When Africhange’s CEO David Ajala first moved to Canada in 2010, he had no idea what a startup was. Much less that he’d be a founder at one before the decade ended. After four years of trying to emigrate, he was just happy to finally be in the country of his dreams, pursuing a tertiary education and hopefully, a better life.
Despite his immigration being many years in the making, it was anything but ideal. David arrived in Canada as many immigrants arrive at their destination countries; with barely enough money on him and no idea where he would spend his first night. He survived his first few weeks by a combination of luck and the goodwill of other Africans he met. In those early days, there were very few African faces in Edmonton, the city he would go on to call home for the next 13 years, but coming across a fellow African was always a good omen, especially because they were very helpful.
“There’s a kind of shared goodwill among Africans in Canada regardless of your country of origin. Once an African person identifies you as a fellow African, they’re super willing to help. It was one of the things that helped me settle here quickly,” David said about his experience in Canada. A Sierra Leonean woman he met on the bus offered him a place to sleep on his first night and eventually helped him find his next job. African members of his local church would also help him with donations that provided sustenance while he was in school.
In the years since David moved to Canada, immigration from African countries has spiked as many young Africans search for better economic opportunities in Europe and North America. Between 2016 and 2021 alone, the Black population in Canada (largely comprised of African immigrants) grew by over 20% from 1.2 million to 1.5 million people. The fast-growing number of immigrants is a positive indicator for Africhange, a remittance company that has served immigrants in Canada since 2020.
But it is not just the numbers; the increase in immigrants has had a net positive influence on the lives of other immigrants. “When I moved to Edmonton, there were not a lot of Africans here and it felt quite lonely. We had only one Nigerian restaurant in the entire city. Today, there are so many options to choose from and a thriving African community to boot,” David added.
Although Africhange may appear to be like any other remittance company on the outside, the sense of shared African goodwill David experiences in its early days is hard-baked into its culture, influencing how it operates. According to employees, the startup has always championed giving back to the community.
Despite being a bootstrapped startup, it has consistently sought to provide the lowest rates for immigrants since its founding in December 2020. Speaking on the ethos that drives Africhange, David revealed, “From our earliest days, we’ve recognized the importance of affordable remittance services for individuals and families who rely on it for essential needs, so we’ve always tried to keep the rates low enough to allow us to run efficiently and stay competitive.” While the company is open to raising venture investment in the future, it promises to keep its ethos and culture as-is for the foreseeable future.
As David did in 2010, many Africans are migrating via the academic route as it is more accessible for educated middle-income Africans. While academic migration is a global phenomenon, the reality is often different for African migrants. Unlike many of their global peers, African immigrants often arrive at their destination countries without much of a safety net. Many of them have to work to meet up with the financial demands of their new realities and a significant percentage even have to send money back home. This means that for those who receive aid from home, every dollar counts.
These students form a significant part of the remittance market that Africhange serves and the company has created new ways for to support them via the Africhange Foundation. The Africhange Foundation is a sister organization that seeks to improve the entire range of cross-border experiences for African immigrants starting with Nigerians. Tega Gabriel, The Growth Manager at Africhange, had this to say about the Africhange Foundation, “The first few months for any student immigrant are the most important. Their immediate community and support system set the tone for how much value they are able to gain from immigrating. At Africhange Foundation, we want to support as many student migrants to get the best possible experience by offering them a soft landing in the form of grants and exclusive exchange rates.”
For its first initiative, the Africhange Foundation is starting with a grant program for 25 to 30 students in Canada. The students will receive between $2500 to $3000 which will go towards their education and upkeep. The foundation has also instituted a Student Advantage Program (SAP) which provides discounted rates to students who register through the program. The discounts cover transactions in the NGN-CAD allowing them to receive funds from home at the best rates..
Although Canada is where the startup currently calls home, its true home is wherever there is an immigrant community. Pending license approvals, Africhange plans to expand to the US, EU, and UK in the next year. It also wants to expand its services to serve immigrants all around the world. As an immigrant-led startup, the company wants to enable other immigrants to access the support they need to set up a new life in a new country. For a bootstrapped startup, Africhange is making the change it wants to see in the world.