Tuesday, April 5, 2016

$5 to Save the World

"A Single Raindrop Raises the Sea"

The summer of 2015, a girl at my school was involved in a terrible car crash. A car swerved across the  median into her lane, collided with her car, and then she was hit from behind. She survived, but was badly injured, and her family didn't have the money to provide her with the long-term medical care she so desperately needed. That was the first time I learned about GoFundMe.

How it works

GoFundMe is a member of an ever-growing family of websites that engage in what is known as "crowdfunding". Crowdfunding allows a project to be placed online, such as an idea for a product or business, or a personal need, and it can then be shared on social media. People can then donate money, five dollars here, ten dollars there, until a funding goal is reached. This allows the power of the masses to be applied to worthy causes. 

My friend's medical fees became one of those "worthy causes." Somebody posted a GoFundMe, and it was soon shared across the Facebook profiles of many youth and young adults in the community. In the end, enough money was raised not just to cover her basic medical costs, but to help provide her money for college, since she wasn't able to work while she recovered. The collaborative power of crowdsourcing was able to harness the desires of normal people to do some good in the world.

At its base, this is what crowdfunding does. By allowing us to work together, it gives us power beyond our own. Historically, if a person has needed more money than they could earn in a short time, they have had two options: petition close friends and family, who might not have the resources to cover large expenses, or go to a bank, which would charge interest and require payment plans. The communication infrastructure to harness small donations from huge amounts of people was simply not available. The new Digital Age has changed this.

The New Charitable Organization

Before the advent of the internet, this kind of work was the domain of large non-profit organizations, churches, and governments. While in truth, these organizations still play a major role, the influence that the layperson has on them is negligible. I might give five dollars to the Salvation Army man with a bell around Christmas time, but in the end, I don't know where that money is going, or what Salvation Army will use it for. With online crowdfunding, we can each decide exactly what cause, company, and project will receive our help.

Other types of organization that used to be heavily involved in this kind of work were credit unions and building and loans. These organizations were operated so that people who couldn't get loans from banks could get them, or so that people could get loans for prices at an institution not necessarily driven by profit. Because these were community-based organizations, the input of the interest of loans to the entire community was able to be applied to new loans for these less-attractive debtors, so that they could get money to build a house, start a business, or take care of medical expenses. Unfortunately, most building and loans went out of business, and regulations were changed to make credit unions less of a charitable way to lend money, as they began, and more like their profit-seeking cousins, the banks. This created a hole in the financing world, which crowdsourcing websites have been able to step into, fill, and eventually expand beyond.

There are now a myriad of crowdsourcing websites, each with its own focus. Kickstarter is a website primarily focuses on funding artists, authors, and designers. Kiva gives micro-loans to people in third-world countries, who use the money to start businesses, and then pay it back, allowing you to use your money to help even more people. GoFundMe is primarily used for personal causes, such as medical bills, disaster relief, and school tuition.

Try it Yourself!

One of the beauties of crowdfunding is that it places power in the hands of everyday people like you and me. You no longer have to set up a major charity, have the backing of a rich philanthropist, and organize hundreds of volunteers yourself in order to make a difference. You can set up an account on these websites, and within minutes, you can be on your way to raise money for a worthy cause. 

I personally am preparing to set up a crowdsourced project. I want to go to Kiribati, the Pacific island country where I served my mission, and set up an adventure-themed tourist company. The idea is that while some tourists prefer the ultra-resort feel of Hawaii, there are some that would like a more authentic island experience. At the same time, people in Kiribati do not have any major inflow of money, besides exporting coconut. Bring the rich white people to Kiribati and have island people give them an authentic island experience, and voila! You have a great opportunity to help people. Unfortunately, I do not have nearly enough money to cover my plane tickets there and the cost of building and organizing the company on site. Through the power of crowdsourcing, I hope to get the funds so that I can make this dream a reality.

What are YOU passionate about? What critical cause in this world needs a champion? The world needs you, and crowdfunding is ready to help make your world-saving dreams a reality.

To learn more ways you can use digital technology to make the world a better place, check out Jordan Dye's Collaborating to Save Lives, Jackson Berg's Social Media is Creating Real Friendships, and Carli Stone's Sprezzatura Today.

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