The Most Inspiring Crowdfunding Campaigns Ever
When Youtubers Came Together to Plant Over 20 Million Trees
On May 24, 2019, when YouTuber MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) hit 20 million subscribers, a fan suggested on Reddit that he should celebrate this milestone by planting 20 million trees. Fans also suggested he collaborate with other online influencers to drive awareness, including Mark Rober – a fellow YouTuber and former NASA scientist with over 8 million subscribers on Youtube. The idea gained traction quickly as it spread across YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter, mostly in the form of memes. What started as a joke soon became the most prominent crowdfunding for non profits effort in Youtube’s history.
On October 25, the #TeamTrees social media campaign was started by Jimmy Donaldson and Mark Rober with the help of over 600 Youtubers, who came together and used their influence to appeal to their one billion+ subscribers for donations. The list of influencers included prominent Youtubers Rhett & Link (4.5M+ subscribers), Marshmello (40.2M+ subscribers), iJustine (6.1M+ subscribers), Marques Brownlee (9.5M+ subscribers), The Slow Mo Guys (13M+ subscribers), Ninja (22.4M+ subscribers), Simone Giertz (1.9M+ subscribers), Jacksepticeye (22.9M+ subscribers), Smarter Every Day (7.3M+ subscribers), and PewDiePie (100M+ subscribers). #TeamTrees announced itself by flooding Youtube with videos about trees. The campaign spread quickly across the internet, receiving over half-a-billion views on TikTok alone. Redditors made memes to spread the word, gamers held benefit live-streams on Twitch, and supporters created Twitter storms to grab the whole world’s attention.
The global awareness of the initiative was boosted significantly by generous donations from celebrities like Elon Musk, Marc Benioff (CEO Salesforce), Alan Walker, Susan Wojcicki (YouTube CEO), Jack Dorsey (CEO Twitter), and Tobias Lütke (CEO Shopify). Elon Musk donated a million dollars to the campaign and even changed his Twitter name to Treelon. Within just 56 days, the campaign managed to cross its initial target of $20 million.
To plant the trees, the team of YouTubers collaborated with the Arbor Day Foundation— a tree-planting organization— which pledged to plant one tree for every US dollar donated to the campaign. The plantation drive began in January 2020 and will end in December 2022, covering countries like the United States, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and the United Kingdom. Some of the areas that are identified for the plantation have suffered from wildfires and environmental disasters in the past. To give an example, the Hanceville Fire of 2017 that raged through British Columbia burned 240,000 hectares of land. The #TeamTrees project plans to plant 100,000 trees in the area to regenerate the forest.
Similarly, California’s 2018 wildfire season saw an estimated 8,000 fires burning through more than 1.8 million acres of forestland between July and December. The effort aims to plant 100,000 trees to restore the natural state of the land. Nearly 450,000 trees will also be planted in Kenya’s Kijabe Forest, which has historically been one of Kenya’s five nationally prominent water towers, providing an estimated 75 percent of its water resources. The plantation drive aims to reverse the damage that has happened to the forest over the last 15 years due to massive deforestation. The drive will help reestablish a sustainable water supply, restore habitat for wildlife, stabilize steep slopes prone to landslides, and secure livelihoods. The plantation drives will help develop buffer zones around National Parks to protect wildlife, provide a new habitat for endangered species, promote food security by assisting local people in planting agroforestry trees, improve soil conditions, create job opportunities, stabilize steep slopes prone to landslides, sequester carbon, and stabilize rivers.
Overall, it is estimated that 20 million trees would take up 180 sq km (69 sq mi) of land, absorb around 1.6 million tons of carbon and remove 116 thousand tons of chemical air pollution from the atmosphere.
The #TeamTrees initiative has also used technology to develop new innovative ways to plant trees. Mark Rober, one of the spearheads of the #TeamTrees project, collaborated with DroneSeed, a company that uses large flying drones to disperse seeds, contained in nutrition pods, over large areas from the sky. First, the drones and satellite images identify replantation areas. Then specialized planting drones take to the skies loaded with seedpods containing a germinated seed and nutrients. Once in position, the drones use a nitrogen cannon that fires the seedpods into the soil; the seeds start to grow once activated by water. Planting trees through drones is 150 times faster than traditional methods, with the drones being capable of firing 120 pods per minute.
By November 2020, more than 800,000 people had donated to the #TeamTrees campaign, contributing more than $22 million to plant 22 million trees around the world.
Since the evolution of human civilization, nearly half of the world’s trees have been destroyed. According to the World Bank, in the last 25 years, the world’s forests have shrunk by 1.3 million square kilometers— an area larger than South Africa. The #TeamTrees campaign was a rare case that managed to converge the power of Youtube influencers, CEOs from the tech industry, and the digital community to support a cause that aimed to plant trees globally through campaigns on various crowdfunding platforms.
Honey On a Tap: The Story of Flow Hive
Harvesting honey is a tedious and time-consuming affair. Traditionally, the beekeeper must split the artificial hive boxes, smoke the bees, remove the frames manually, cut the honeycomb’s wax caps, and then extract and clean the honey. The process is not only chaotic and physically demanding but is also invasive for the bees as harvesting honey requires physically removing the bees from each frame. People use brushes, leaf blowers, strong smells, and smoke to drive bees off the honey. Scores of bees die in the process, an unfortunate consequence of harvesting honey.
For Cedar Anderson, seeing the bees get crushed during the honey harvest was a painful experience. He was also sick of being stung and having to spend a whole week with the harvesting process. The Anderson family had been in the beekeeping business for three generations. Both Cedar and his father were tired of using an outdated method of harvesting honey that hadn’t received a significant upgrade in over a century. In 2005, Cedar had an idea of building an artificial hive from which honey could be extracted without opening it and disturbing the bees. For almost a decade, Cedar and his father, Stuart Andersson tinkered away in their shed, developing prototypes of what would eventually be known as the most revolutionary beekeeping invention since the Langstroth hive was designed in 1852. Stuart and Cedar would draw sketches and discuss ideas; then, the latter would use his engineering skills to develop working prototypes. First, the father-son duo tried turning the combs on their side and letting the honey drop out, but it didn’t work. Then they tried hexagonal pistons to break apart the side of each cell; the method worked but wasn’t efficient. After several trials, the breakthrough came when they started splitting the cells vertically from the top, so one side of the cells dropped down halfway through the next layer. The honey would flow through S-shaped streams to a collector at the bottom, then out through pipes.
Months of experimentation led to several prototypes, which were tried out by friendly beekeepers. They soon came up with a perfectly working model in which the frames that fit into a standard hive box split each row of cells in half. The Flow Hive was born, a beehive made from a brood box— where the queen bee lays eggs— and a beehive box with Flow Frames in the honey storage part. Flow Frames are partially built honeycombs, which the bees cover in wax, fill with honey, and cap with their wax. By merely turning the Flow Key, the cells split vertically inside the comb forming channels, allowing the honey to flow down to a sealed trough at the base of the frame and out of the hive through a tap. Throughout the process, the bees stay practically undisturbed on the comb surface. When the honey has finished draining and the tap is closed, the upper slot resets, returning the comb into its original position and allowing the bees to chew the wax caps away, repair the cells and fill them with honey again.
After the Andersons filed for a patent, all they needed was capital to fund the production and take Flow Hive to the world, but the estimated production cost stood at $100,000. So, they turned to social media and crowdfunding.
The Andersons began their social media efforts almost a month before kicking off their crowdfunding campaign, to gain support from their networks and a handful of beekeepers. They created a five-minute-long engaging video, explaining and showing off their product right from the beginning. They went on to compare the traditional methods of harvesting honey with how Flow Hive worked, showing each method step-by-step. Through their video, they demonstrated how simple and efficient Flow Hive was compared to other products. This was followed by testimonials from beekeepers worldwide who had tried the Flow Hive. The video concluded with the creators asking for pledges. Their campaign page was embedded with graphics and GIFs depicting how Flow Hive worked. They also added a section describing risks and challenges and even dedicated a section for answering FAQs. The creators made the product available in three sizes: Flow Light, designed for beekeepers who wanted to use Flow Frames with their existing frames; Flow Full, for beekeepers who wished to have more frames or wanted to replace their existing frames; and the complete Flow Hive.
The Andersons launched a campaign on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo in February 2015, hoping to raise $70,000 for a custom injection mold. Instead, they raised over $13.2 million and received over 25,000 orders from over 130 countries. By March 2018, 51,000 orders had been shipped. The campaign’s success prompted the Andersons to launch another campaign for Flow Hive 2 in early 2018, which included several small improvements over its predecessor. They succeeded in raising $14.9 million with the help of 40,000+ supporters. The Flow Hive campaign remains one of Indiegogo’s most successful crowdfunding campaigns to date.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the Andersons have shipped over 75,000 Flow Hives to more than 130 countries. They have created a wealth of educational resources for new beekeepers for free, including a blog, a series of videos, and a forum. Flow Hive has also won multiple awards for innovation, design, marketing, and business, including Good Design Australia (Australia’s most prestigious prize for design), D&AD White Pencil, Fast Company World Changing Ideas, two medals at Apimondia International Beekeeping Congress, and NSW Business Chamber’s Business of the Year (2017). Crowdfunding platforms across the world have propelled many such products to huge success.
Crowdfunding For a Death Star?
In November 2014, a petition was sent to the Obama Administration, urging the United States government to secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016. For the uninitiated, a Death Star is a gargantuan spherical space station armed with a planet-destroying superlaser featured in multiple Star Wars movies. The first version, which appeared in the original 1977 Star Wars movie, was more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) in diameter and was armed with nearly 400,000 droids.
“By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense,” the petition read. Given the cult following of Star Wars movies, the petition received over 34,000 signatures, exceeding the prerequisite of 25,000 signatures needed to get an official response from the White House.
After a flood of media attention cast a spotlight on the Obama administration’s delayed response to the petition, the White House finally submitted an equally humorous official response titled ‘This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For’. The administration rejected the petition saying the construction of the Death Star would cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000 and that the administration did not support blowing up planets. The response ended with a classical Star Wars reference of the Force saying, “Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet or even a whole star system is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” Everyone was amused, and people thought the joke would end there, but it was just the beginning.
Following the rejection of the White House petition, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to crowdfund an open-source Death Star. The project had a £20,000,000 funding goal, which the campaigner said would be used to create ‘more detailed plans’ of the Death Star. Surprising everyone, the campaign received £328,000 in pledges.
Four days later, another crowdfunding campaign was launched on Kickstarter to fund a Rebel Alliance X-Wing Squadron (a one-person starship capable of destroying the Death Star). “At first, we laughed. When we stopped laughing (because it kind of hurt, how hard we were laughing), we realized that it was an ingenious plot by the Empire to use the power of the people against us! We can’t let this new Death Star go unchallenged, so we’re raising funds to form a new Rebel Alliance and construct a fleet of proton torpedo armed X-Wing fighters to take down this new Death Star,” the campaign appeal read. The Rebel alliance campaign sought $11 million to build the spaceship and received over $720,000 in pledges.
Both the projects were joke campaigns, and since the campaigns didn’t reach their goal amounts, no transaction of money took place (given Kickstarter works with an all or nothing funding model). The Kickstarter campaigns also received a massive amount of media attention, covered by news portals like TechCrunch, The Inquisitr, CNet News, Techradar, Huffington Post, Yahoo, MTV, and BBC. While crowdfunding projects are known to put smiles on people’s faces, these campaigns went a notch higher and made everyone laugh.
How Crowdfunding Helped a Rural Woman Entrepreneur From Zimbabwe
Lindiwe, the daughter of a widow, grew up in a poor household and often went to school on an empty stomach and without shoes to protect her feet. There were days when she didn’t even have a single pen or pencil to write with. At the age of 22, she was sustaining herself and her children with a small poultry business and selling soda to the thirsty laborers working at the mine near her village. Life was difficult, but then things changed when she came in contact with Camfed (Campaign for Female Education), an international nonprofit organization operating in five countries in Africa with a focus on eradicating poverty. Camfed, a Kiva field partner, started a campaign for Lindiwe on the platform to help her raise $500 to construct a large fowl run to house her chickens and expand her poultry business. The loan was successfully crowdfunded with the help of 11 lenders at a 0% interest rate. In return, Lindiwe committed to offering a minimum of 2.5 hours per week as a volunteer at the local high school as a Camfed Learner Guide, teaching students about active citizenship and personal confidence.
Lindiwe received entrepreneurial training from Camfed, and with the help of the loan secured on Kiva, she managed to grow her poultry business and scale her juice business from 20 liters per week in sales to 200 liters. She successfully managed to pay back her loan within 14 months. Today, Lindiwe operates a poultry business, a small shop, and Lee Juice, all under an umbrella company named Lee Investments. The loan also motivated Lindiwe to create her first savings account, a mobile banking account she operates through her cell phone. She saves $10 from profits every month for her future and invests the rest of the money in expanding her business. She has big plans to make her juice business a household name. Lindiwe has placed a hand-glued label that reads ‘Lee Juice’ on each of her juice bottles. Her goal is to hire more employees and be a role model to show girls that anything is possible if they persevere.
Kiva has a proven track record of helping underprivileged women achieve financial independence. It does this through crowdfunding loans and teaming up with field partners who train women entrepreneurs. Since its inception, Kiva has deployed more than $1 billion in microloans to 2.7 million female entrepreneurs in 94 countries. Almost 83% of loans that Kiva crowdfunds go to women. The loans often provide a pipeline of capital for women to start/grow their businesses or invest in their education or that of their children. Kiva claims that women reinvest 80 percent of their income in their families’ wellbeing and education, hence giving back to the community.
Contrary to traditional financial avenues, women have a better record of reaching their funding goals via online crowdfunding platforms. A PWC analysis of 450,000 seed crowdfunding campaigns found that women-led campaigns reached their funding target more often than male-led campaigns. The report found that while 17% percent of male-led campaigns reach their finance target, the number was 22% of female-led campaigns. Overall, campaigns led by women were 32% more successful at reaching their venture funding targets than those led by men across a wide range of sectors, geography, and cultures. It was also found that women-led crowdfunding campaigns achieved a more generous average pledge amount ($87) than male-led projects ($83). This is in sharp contrast to traditional venture funding trends. For example, in 2018, out of $85 billion in venture capital funding in the US, only 2.2 percent went to female founders, with women of color securing less than 1% funding.
Fig 2- Seed crowdfunding success rate of Males vs. Females.
Today over 980 million women worldwide are unbanked with no access to a savings account or necessary credit, forcing them to make financial transactions primarily through informal markets., Crowdfunding for businesses provides these women access to an alternate stream of finance— a pathway to financial independence.
How a Crowdfunding Campaign Influenced China’s Public Policy
In February 2011, the China Development Research Foundation published a survey report concerning students’ nutrition conditions in the under-developed areas of China. The report found that 12% of children in the poor areas of central and western China showed signs of developmental problems, and 72% felt hungry during classes. The report that gained widespread media attention pointed out that child poverty would result in a substantial human capital loss in the future and lead to inherited poverty in China.
Two months later, a journalist named Deng Fei, together with 500 other journalists, mainstream media outlets, and the China Social Welfare Foundation, launched the ‘Free Lunch for Children (FLFC)’ crowdfunding campaign on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website (that allows users to start their own crowdfunding projects) with over 445 million monthly active users. The campaign solicited donations of three yuan (less than 50 cents) to pay for a lunch for one poverty-stricken rural child. The amount was later changed to four yuan in 2015 due to rising prices. The campaign was started after Deng Fei met a rural teacher who told him that there was no canteen in her school, and as a result, many of her pupils had to go hungry throughout the day. The teacher said she felt guilty when she took out her lunchbox every day. A few weeks later, Deng Fei visited the village schools in Yunnan and Guizhou Province together with a group of journalists and found the children going without lunch during their stay at the school. That’s when he decided he needed to start the FLFC campaign for the rural children of China.
The initial success of Deng Fei’s campaign was huge, as he managed to raise $4 millions in just eight months with the support of 900,000 donors. Deng Fei was able to help 162 schools provide free lunches for 25,000 children.
The transparency and feedback built into the FLFC program relied on a mix of online and offline actions designed to build trust with the donors so they could clearly understand how their money was being spent. Deng Fei crowdsourced both the fundraising and the monitoring of the FLFC program, a breakthrough innovation that helped restore people’s trust in charities in China. To monitor the funds and check that schools were spending the money on food for students, the FLFC program relied on Weibo, requiring each participating school to post its weekly expense reports online. Following is how the schools on Weibo drafted a typical message:
“December 22, 2011; Thursday. Hunan Xinhuang Dapingpo Primary School Free Lunch. Today 41 people ate a meal. The menu: meat and radish, boiled eggs, stewed potatoes. Rice 10*2.2=¥22, meat 3.2*¥13=¥41.6, eggs 41*¥0.7=¥28.7, radish 6*¥1=¥6, potatoes 6*¥1=¥6. Oil 1.3*¥7.5=¥9.75 and firewood 40*0.2=¥8. In total ¥122.05, ¥2.98 per person. We do not have classes on Friday. Happy new year!”
The program also recruited local retired officials to oversee the accounts and pay surprise visits to the schools to ensure the children were adequately fed. The charity’s millions of followers on Weibo were also encouraged to monitor the schools’ online accounting. If any irregularities came to light, the school would lose access to its funds.
Deng Fei’s campaign intended to work closely with local governments from the very beginning but was met with skepticism initially, with a local Finance Department criticizing the feasibility of the program. “Who will take responsibility for food safety and transparency of information? If anything goes wrong with this project, who should be blamed? Most schools are located in such remote and poor areas that donating merely three yuan to every student will not comprehensively solve the whole problem. Also, while three yuan per person may not be a large amount, if you triple the number of eligible students, then that would become a huge burden for government expenditures.” the department had remarked. However, due to strong public support and Deng Fei’s reputation, county governments soon began to support his initiative. Eventually, the program culminated in a national level initiative to alleviate malnutrition among rural schoolchildren.
On October 26, 2011, the People’s Republic of China State Council announced a plan to provide lunch to 2.6 million students by committing 16 billion yuan in national funds annually. The Ministry of Education (MOE) implemented a plan to improve the nutrition of rural students by providing them with a subsidy of three yuan ($0.42) per person per day. In May 2012, 15 central departments jointly issued detailed provisions for implementing the Rural Compulsory Education Nutrition Improvement Program announced by the State Council. Within a very short period, Deng Fei’s FLFC program had achieved national policy impact. By 2016, the government program had allocated 159.1 billion yuan across 699 poverty-stricken rural counties, benefiting over 21.3 million students every day.
By the end of May 2019, Deng Fei’s Free Lunch for Children campaign had raised over 540 million yuan with a presence in 1220 schools in 26 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions, benefiting more than 315,000 children.
The Free Lunch Program isn’t the only crowdfunding initiative to have influenced public policy in China. There are many similar cases in China where crowdfunding campaigns influenced public policy. In a way, individual donations on crowdfunding for nonprofits and socio-economic campaigns can act as votes towards a particular cause, signaling the people’s will to the government.
Crowdfunding Against Arms Trade
Since 2015, a brutal Saudi air campaign in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, creating one of the world’s worst recent humanitarian crises. The regime, supported by Britain and the US, has targeted civilians in a widespread and systematic manner by dropping bombs on hospitals, schools, weddings, funerals, and even camps for displaced people, as per reports from the United Nations.
A UN report published in September 2019 identified the UK among one of the arms-supplying states that may be legally responsible if standards for complicity are met. “The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings,” the UN report read. The role of Britain in the Yemen war extends beyond that of a weapons supplier to the Saudi regime. The British government has deployed RAF personnel to work as engineers and to train Saudi pilots. An even larger role has been played by BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest arms company, which the government has subcontracted to provide weapons, maintenance, and engineers inside Saudi Arabia.
Peace campaigners Sam Walton and Daniel Woodhouse decided to prevent the British sale of arms to the Saudi regime. On January 21, 2017, both the men broke into a BAE Systems airbase in Lancashire to try and disarm warplanes being sold to Saudi Arabia. On the same day in 1996, three women had entered the same site to disarm a plane being sent to Indonesia to be used in the genocide in East Timor. It was a symbolic gesture to send a powerful message against the UK government’s support of war crimes.
“Even if we do not manage to disarm a plane bound for Saudi Arabia, we hope that by openly trying to do so, we will endanger future arms deals. The Saudi rulers are notoriously touchy about criticism – they don’t tolerate it at all in their country. Furthermore, they are not just buying arms – they are also buying legitimacy,” the statement the two men carried with them read.
“We need to do everything we can to show these sales are illegitimate and stop the government pushing for more sales. We hope that by shining a light on British complicity in Saudi war-crimes, we will contribute to ending arms deals with this regime. Therefore even if we do not manage our primary aim of stopping or delaying a plane being used in war crimes through physically rendering it incapable of doing so, this action will still less directly in the future prevent war-crimes by stopping weapons being sold to those that perpetrate them… We probably won’t even make it to a plane bound for Saudi; we will probably get caught and either thrown off the base or arrested, but we have to try. We will carry out this action in the safest way possible and, if we are spotted, we will comply with reasonable requests from BAE personnel and not resist arrest. We intend this action to be accountable, just as we believe selling weapons to be used in war-crimes must be. Therefore, if we are not spotted, we will alert the authorities rather than attempt to ‘get away with it.’ We fully expect to be arrested and are prepared to spend time in prison if need be. It is for the sake of accountability that we have written this statement in advance and will carry it with us on the action,” the statement further read.
As they had anticipated, both the men were arrested before they could reach the planes. They were charged with criminal damage, but they pleaded not guilty, stating that they were acting to prevent crimes against humanity and the destruction of homes in Yemen. Going up against the big guns, Sam Walton and Daniel Woodhouse started a crowdfunding campaign on CrowdJustice to fund their legal expenses. “Our fantastic legal team of Mike Schwarz of Bindmans & Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers have worked pro-bono so far. But we need your help now to make sure they can dedicate the time necessary to this case. We’ve also set an ambitious stretch target as any money left over will go to funding the Campaign Against Arms Trade’s ongoing court battle against the government’s decision to allow arms sales to Saudi,” their campaign appeal read.
With the help of 374 contributors, they managed to raise over £12,000 to fight criminal damage charges— and were acquitted. “This vindication from the Courts is further evidence of the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy that underpins so much of UK foreign policy. It is time for the government to stop putting arms company profits ahead of human rights. We do not regret taking action and would do it again in a heartbeat. The only thing we regret is that we were not able to finish the job,” they said post their acquittal. Inspired by their actions, a Kickstarter campaign was later launched to fund the idea for a ‘cooperative board game about disarming warplanes’. The campaign raised £9,182 with the help of 242 backers.
In the past, the success of crowdfunding for legal justice campaigns has remained confined to David vs. Goliath type and other high profile cases capable of generating media attention. However, the trend has started to change, especially in the western countries where crowdfunding is used to fight small cases in lower courts, for issues regarding immigration, domestic disputes, and workplace harassment. Crowdfunding also allows lawyers to mount cases for smaller nonprofit organizations that would not otherwise be able to bear the financial costs of a legal battle against corporates, thus helping expand the scope of justice.
Crowdfunding to Help Thirsty Koalas
Wildfires are a common occurrence in Australia, but the bushfire season of 2019-2020, fueled by tinder-dry conditions, wreaked unimaginable havoc. 19,000 fires engulfed over 45 million acres of land across Australia. Australia’s wildlife endured the brunt of the fires, as nearly 1 billion animals were estimated to be dead. The fires incinerated the habitats of up to 100 threatened species and pushed at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction. Data collected from over 23 scientists suggested that within the forests and woodlands that burned, there would have been almost 3 billion native vertebrates, comprising 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs.
One of the worst-hit species was the native Koalas, with estimates suggesting that at least 30,000 died in the fires. The fires destroyed 80% of the Koala habitat, forcing the Koalas into functional extinction, with experts predicting that without intervention, Koalas would go extinct by the year 2050.
In New South Wales, the fires killed at least 6,382 Koalas— as much as a third of the state’s population. The situation was further aggravated by drought conditions, with ash, soot, and charred vegetation clogging up streams and threatening water quality. This led to severe dehydration in Koalas, many of whom had to be admitted to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to receive emergency care. After realizing the gravity of the situation, the hospital started a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to raise money to purchase and distribute automatic drinking stations, which would be installed in the burnt areas to help the Koalas and other distressed animals.
The campaign received an overwhelming response from donors all over the world. It raised over $7.9 million from 157,000 donors across 95 countries— eclipsing its stated target of $25,000. “We are overwhelmed and humbled with gratitude for the support and care shown by people from all over the world for our efforts to care for koalas now and to try to ensure that we still have koalas for generations to come“, the organization said following the success of the campaign.
Initially, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital aimed to raise money to build and distribute a small number of automatic drinking stations. However, following the success of their GoFundMe campaign, they were able to install over 150 Wildlife Water Drinking Stations, some of which they shared with other wildlife organizations in fire-affected regions throughout the state of New South Wales. They were also able to purchase a water-carrying vehicle with firefighting capabilities to replenish the drinking stations with water at regular intervals. The money also helped them establish a long term breeding program that included researching areas devastated by recent or progressive losses in Koala numbers to pinpoint source populations in dire need of recruitment of genetically suitable Koalas. Some of the funds were also directed towards building a Wild Koala breeding facility (a Koala Ark) to ensure the repopulation of forested regions to which the Koalas were genetically adapted.
The ‘Help Thirsty Koalas Campaign’ became the largest Australian GoFundMe campaign, bringing together people from across the globe to help mitigate one of the biggest environmental disasters in Australia’s recent history. More than 650 campaigns were created throughout 2019 to help drought-stricken Australian families, farmers, and communities, raising millions of dollars with the help of both small and large donations from over 700,000 individuals. Australia was ranked as the third most generous country on GoFundMe in 2019, with one in ten Australians having donated to a campaign. On Facebook, a fundraiser started by Australian comedian Celeste Barber raised over AUD 51 million for The Trustee For NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund. Over a million people donated to the campaign, making it the largest fundraiser ever on the platform.
The global outpouring of generosity during Australia’s bushfire crisis established charitable giving and crowdfunding for non profits as an act of community in Australia. Celebrities, influencers, politicians, companies, journalists, and individual donors all came together and donated over $500 million to help rebuild Australia’s devastated ecosystems.
Crowdfunding in India: Mallesham‘s Incredible Story
India has a diverse collection of silk sarees; that are sought after in both the domestic and the international market. The intricate patterns and designs on the fabric makes each saree a piece of exquisite art. From the Telangana region of India comes the Pochampally saree that is extremely taxing for the weaver to create as the pattern (called ASU) takes hours of work.
Lakshmi was one of those who toiled daily to create the ASU pattern that goes into making these famous Pochampally sarees. She used to move her hand 18,000 times to get about 15 km of silk thread to set the two ASU patterns a day for two sarees. Due to the challenging work, she would continuously complain of shoulder pain. Seeing her hardship, her son, Chintakindi Mallesham, a 6th-grade school drop-out, decided to make his mother’s life easier. The self-trained engineer worked for years and finally succeeded in creating a machine that automated the process — a machine he called the Lakshmi ASU machine.
The machine revolutionized the process and helped reduce the pain of many who, like Mallesham’s mother, used to undertake manual ASU for Pochampally sarees. It reduced the time taken to weave one saree from six hours to just one and a half hours. The machine was energy efficient and didn’t require any attendant to keep a watch on it. The innovation won Mallesham awards and accolades. He also made it to the Forbes List of the seven most powerful rural Indian entrepreneurs whose inventions were changing people’s lives. In 2016, he received the ‘Amazing Indians Award 2016’ by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, while the economically well-off weavers bought his machine that cost Rs 25000 ($330), Mallesham was pained to see that the low-income weavers were unable to afford his machine. He tried extremely hard to get a subsidy or financial support from the government to make it more affordable but nothing materialized. Mallesham had realised that there were close to a thousand weavers who required this machine. In an attempt to make his machine accessible to those who needed it, he turned towards crowdfunding. He approached the crowdfunding platform FuelADream.com with the help of the NGO Palle Srujana, and they started a campaign to raise funds for machines for small weavers in Dec 2016.
The first campaign was an outstanding success as it raised funds to support the distribution of 28 machines. The campaign also raised massive awareness regarding the plight of the small weavers. Fueladream.com did a PR campaign to promote the campaign, sending a press note to various national and local newspapers. The story was picked up by the Times of India (India’s leading newspaper) in early Jan 2017. They published an insightful article on Mallesham’s plight and the apathy of the government towards this rural innovator.
The story made a positive impact, and a few weeks after, on Jan 26th 2017, he was conferred with the Padma Shri Award, India’s fourth-highest civilian award. Soonafter, funding started to pour in from all quarters. Things only got better when his story was turned into a short feature film and is currently featured on NETFLIX under the title of ‘Malesham’.
Following the success of his first campaign, he started another campaign that helped him fund 20 machines for small weavers. His innovation continues to transform the lives of weavers who make the famed Pochampally Saree. In Mallesham’s case, crowdfunding helped make his invention accessible to low-income weavers. With the support of FuelADream’s PR team, he was able to raise awareness about his invention, highlighting the plight of weavers.
Sheroes Hangout: Crowdfunding For Businesses
For many years, Rupa was physically and mentally abused by her stepmother. One fateful night, her stepmother entered her bedroom and poured acid over her face while she was sleeping. She was left without any first aid for 6 hours until her uncle reached and took her to a nearby hospital for treatment. Her father threatened to not pay for her medical expenses if she talked to anyone about what her stepmother had done. She went to the police and registered an FIR against her stepmother, who was later convicted and sentenced to only 18 months in jail and was soon released on parole. For nearly six years, Rupa faced social stigma and exclusion and underwent over ten facial reconstruction surgeries. Fast forward to 2020, and Rupa runs Sheroes Hangout, a cafe in Agra, jointly with other acid attack survivors. The word Sheroes stands for She Heroes and symbolizes the unwavering resolve of the survivors.
Sheroes Hangout was established in December 2014 in Agra, a city home to the world-famous Taj Mahal. The cafe started as a crowdfunding project under the Stop Acid Attacks campaign with a mission to stand for acid attack survivors and create a bridge between them and society. Sheroes Hangout adheres to a ‘pay as you wish’ model, and any contributions made go towards the rehabilitation of survivors of acid attacks in India. Over the years, the number of beneficiaries at the Sheroes café in Agra has grown from five to ten acid attack survivors— including Rupa, Ritu, Dolly, Neetu, and Geeta, who have been running the cafe since its inception. The Hangout is visited by thousands of guests from several parts of India and the rest of the world. Over the years, it has attracted the Chief Minister of the state, the Prime Minister of Italy, the First Lady of France, and many eminent celebrities worldwide. Initially, Sheroes Hangout began as a rehabilitation program for the acid attack survivors, but today it has evolved into a reader’s cafe, a space for activism and social workshops, a community radio hub, and an exhibit space for boutiques and handicrafts— designed and created by the members of Sheroes. For the survivors, Sheroes Hangout is not just a haven where they earn a livelihood but also a platform to connect with people who can learn from their stories and understand the stigmas they have to face.
Over the years, Sheroes Hangout has received multiple awards, including the Shakti Puraskar 2016 by the President of India and the BOBS award for best online activism by Deutsche Welle, Germany. Besides operating in the city of Agra, Sheroes Hangout also opened branches in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) and Udaipur (Rajasthan), benefiting a community of over 40 acid attack survivors. The cafes make a profit almost throughout the year, but there are months when the business doesn’t do as well, and that’s when they use crowdfunding to keep the cafe running. During the COVID-19 lockdown, their ‘Stand With Sheroes’ campaign raised over Rs 30 lakh (3 million) with the help of 900+ donors to help the acid attack survivors.
|Raised for Sheroes||Year||CF Platform||Number of Donors|
Table 1-Crowdfunding projects by Sheroes.
Several members of the Sheroes Hangout cafes have also used online crowdfunding in India to fund their creative projects.
Rupa, who always aspired to be a fashion designer, raised Rs 18 lakh (exceeding her goal by 250%) to set up her own boutique. “Earlier, I used to cover my face with a scarf but not anymore. Though I never gave up on my dream, I did not think that it would be possible one day,” Rupa said after she launched her collection. Following her boutique’s success, she started another crowdfunding campaign to start an online store for her designs, managing to raise over Rs 4.98 lakh (498,000) on Indiegogo.
Unfortunately, the first café that was located in Agra was demolished in July 2018, after the ruling government initiated a road-widening project in which several shops were demolished. Yet again, it was crowdfunding that came to their rescue. The ‘Rebuild Sheroes’ campaign raised over Rs 58 lakh (5.8 million) with the help of 1,786 donors, allowing the cafe to relocate and start over. The campaign posted 21 updates to keep the donors in the loop regarding the rebuilding process, helping them establish a stronger connection with their donor base.
According to the India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU), there were 1,483 victims of acid attacks between 2014 and 2018 in India. While 596 acid attack cases were reported in 2017 and 2018, only 149 people were charge-sheeted each year. In 2018, out of 523 cases that went for trial, only 19 ended in conviction. Often, the people convicted by the courts get away with short imprisonments and sometimes even manage to get out on parole. While the perpetrators get away after committing heinous crimes, the survivors have to face social stigma and ostracization, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas. Following the advent of online crowdfunding in India, acid attack survivors have been able to connect with people who can support them in their pursuit of financial independence. Hence, crowdfunding for businesses can be an empowering tool for marginalized communities and minorities.
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