Explaining Feenix: the Standard Bank-backed solution to #FeesMustFall

feenix student fund standard bank

There’s been a lot said about #FeesMustFall — at least in terms of the hashtag and the social movement it propelled. But in its wake, not many solutions have been penned by private institutions or government.

That is until now.

Feenix isn’t known to many in South Africa, even if the initiative was making itself known across universities as early as July 2016. But this week it officially launched to the wider public, backed by an industry heavyweight in Standard Bank.

What is Feenix?

First and foremost, Feenix describes itself as an “innovative solution which allows individuals and enterprises to donate money to universities on behalf of selected students to help them complete their studies”.

Loosely translated, it’s a crowdfunding platform, but instead of supporting products like the male romper, donors can support students by funding their outstanding tuition.

According to Feenix’s communications manager James King, the platform has around 800 users at present.

Both individuals and companies can pledge to cover entire tuition figures, or a percentage. And if they can’t decide who to fund, Feenix has also set up a pool “which is allocated to students in accordance with the Socio-Economic Development bracket of the B-BBEE charter”, the press release explains.

This is aptly dubbed the Feenix Pool.

“The Feenix Pool was developed as a convenient way for businesses to allocate their B-BBEE spend – but if a business would rather create their own pool of beneficiaries who the business confirms are demographically appropriate, they are welcome to do that as an alternative,” King tells Memeburn.

And for those donating as individuals, Feenix accepts amounts from R50.

How do you register?

The mechanics is also simple.

Students don’t run “campaigns” per se, but are allowed to motivate their case using images, video and text. Some profiles are stoically professional, fit with manicured cover letter and profile picture. Others prefer motivating with tales of personal experience, using their words as a paintbrush.

“All students details are verified, and their registration is checked with the University they specify,” King confirms, elaborating on Feenix’s vetting system.

“All South African students registered at any of South Africa’s 26 public universities whose household income is below the threshold of R600K/a are eligible.”

And unlike other platforms’ all-or-nothing funding approach, all funds donated to the student — whether the target has been met or not — will be paid directly to the university. They are however limited to requesting a single year’s tuition.

“Feenix has two funding periods per year, and pays out all funds gathered at the end of each period,” King clarifies.

Notably, all degree types and all accredited courses at these institutions are eligible.

Standard Bank’s three-year pledge

Fueling this initiative — at least in terms of ” financier and go-to-market partner” — is Standard Bank.

The bank has covered Feenix’s set-up costs and has “committed to whatever shortfall there is between the total operating costs and the income received from the admin fee charged to funders”, interim CEO of Feenix Trust Jayshree Naidoo explains.

Incidentally, that admin fee is 5%.

Standard has also announced that it will support Feenix for 36 months, or until the project is financially self-sustainable.

Crowdfunding and #FeesMustFall

While the government’s NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) is failing many students, is crowdfunding an answer for the #FeesMustFall debate?

Well, possibly.

Beyond SA’s borders, the notion of crowdfunding tuition isn’t new at all. Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe house student campaigns raising money for their studies. Arguably, these campaigns all vary in subject and motive.

King also affirms that Feenix shouldn’t be placed in the same box as GoFundMe or its contemporaries either.

“We are trying to ensure that fewer students are allowed to fall through the cracks in existing systems,” he notes.

Arguably, it’s here where Feenix could excel. The platform could provide students an donors a more attuned, focussed system supporting South African narratives and experiences.

It’s not a bad time to talk about crowdfunding in South Africa either. The idea has also taken off most notably during the Knysna Fires which swept through the Southern Cape earlier this month. Clearly people — and companies — are willing to give when there is a cause and a voice calling them to do so.

Can Feenix be that voice for the missing middle?

Andy Walker
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