Born in Egypt and raised in New York City, Paxful CEO Ray Youssef has never forgotten his African roots. On most days, he’s the busy CEO of the world’s leading peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplace, frequently discussing important matters in meeting rooms and flying around the world to oversee his four global offices and attend international crypto events and conferences. 

Portrait of Ray Youssef, CEO of Paxful

Recently, when Ray was catching his breath between meetings, I invited him to tell me more about the #BuiltWithBitcoin initiative. Suddenly, the usually serious CEO started speaking with an elevated tone of voice and smiling from ear to ear.

Building 100 schools in emerging countries isn’t something to be done overnight, and Ray is going to explain why you should support this initiative.

Ray, what inspired you to start the #BuiltWithBitcoin initiative? 

I like doing epic stuff. I saw an Instagram post of a guy building an orphanage in Afghanistan and it was Yusuf Nessary, founder of Zam Zam Water. The video he posted was amazing and captured my emotions so I started chatting with this guy. He was working two or three part-time jobs just so he could travel around the world and do this. His story inspired me so much so I started donating personally and that was the first time I really donated to anything. 

And then I found out that he was trying to build a school in Africa so we started chatting more. He wasn’t asking for any money, but I thought it was amazing because Africa is one of Paxful’s biggest markets and I’d love to be able to give back. What’s cooler than building schools? Children will still be going to school in a hundred years and they’ll take that education from there to make a difference in the world. This is how we can make a difference in the world with bitcoin. From there we decided to take it to another notch and build 100 schools. 

Paxful team and the kids in Africa

How are the schools going to differ from each other?

A lot of it depends on who we are building the schools for. The first two in Rwanda are in the heart of Africa and we built them with the local team there. The same team is actually building the next two schools which are going to be in the most needful villages in Kenya. We haven’t forgotten about the first two schools though; we’re upgrading them constantly and they’re getting a new kitchen. Kids there will then get nutritious meals prepared locally every day. The schools we build aren’t just schools, they’re campuses.

African kid playing blocks inside a school

We want to give back to the world in a way that is sustainable. We believe that every for-profit company should have the duty of giving back as one of the core pillars. 

What do you think differentiates the BWB initiative from other bitcoin-funded campaigns?

For me, BWB is about building real structures and funding them with bitcoin. Donors have to understand that we’re not giving bitcoin or blockchain addresses to laborers in Rwanda they’re not interested in that! They wanted Rwandan franc to buy food and feed their families. 

We're not giving bitcoin or blockchain addresses to laborers in Rwanda — they're not interested in that!

What we did was to introduce bitcoin to the country, and there was a tremendous need for it. The market price in Rwanda was about 15-20% higher than that in the U.S. or Europe. We brought in about a quarter million dollars of bitcoin and got a quarter million dollars worth of Rwandan francs out of it because of the discrepancy of the market.

How has your program improved over time?

Ray Youssef with children from Africa

Paxful is growing tremendously over time. We started this initiative when we were less than 30 people in 2017. We had a very small team, purely bootstrapped. We thought it was insane to build schools! I did help dig one of the wells but that’s the thing we actually pull the trigger and do things. We don’t just talk about it. It has been a huge source of spiritual and moral strength for us. 

Our mission is extreme; we’re up against forces in the world governments and banks. We’re trying to bring financial liberation that people need the most. The truth is, we need more power on our side to actually be able to do this. 

How do you introduce bitcoin to the unbanked? 

Paxful has done an amazing job in onboarding the unbanked and underbanked. This is what bitcoin should be used to do! We found a way to serve those people to get them into the crypto economy. One of the ways we do it is through gift cards. However, it’s not enough to just help the unbanked, we have to connect them to banks. We have to make those connections for them and that’s the only way we can create massive wealth for each other. Young people in underdeveloped nations are entrepreneurs. That is tremendous potential and energy we need to turn into wealth. 

How does your team usually go about building a school? 

We have amazing partners who are honest, efficient, and fast. Yusuf and his team are all over the globe. They’ve built wells and schools all over. We aren’t building the schools ourselves, besides digging wells here and there! 

Just today, an architect from Switzerland who is moving to Rwanda contacted me and said he wanted to help redesign the schools, which is amazing! #BuiltWithBitcoin can really change the world!

How has the partnership with Zam Zam Water been?

It’s been amazing. I trust Zam Zam Water with my life. They are the [people] that really restored my hope in non-profits. They are true angels. Yusuf doesn’t care about anything except actually getting things done. To me as an entrepreneur, that’s the exact same mindset I have when I go into doing something. I can’t help but respect that. 

What are the biggest needs in Africa? 

When I talked to people in Africa about their money problems from a Paxful perspective, I learned that there’s plenty of money in Africa. People just can’t use it! The banking network is not one cohesive entity like the banks in America. If someone’s trying to send money from a bank in Nigeria to a bank in Germany, the banks won’t easily translate their money. 

People have generated tremendous wealth within their economy but when they want to buy something outside of their economy, they’re in trouble. These countries all have capital controls so when people are selling their native currencies to a European bank, it’s like converting their own money to euros, which makes their money worth less. The economy will then be devalued and their government can buy less stuff. Their money is in a prison! They might as well get on a plane and transport their money physically to New York City rather than trusting banks.

African family

It gets even worse – some banks give you a debit card but limit you to $100 a month. You can’t buy anything! People in emerging countries are living with this reality and we are completely oblivious to it. That repression and imprisonment of their money is the biggest obstacle to their money. We can actually fix that! We’re now giving someone access to every single financial network on the planet using bitcoin. It’s the ultimate evolution and value of money.

You can make a difference

Thanks to our past donors, around USD$200,000 has been raised since the launch of the initiative in 2017 and 400 children aged between 3 and 15 are now able to go to school.

The #BuiltWithBitcoin initiative doesn’t aim to just build schools, but also maintain them over time. This means an ongoing cost and we need help from partners from around the globe. Bitcoin can make real impact, and we want to show you what donors in the past have helped us achieve:

First School Second School
Type of school Nursery Education Center Primary school
Location Kasebigege Village, Rwanda Rwanda
Number of children benefited Ages of 3-6 in a village of 7,500 people 300 (aged 6-15)
Structure within the school ○    3 Classrooms

○    4 Restrooms with potable irrigation system

○    15,000 L water tank and water-catchment system

○      6 Classrooms

○      Cafeteria

○      Bathroom stalls

○      Solar panel

○      35,000 L water system

Additional features A farm that will encourage sustainable agriculture for the whole village This school is double the size of the first

To show our gratitude, Paxful will match every dollar donated!

We are calling for partners to build the third school fully funded with bitcoin. We’re looking for adventurous companies that want to be part of a revolution and make education happen for underprivileged children in Africa. All donations will go to Zam Zam Water Organization to fund the building of an early education center for kids ages 3 to 6 in Machakos, Kenya.

If you want to be part of this revolution in financial philanthropy or an idea that can be #BuiltWithBitcoin, please don’t hesitate to message one of Paxful’s Social Media pages and channels.

To contribute to #BuiltwithBitcoin, please make donations via Bitcoin:

BTC (Bitcoin): 3EGxPr7NwbiDfyXWcgvtuvHRmGZRRDmaMT