A Crowd To Pay

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IN JOURNALISM

Beacon is a US organisation for crowdfunded journalism. It invites story ideas from journalists which are then shortlisted by the Beacon staff and posted on the website inviting donations. Co-founder of Beacon, Dan Fletcher says, “Our website allows anyone to fund a journalist of their liking. We promote free and fair journalism.” Investigative journalist John Pilger, who has twice won Britain’s Journalist of the Year award, started a campaign for crowdfunding his latest documentary project, The Coming War. Pilger has previously raised funds through similar campaigns for three of his documentaries. Global Investigative Journalism is an international organisation that supports investigative journalists by providing training and other resources. It collaborates with 118 ngos across 54 countries to support journalists financially.

Though the idea has not yet caught on in India, there are news websites, like www.newslaundry.com, that claim to run on people’s money. Although such efforts can promote fair journalism, there are no clear guidelines regarding crowdfunding and journalism. Also, it is not certain how far crowdfunding will be effective in clearing journalists and media houses of the accusation that they function under pressure from big corporates.

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‘Crowdfunding facilitates donation to the needy’ – Cheryl Obal ,Vice President of Right To Live

Cheryl-ObalIs Right To Live India’s first crowdfunded website dedicated to health treatment?

In 2012, when we started, there were no other sites in India for crowdfunding, though now there are a few others. We differ from other crowdfunding sites which allow people to post profiles for any need – we only seek funding for medical treatment of people from low socio-economic backgrounds who have serious medical conditions but cannot afford treatment. Since our inception, we have funded the treatment for 51 individuals.

We also differ from other ngos and crowdfunding sites as we allow 100 percent of the donations to reach the patients who need them. While other NGOs have operating costs and they need to deduct from the donations they receive in order to pay for administrative expenses, Right to Live makes no such deductions. All operating costs are covered by the trustees and even the bank fees and commissions are paid for by our chairman, so that 100 percent of what people donate goes towards the treatment of the needy individuals.

How do you verify the financial status of the applicant before uploading their details on the website for crowdfunding?

We verify every single case through a home visit and review of documents which provide income proof. We also cross-check their medical records with the hospital and we disperse funds raised directly to the hospital; we never place any funds on the hands of the patients.

Is Right To Live recognised by the government? If not, then what kind of support do you seek from government?

Right to Live is an initiative of the Kote Foundation, which is a registered NGO.

We have not sought help from the government as such, but we do help patients apply for funding from government schemes for their medical treatment. In addition to the 51 patients we have raised funds for through our programmes, 20 other people have received treatment from the government, thanks to our help in completing the documents.

What kind of challenges you face in crowdfunding?

Sometimes it is difficult to find consistent donors, and sometimes it is a challenge to convince people to donate to individuals whom they don’t know personally.

Do you want any scheme or plan from Indian government for crowdfunding?

Sure, it would be great to have support from the government for crowdfunding sites which are helping the underprivileged. There are government schemes for certain health conditions, but the system is difficult to navigate and only those below the poverty line (BPL) qualify. However, there are many people who do not qualify as bpl, yet cannot afford the cost of medical treatment. It is these people who fall through the cracks and need the government’s help. Narendra Modi recently started some initiatives for providing Life Insurance and Accident Insurance, but what about health coverage? The government should also provide more help for health care in general and spend more on hospitals. The WHO recommends that governments spend at least five percent of the gdp on health care, yet India currently spends only one percent on health care.

What do you have to say about the future of crowdfunding in India?

Crowdfunding as a concept has the potential to be very successful here. The concept is built on the principle that many drops make up an ocean — in other words, every little bit helps. There is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor in India, and there are many people who can afford to make small contributions which would not affect their budget but would make an enormous difference in someone else’s life.

Nowadays, there are many people who want to contribute, and are beginning to feel the sense of duty to give to those who are less fortunate. This is where crowdfunding is an excellent solution, as it facilitates donating to needy individuals. In a country as large as India, crowdfunding is a platform which connects people who have funds, to people who need those funds. Let’s not forget that India leads the world in terms of technology. Crowdfunding is the way of the future.

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IN FILMS

Shyam Benegal’s Manthan (1975), a film on Verghese Kurien’s white revolution, is among the first examples of crowdfunding. He collected 2 each from around 2 lakh people. His next project, Susman (1987) again was crowdfunded. The film highlighted the struggle of rural handloom weavers in the wake of industrialisation. He raised funds for the film from handloom centres across Varanasi and some cities in Karnataka. A recent example is Onir’s critically acclaimed film I Am (2010) which was financed by donations from people across the world. In 2011, Kannada director Pawan Kumar met a few producers and top actors for funding his film project Lucia. The failure of the attempt led him to write a post on his blog which received immense response and the idea struck him to invite people to fund the project. He raised a whopping 50 lakh within a month. On 20 July 2013, I Am became the first Kannada film to be premiered in London. Naya Pata is another critically acclaimed film by Pawan Kumar which was produced through crowdfunding. Kumar plans to fund another upcoming project Hashiye ke Log in a similar manner. He believes crowdfunding should be promoted in India. “The government needs to set guidelines in a planned manner and promote it to encourage more people to support art,” he says.

IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Crowdfunding is fast gaining ground in the field of science and technology too. A group of youth in Pune has come up with a website Ignite Intent with a similar model of operation. Speaking to Tehelka, the founder of the site, Rinkesh Shah says, “Our website is a platform to fund scientific and technological projects. I believe the government needs to come up with laws regarding crowdfunding and should focus on promoting it. On-line crowdfunding is quickly gaining pace in India.” But without awareness how far is it destined to go?

Translated by Naushin Rehman from Hindi Tehelka

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