Story – A Journey Towards Effective Altruism* and Revenue for Charity
Explore the inspiring journey of Juma Al-JouJou and the story behind Karma Games, where games are designed not just for fun but to support charitable causes.
Juma Al-JouJou’s Remarkable Journey: Born in the United Arab Emirates, his family relocated to Germany during the first Gulf War when he was just five years old. This was only the first of a series of challenges, as his parents divorced, and his mother struggled to care for him. By the age of seven, Juma found himself in an orphanage, where life was far from easy.
Having been living there for 2 years, an encounter with an Iranian refugee family in the orphanage would change Juma’s life forever. Despite the language barrier, one of the refugee children’s exceptional talent in chess caught a lot of attention, as he was beating even much older challengers. Juma would later describe this moment as an epiphany; that’s how he discovered the universal language of games and how they could bridge cultural divides, bringing people from diverse backgrounds together. Soon after, Juma joined the local chess club.
Chess with its clear rules and open information became a source of stability and reliability in Juma’s life, two qualities he yearned for but could not find within his own family. He quickly became a strong player and the best at his chess club at the age of 14.
However, his life took another significant turn when he stumbled upon a book by the 14th Dalai Lama at the age of 14. This book of Buddhist philosophy offered Juma a new perspective, helping him come to terms with his past and shape his personal values. After finishing high school, Juma went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and economics, followed by a master’s in innovation management and entrepreneurship. It sparked Juma’s interest to found a company himself.
With his newfound knowledge and unwavering determination, he founded Karma Games, named after the Buddhist concept. The mission of Karma Games initially was to create educational games, such as Pretty Ugly and Green Deal to try to have social impact with his love of board games. As these two educational games did not bring the commercial success Juma had wished for, he started to doubt whether this business model could sustain him financially and create a major social impact.
Juma’s personal journey took another significant turn when he discovered the concept of effective altruism, explained by Peter Singer. In the TED Talk, Peter Singer explains that earning a lot of money with a normal job and then donating a large chunk to effective charities can make a bigger difference than pursuing an impact-focused career.
“Because if you earn a lot of money, you can give away a lot of money, and if you’re successful in that career, you could give enough to an aid organization so that it could employ, let’s say, five aid workers in developing countries, and each one of them would probably do about as much good as you would have done. So you can quintuple the impact by leading that kind of career.”
This was an option that Juma never thought of. So there were three possible paths he could pursue:
- Create meaningful games that spread positive messages but have little impact on the world.
- Take a chance at creating more mainstream yet more financially successful games that would enable him to support charitable causes.
- Switch careers and leave the board game industry entirely.
Juma loved games way too much, though, and thus decided to take a shot at the second option. He worked on a game with no particular educative goal and prepared its Kickstarter launch for about a year full-time. He even had to borrow money from friends to pay his rent! And against all odds as a broke solopreneur, his game “Clans of Caledonia” was a smash hit and funded at around 400,000 € on Kickstarter! With this overwhelming financial success, Juma knew that this model could sustain him financially and enable him to support effective charitable causes. One such cause is the Against Malaria Foundation that distributes malaria nets.
This success shaped Karma Games’ vision to publish fun, eco-friendly board games and to support charitable initiatives.
*Definition of Effective Altruism: Effective altruism is a philosophical and social movement that advocates “using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible, and taking action on that basis”.