Start-ups invited to apply to prized Maasai Mara innovation competition

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What you need to know:

  • The hackathon will challenge teams of developers, designers and entrepreneurs to build a last-mile payment tracking solution for the Maasai Mara community.
  • Hackathon participants will benefit from a pool of cash and in-kind prizes of up to Sh10 million alongside opportunities for follow-on funding by Mara Foundation or its partners.


Talented innovators from across the country are invited to apply for the ‘Hack the Mara’ hackathon competition, initiated to inspire the development of transparent payment solutions for communities living in remote areas.

The hackathon, an initiative of the Mara Foundation in partnership with USDC creator Circle, will challenge teams of developers, designers and entrepreneurs to build a last-mile payment tracking solution for the Maasai Mara community.

“Mara Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of ‘Hack the Mara’, a week-long immersive hackathon bringing together talented innovators from across Africa to build impactful solutions and empower a community,” noted the foundation in an announcement.

The Maasai Mara is one of the most important conservation areas in the world and a significant source of livelihood for the Maasai land owners, who rely on wildlife and tourism for upkeep.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, resulted in a loss of tourism, jeopardising the revenue previously realised, and threatening to bring the entire ecosystem down. To date, the country’s tourism sector is still struggling to fully recover.

Fund distribution programme

To preserve the Mara ecosystem, a fund distribution program was established by the Mara Foundation, but there were concerns that the disbursed funds did not reach the intended beneficiaries.

The hackathon was therefore established to encourage the development of solutions that would ensure transparency in the disbursement and distribution processes, for all the relevant stakeholders.

Innovators who apply to the hackathon will go through an online selection process, where eight teams from across the region shall be selected to participate in the main event at Ishara, in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Interested individuals should form a team of three and select a team lead.

One of the members must be a woman. Every team that has successfully registered will be required to take a short practical test on HackerRank for the first level of shortlisting, before presenting their main idea.

The judges will select the finalists based on their originality, creativity, innovation, analytical skills, strategic thinking and practical implementation of their solutions.

The eight teams that qualify shall spend a week at Ishara in the Maasai Mara conceiving, developing, and pitching creative solutions that will allow all partners in the Maasai Mara ecosystem to have transparent access to the disbursement process and verify that the intended beneficiaries are credited.

Blockchain technology

Participants will utilise blockchain technology via USSD and Mpesa for payment transparency.

Mara Foundation will provide a test platform on which the top eight proposals will be prototyped.

“The teams are expected to build solutions that can serve anyone, anywhere no matter how remote. This includes serving areas of low internet penetration and low smartphone adoption,” noted the foundation.

The solution must offer transparency to all relevant stakeholders, confirmation of payment and identity, and must adhere to best practices including Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies.

“Decentralised Finance applications are built on top of blockchain platforms, and aim to provide financial services that are typically provided by centralised institutions such as banks, lenders, or insurance companies. You should build applications that ensure parties in the Maasai Mara ecosystem can have visibility into the disbursement process and ensure the intended beneficiaries are credited,” noted the foundation.

Hackathon participants will benefit from a pool of cash and in-kind prizes of up to Sh10 million alongside opportunities for follow-on funding by Mara Foundation or its partners.

Additional benefits include mentorship throughout the hack, access to partner companies offering employment opportunities and completion badges.

Global early-stage venture capital firm and start-up builder, Antler, will also offer the winning solution the opportunity to join the Antler Nairobi program to develop their idea into a business further and potentially receive investment.

“Hack the Mara is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Maasai Mara, interact directly with the affected communities, and build a decentralised application that solves a real-world problem,” said the foundation.

Applications are open between July 14 and August 5, 2022, with the main competition set to take place in Kenya between September 17-26, 2022.

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