We launched the On Deck Access Fund in September of 2020 based on our belief that high-potential talent is spread far and wide around the world. The Access Fund ensures that ambitious builders have every opportunity to become On Deck Fellows by removing financial barriers.
In the short time since, the Access Fund has provided over 700 scholarships. The majority of these recipients have been concentrated in our flagship On Deck Founders Fellowship, but many have enrolled on scholarship into our other specialized programs.
Recipient Maya Caddle is a current Fellow in the inaugural On Deck Catalyst Fellowship, a cohort of young leaders who want to solve the world’s most pressing problems. For Maya, becoming an On Deck Fellow meant she could engage a community of “like-minded people in a larger mission-driven support network.” This is vital in her work as a fierce advocate for African tech and connecting her to other passionate and innovative operators in emerging markets.
We caught up with Maya to chat about the importance of unlocking financial barriers to allow for the emergence of global talent, and why “taking the unconventional career path” is better when you do it in community.
You first found out about On Deck through peers in another online community. Why have you pursued being a part of online communities in the last few years?
Maya: I really believe in the transformative power of communities. About a year and a half ago, I joined the incredible Interact community, and it was through them that I learned about On Deck. These environments are resource-rich! It’s less people giving you direct advice, and more people sharing how they have approached problems themselves. As a participant I can listen and think, “Hmm, maybe I could try that and adapt it for myself in this or that way.”
Another incredible aspect is that these online communities for builders and mission-driven creators normalize some of the extraordinary opportunities that exist. And don't get me wrong. Of course, achieving success in tech is not an easy task. But it's not as inaccessible as sometimes the media, or your immediate surroundings, makes it seem.
What made you decide to submit your application to the On Deck Catalyst Fellowship
Maya: When I found out about the On Deck Catalyst Fellowship I was trying to figure out what my next step should be, should I double down on the African tech scene or not?
I'm especially extroverted, I learn a lot from other people, and I draw a lot of energy from the people around me. Thinking of all of that, I always kept On Deck in my mind. When I heard about the Catalyst Fellowship, I thought that it sounded like the perfect fellowship for me. I felt I needed to be in a communal environment around other people who are in a similar stage or thinking of going down an unconventional path.
Can you share a bit about your circumstances at the time?
Maya: At the time I was not happy with my current position. I knew I was passionate about the African tech scene and had been steadily building an amazing network on the continent. I was also working as a Product Manager at a travel tech company which is an uncertain place to be during COVID. I knew that I wanted to take an unconventional career path but was uncertain of what exactly my next step would be.
Back in 2019, I had decided that the best way to learn about the African tech scene was to physically be on the continent so I bought myself a flight to Kenya. Two weeks later, I arrived in Kenya with no specific plans and having never been there. I just networked and managed to get leads and opportunities. I ended up working for a pan-African neobank and as a consultant to a Tanzanian telecom on the side, which was building mobile money products for the Muslim community. So I know that it’s possible to dive in and just start exploring by doing. I wanted to regain some of that energy and momentum through On Deck and I have by hearing the experiences and advice from other fellows.
What are some of the impactful experiences you’ve had during ODC?
Maya: I hosted a panel session this past Monday for On Deck about crypto in Africa. I'm doing it in partnership with my podcast, called The Creators Africa, where I speak to founders and operators on the continent including the likes of Yele Bademosi (the ex-Head of Binance Labs Africa) and Jason Njoku (the founder of iRoko, the Netflix of Africa which is IPOing in London).
It’s been powerful to leverage my network, and On Deck’s, to bring people together into interesting panel sessions. For this taping, we had entrepreneurs who have the backing of the likes of Michael Seibel and Elizabeth Yin’s Hustle Fund, including another On Deck Fellows, all doing different things in crypto—like building an exchange or building a social platform—who believe in the importance of it for emerging markets. Even if you are not an On Deck fellow you can listen to this session on The Creators Africa podcast!
That panel session along with a conversation I actually had with an On Deck fellow yesterday really helped cement in me my interest in the creator economy and crypto space in emerging markets. I realised that I truly believe that the real use cases for crypto are in emerging markets and that this along with the creator economy could really transform these markets. Even last night, I spent the night planning out what I wanted to do and focusing on my next steps. It was a creative whirlwind, with pieces of paper mapped out on the floor.
Have you emerged with a different definition of community since being active in On Deck?
Maya: My definition of community hasn’t changed but I do have a new understanding of the power of community.
Intentionally touching base with your wider community periodically, especially with those who will be completely honest with you and will challenge you, even if the feedback is uncomfortable to hear at times, has been key to helping me identify, align and commit to my goals.
Hearing and exchanging advice provides me with the additional resilience needed when taking an unconventional path. From my conversations with other On Deck Fellows it has helped to recognize that I truly am passionate about the African tech scene and to continue to double down on all of the work I am doing in this area.
Why do you think the Access Fund is so powerful?
Maya: When I think of access, I think about my grandparents who came to the UK from Barbados. They came from poor families and they worked their asses off to be able to educate both of their kids, against the backdrop of the racism prevalent in the UK at the time.
For me, whatever I try to do and be a part of is to give people the access and opportunities that my grandparents had to be able to better themselves.
There are so many people in this world who have so much potential, and they may not even know it. Maybe they need to be guided slightly, maybe they need to be in the right environments or community. It’s luck of the draw really, to be born in the West rather than a slum in an emerging market. I think that's wrong. Imagine how much more powerful our world would be if we were able to identify and nurture that talent. That's really what access means. It's about cultivating talent. Cultivating people.
What do you hope for as the Access Fund grows?
Maya: I've been reaching out to people in sub-Saharan Africa who I know and encouraging them to apply to On Deck. Their response is usually: it sounds amazing, but they can't afford it. Because the price is really not affordable in many emerging markets. That's where the Access Fund is so important, because access is not just in terms of class within the West. Access is also geographical: cross-continental, and diverse. It's especially important in the increasingly globalized and international world we live in.