The horror of being displaced from our homes and lives is universal. In India alone, at least 50 million people are affected by natural disasters every year. Yet, such times also galvanise action. People have always participated in providing relief in the aftermath of natural calamities, such as donating old clothes, toys and books through schools or societies. During such crises, most people are willing to come forward and help, given an avenue and the assurance that their support will have an impact. What is usually missing is a way to meet on-ground demands as and when they come up, and the ability to see the direct impact of their support.
Relief work attracts billions of monetary support in aid from both Indian and international charities. As physical infrastructure crumbles, the virtual world is ripe to reach out for help. This is exactly why friends, family members and volunteers are now turning to the world wide web, using its vast ambit to reach a larger number of people to communicate their need and seek help.
Crowdfunding can be a quick and easy way to meet such unanticipated, pressing needs. The Chennai floods at the end of 2015 was a milestone in Indian online fundraising. The city was hit by the worst rains it had seen in the last 100 years. Caught off guard, hundreds lost theirs lives, while thousands of families were displaced. On one hand, non-profit organisations provided on-ground relief, setting up camps and providing basic necessities. On the other, there were some unsung heroes raising funds online from their social circles, for big or small causes that mattered to them.
Communities are crucial in lobbying for a real way forward in disaster management, moving efforts from 'relief' to better planning and prevention. They know what they have faced, and they are the ones who can decide the best way forward. Here, crowdfunding enables an interesting new behaviour. It deviates from the norm of relief fundraising by established organisations who provide relief to the whole affected area.
Online fundraising empowers individuals to take ownership of their own localities and communities. Crowdfunding, therefore allows a decentralized model in providing relief by empowering the individual with a cause of his own choice.
Besides natural calamities, accidents and medical emergencies also call for immediate care and action. Crowdfunding isn't really new here either. People have always turned to their friends, family and communities at a time when a significant amount of money is required to deal with urgent medical crises.
India's private healthcare spending is estimated at $90 billion a year. Of this, about $60 billion is out-of-pocket: from savings, borrowings and support from friends and family. This is where crowdfunding plays a role, bridging the gap, and making it easy to both ask for and render financial assistance.
Moreover, there are millions online who will listen and respond to pleas for help in times of crisis. Crowdfunding, therefore, becomes a quick and convenient way to mobilise a huge sum needed to fund an urgent need.
Backed by the increasing penetration of social media and the popularisation of digital payments, crowdfunding platforms provide an accessible and hassle-free way to raise funds. Such platforms not only communicate a crying need to a larger 'crowd', but also ensure the legitimacy of a cause. They have dedicated teams and robust checks and parameters to confirm both, the need, and the person raising funds. Moreover, most platforms also make it mandatory for people raising funds to post updates on the fundraiser page, showing donors how their contributions are utilised.
Online fundraising today, can empower anyone with a smartphone to participate in making a difference with great ease. More and more people are now raising funds online to tackle emergencies more efficiently. Increasing digital access and the convenience of online payments are driving more and more Indians to take the digital route to mobilise greater support for urgent needs on time.
(The writer is Co founder and President, Milaap) View More