Crowdfunding and aid: How giving a little can have a huge impact?


By Mak Dukan

The recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal this spring has claimed over 6000 lives and left millions people homeless and displaced. In response to this event, donation and reward-based crowdfunding platforms have collected over $20 million in just 60 days. GlobalGiving has for instance helped 77 non-profits raise around $4.2 million for Nepal relief, while Indiegogo managed to raise $3 million. On the other hand international development aid amounted to some $42 million in the first days after the earthquake

Crowdfunding is creating a new space in international aid, which allows individuals from everywhere in the world to participate in global development efforts. There are numerous benefits to this in comparison to traditional aid mechanisms. 

The money is received by local NGOs, which can use the funds quicker than larger organizations like the UNDP. Their projects require less planning, paper work etc. that usually slows down the response of international organizations. Moreover, aid is dispersed in a democratic way as individuals can choose which projects to donate.

Crowdfunding a response to the refugee crisis

International development organizations have however already started using crowdfunding for their projects. The recent partnership between UNHCR and Kickstarter managed to mobilize more $1.7 million from 27.000 backers for responding to the current refugee crisis. Moreover the UN World Food Programme has launched a crowdfunding mobile app that will help it overcome a funding shortfall and feed 20.000 Syrian children refugees. The application called Share the Meal allows users to donate a minimum of $0.50 per day, which would amount to sharing one meal per day. In June 2015 the application was first tested in Austria, Germany and Switzerland where it raised $850.000, which allowed the WFP to buy 1.7 million school meals for children in Lesotho.

The UNDP has also used crowdfunding for its development agenda. However, its use is still in testing phase as there is too little internal know how on how to leverage it. The Country Office in Lebanon has initiated the platform Live Lebanon, which has been used with the purpose of engaging Lebanese expatriates, providing them with the opportunity to donate money online and support development and community projects throughout the county. Until Fall 2015 the platform has raised some $3 million and has implemented 33 projects ranging from water filtration to installing solar PV systems.

Besides the recent success story of UNDP Croatia, where Indiegogo was used to fund an energy independent school, there have not been other similar UNDP led projects, which have used existing platforms for their development agenda. This begs the following question. 

Should UNDP rely on donation and reward-based platforms like Indiegogo for internalizing crowdfunding in its programs, or should a separate UNDP owned platform be developed?

Blog post Environment Poverty reduction and inequality Governance and peacebuilding