Jacob Bonnema: Up to the Challenge

Jacob Bonnema is trying to get social gamers to impact the real world.

In March, Facebook reported that more than 250 million people play games on the popular social network every month. Some 200 Facebook games have more than one million monthly active users, and last year developers raked in more than $2 billion from Facebook games.

Many businessmen would look at those statistics and see nothing but dollar signs. Jacob Bonnema looks at them and sees water wells in Kenya, playgrounds in Botswana, and meals for kids across sub-Saharan Africa. Through his company, Desert River Games, the Frisco, Texas, the Eagle Scout is working to make every click count for children in need.

“We want people to join the movement of ‘gaming is giving’; that’s really what we’re trying to do,” he said. “Now, playing Facebook games can be much more than just having fun. You can actually change the real world.”

Desert River Games’ flagship game, “Safari Challenge,” which publicly launched in June, lets players build villages, create animal collections, and participate in wildlife activities, all while earning virtual currency called Impact. Players can then spend their Impact on real-world projects being undertaken by partner organizations such as World Vision and Kids Around the World. Through in-game links, players can learn more about the projects they’re supporting, zooming in on a map of Botswana, for example, to see where the playground they’re building will stand.

The game also includes corporate sponsorships that enable players to make a difference, through their earned Impact, without making any in-game purchases. “We are very excited that companies want to participate financially to increase player impact,” Bonnema said. “Even somebody who never spends one dime in the game can have an impact in the real world.”

Bonnema himself has already made an impact in the world. He has volunteered with aid agencies in many developing countries, spent a summer in the Amazon, and lived briefly with the Maasai people in Kenya. “The Maasai really became a passion of mine—the way they live and their struggle and what they value in life,” he said. “I wanted to figure out ways I could help them, and not just them but the kids in the other communities that I’d met.”

On a 2006 trip to Ethiopia, Bonnema and his wife, Kelly, encountered an 11-year-old orphan girl named Covenant, whom they decided to adopt. “When you walk away from the orphanage for the last time with your newly adopted daughter, you can’t help but feel the emotion of the other 250 that you’re leaving behind and that you’re not able to help,” he said.

Now, through “Safari Challenge,” he hopes to help some of them—and to enlist people around the world in helping as well.

“Empowering social gamers to impact the real world is our mission statement. If we can complete that mission, that is success for us,” he said.

"Safari Challenge" fan page on Facebook


Scouts in the News