does this partnership mean for developers in the African region?

The developers are going to be part of a network of contributors to blockchain ecosystems. NEAR Kenya and the NEAR Foundation were very intentional about building a builders’ market in Africa. You can see that through the support systems and networks they’ve put in place for that specifically for developers. It was very important for them to provide developers with an incredibly attractive, easy-to-use, and user-friendly UI/UX to code, which the NEAR blockchain has. It provides an actual platform where they can have stuff done because there are opportunities to join our ecosystems very easily. 

NEAR protocol is also an opportunity to increase the developers’ attention, meaning how long will developers stay in the ecosystem? Developers stay only when there are reasons to.  The way NEAR is set up is that it is intentional about that, and our blockchain is a reflection of it. We’re looking to constantly optimize the experience for developers. 

Who are your connections across Africa and how impactful have these connections been for NEAR Kenya? 

We have been fortunate enough to partner with connections across all industries and Governments in Africa. Some of these partnerships are; UABA in Zambia, ReitFast in Egypt, AfroValley in Ethiopia, BiotLabs in Nigeria, ABI in Rwanda, and CV Labs in South Africa. 

We have also positioned ourselves as a regional hub across the African continent, partnering with several countries in Africa such as South Africa, Zambia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Tunisia. For these countries, it was predominantly either an existing project or a company that wanted to build on NEAR for two reasons:


  • They noticed that building on NEAR was an attractive option because of the opportunities you can get in scaling and the support you can get financially, technologically, or with legal and marketing. 

  • They were already building on NEAR, heard about NEAR Kenya, and were curious about it and the support they offer to project owners. So they approached us with an interest in collaborating, building and supporting. 

These partnerships help support the agenda we have as a blockchain community, which is to accelerate blockchain innovation and talent development across the African continent. We are always open to partnering with accelerators and incubators whose vision aligns with ours.

NEAR Kenya offers grant funding for blockchain projects in Africa like UTU, HealthGo and Ledja. Tell us about these grants you offer for Web3 projects. 

The grants have given essential support to projects and builders, as we develop a thriving Web3 ecosystem - that includes enabling the community to have the support and resources to produce high-quality projects that allow the ecosystem to grow. 

We have internal objectives we desire to achieve when disbursing these grants, and a set of criteria is employed as well when qualifying applicants. An overview of these initial stages is as follows:


  • Eligibility check 

  • Pre-screening check 

  • Business review & Interview 

  • Technical review 

  • Grant Team approval

A grantee stands to receive up to 50,000 USD depending on the stage of development the project is at and the type of project too. This allowed us to allocate these funds faster, build trust and credibility faster, and get an opportunity to grow our footprint in Africa. 

After a grant applicant has been onboarded, they will also receive hands-on support from our team, and an assigned expert will assist them throughout. There are also set milestones that are monitored by the expert along the way. These are meant to be achieved at set times during the project development stage and after completion too.

What does that process look like for anyone with a project who is interested in applying?

This process has pretty essential stages, with guidance available on the NEAR Kenya site. The guide gives directions on how and where to start. 

How do we ensure that the process is smooth for every applicant and that the project in question is relevant? We check for these things:


  • There’s a quick turnaround time from the application time.

  • There is a thorough evaluation of each application/project.

  • The submitted project is hand in hand with NEAR Foundation. It is, however, important to us that these projects offer solutions that favour the African community.

This time of the year tends to inspire a reflective look back. What would you say has been the most significant moment / or highlight for you, while building the NEAR Kenya regional hub this year?

This year has been pivotal to our growth, and as such, there have been many moments we can highlight.

Perhaps the most significant ones have been when engaging with the team, the community of NEAR Protocol founders, builders, and practitioners from all around the world - Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, and even as far as Portugal where we were for NEARCON. We are part of a really incredible community here at NEAR Protocol, which is decentralized and largely remote-based. It has therefore been great to have those moments of building together, in person.

What are some of the biggest opportunities for blockchain innovation in Africa?

  • First, you have to think about the emerging and urgent trends happening in the world and what blockchain tech is going to do to solve the problems we have, given that it is one of the most innovative techs we have. Thus, conscious and thoughtful education will always be integral. 

  • Also, climate change is an attractive topic. We should be looking at nature-based problems, solutions, and initiatives to see how we can mitigate climate change with what blockchain technology is actually building. Think of regenerative finance, which means looking at new ways to either receive or allocate funds in a greener way that’s regenerative and can come back to you. I think that’s something that will be a huge driver in the next 10-15 years. Though I may be biased because we’re kind of already doing that with Open Forest Protocol. (laughs)

If you had a crystal ball, what do you think will bring the biggest change or disruption in the blockchain industry in 2023?

The nature of blockchain means that there is constant change and exploration of new use cases on a stable technology. We are a long way from realizing its full potential, so the biggest change or disruption is now only as far away as the creative solutions we can think of to solve everyday challenges. The answer literally lies within us, the solutions are in our hands.

Regarding the national-level implementation of certain industries that want to use blockchain tech, this can only occur when the conversation happens from the top. I think African countries will be the driver to implement regulatory frameworks where problems can be addressed in a rapid, scalable, and effective way and the entire world will follow that as an example.

Parting shot?

We’re building and optimizing what NEAR is doing in Africa. There’s a lot of work to be done and we’re a long way from realizing the potential of blockchain tech and the work we do. I’m excited about people coming with different ways of thinking when looking at the future and I really want us as Africans to be those drivers of change. 

If we can start building these different ventures and hold these respective values indigenous to us, there’s no reason why we can’t have the most thriving venture capital funds on earth through tech in Africa. Because why would we ask for money from outside for problems that we want to solve within? I want to encourage people to start thinking that way because now we can have conversations about what regenerative finance looks like for us in Africa. 

Written by

Sandra Musonge

Sandra Musonge is a part-time writer at Fuzu with over five years of experience under her belt, helping numerous B2B and B2C clients with their content needs. She writes to inspire and not just to inform. Her educational background in Biochemistry has given her a broad base from which to approach many topics. You can find her enjoying nature or trying out new recipes when she isn't writing.

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