If you propose it, crowds will fund

If you propose it, crowds will fund

Earlier this month, UAE cancer patient Khalifa Bin Dafoos launched on his Instagram page an online “go fund me campaign.” It was to fund a $500,000 trial treatment for the cancer he’s been fighting for the past five years. In a short period of time, the community rallied and raised more than $670,000 in 24 hours.

What we witnessed was an extraordinary example of crowdfunding, a method of raising capital through small donations from a large group of people in order to support a cause or project across various fields.

According to a recent report by Massolution, in 2015, an estimated $34 billion was raised through various means of crowdfunding. The industry grew further the following year to account for more funding than venture capital. There are different methods to crowdfunding, serving different objectives, however the principle remains novel.

Time and time again we see the remarkable generosity of citizens in response to humanitarian emergencies, disasters and personal assistance, be it local or international. With a little organization and mobilisation, I believe we can utilise crowdfunding for community-based projects, such as early childhood centers, or by repairing infrastructure in schools, local clinics and public spaces.

Communities are not awash in cash, and neither are governments, yet demand never ceases. This is why we need more rapid and creative ways to not only secure funds but also to build societies of socially responsible individuals who take action for the betterment of themselves and their neighbors.

With a little organization and mobilization, I believe we can utilize crowdfunding for community-based projects

Asma I. Abdulmalik

For instance, in the UK, Tesco collaborated with Diabetes UK to support several initiatives. Through Tesco outlets, individuals donated £18.6 million (around $24.4 million) that went to develop and launch “Enjoy Food,” a website and guide for anyone diagnosed with diabetes looking for family-friendly recipes and healthy eating tips. Furthermore, £4 million went to support research for a Type 1 diabetes vaccine.

In a slightly different example from another supermarket brand in the UK, Waitrose launched Community Matters in 2008 to encourage good citizenship. The concept works as follows: At the end of a shopping trip at a local branch, customers receive a token to place in a box of the cause they would most like to support. The more tokens a cause gets, the bigger the donation they receive. Every three months, Waitrose shares a Community Matters donation of  £25,000 towards the three local causes that the community has voted for.

Much like the Waitrose example, consider a public park in a little neighborhood of Dubai or Jeddah. The playground is old, rusty and beginning to pose a threat to the children playing there every day. Why wait for the local municipality to fix the playground through government funds, when the families of the same children who spend their afternoons on these slides can donate a modest amount towards its improvement?

The advantages of community-based crowdfunding are multiple. It is a way for communities to take full ownership of the services and projects that serve them and affect their families every day. It promotes social responsibility and good citizenship. It also allows people to decide what they deem a priority. It encourages collective action, making citizens more socially aware and engaged and creating vibrant social connections.

On top of this, it makes it easier for the private sector and other civil society organizations to build informal partnerships. Moreover, it relieves some of the burden on government budgets and allows them to redirect funds towards other projects and causes that may have not been given the deserved attention. At the end of the day, it is understanding that no job or cause can be successful unless the communities behind them are active and committed.

  • Asma I. Abdulmalik is an Emirati civil servant and a writer interested in gender and development issues.
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