The Power of the Crowd Improving Lives and Restoring Faith in Humanity through Crowdfunding
By: Javier Ortega-Araiza.
As the news of Syrian refugees arriving in the United States for resettlement echoed around the world, many state governors issued public statements to clarify that they would reject welcoming them into their states, urging President Barack Obama to act similarly on a federal level. Contrastingly, and with the government engaged in turmoil, a multitude of U.S. citizens contributed hundreds of thousands to an online campaign under the name “Let’s Give the Gift of a Fresh Start”, which was destined to provide funding for eleven Syrian families who were preparing to begin new lives in the United States after being admitted as refugees. The total amount raised was $759,380 US dollars, which came from 18,613 backers, and the fundraiser was coordinated by Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the popular Humans of New York blog, which amassed comments from U.S. residents welcoming the refugees to their country providing a message of peace, hope, and motivation for these new residents to move their lives forward.
Guided by campaigns such as the one above, the ascent of crowdfunding has redefined access to capital in crucial ways, enabling creative thinkers to showcase their ideas directly to the crowd, without having to be subordinate to the criteria of intermediaries like publishing houses, in the case of authors, record labels, in the case of musicians, or institutional investors, in the case of entrepreneurs. But, more than anything, it has helped restore faith in humanity at a time when the world desperately needs something to believe in. Crowdfunding platforms, combined with the compelling power of stories and the outreach of social media, have enabled people to help each other and to pursue a variety of causes, improving significantly many lives around the world.
Following up with the Syrian refugees story, actor Edward Norton, who is also a co-founder at crowdfunding platform Crowdrise, launched a campaign himself to support one of the Syrian refugees portrayed in the Humans of New York story series, a scientist whose inspiring and heart-breaking story showed the powerful spirit of someone who, despite all the suffering and losses endured, wanted, more than anything, to contribute something to the world. Norton’s campaign was a success, raising $461,718 US dollars to contribute to the scientist’s family resettlement in Troy, Michigan, which will provide much needed help, and, hopefully, allow him to continue working on his inventions and keep making a long-lasting contribution to humanity. In fact, the success of crowdfunding campaigns for refugee resettlement was such, that the UN Refugee Agency, in cooperation with the White House, launched a campaign on Kickstarter with the purpose of drawing the power of the crowd to contribute to a successful reinstallation for refugees. The campaign raised successfully $1.77 million US dollars.
The way in which, through these campaigns, crowdfunding platforms have succeeded is a demonstration of how capitalism is being reshaped and redefined. When scrolling throughout the different projects that are being showcased, it may be easy to forget about all the companies that are facilitating this interaction.
Indiegogo’s mission is to empower everyone to change the world, one idea at a time. Kickstarter’s is to bring creative projects to life. And Crowdrise slogan is that “If you don’t give back, no one will like you”. At a time when financial institutions are struggling to recover the confidence of the population, crowdfunding engines are funneling millions to those in need, increasing the impact of every dollar contributed and capitalizing on the sum of collective efforts to achieve a common goal. At the same time, they are reminding entrepreneurs about the true goal of a company: to be oriented towards a higher purpose than just generating riches for its founders and backers.
Kickstarter is the ultimate example. On late 2015, the platform made the official announcement that they were reincorporating as a “public benefit corporation”, with Yancey Strickler, one of the founders, declaring that “We don’t ever want to sell or go public, as that would push the company to make choices that we don’t think are in the best interest of the company”. Having said that, Kickstarter still remains fairly profitable, according to their founders, who also mentioned that they do have planned to pay dividends to both shareholders and employees in the upcoming years.
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Crowdrise, are corporations. They all aim to make profits, they have investors and different stakeholders. However, what they enable is way bigger than whatever profit they can make. They are change agents. They bring the world together for a common purpose. They are companies that embody a redefined capitalism, where companies have a firm purpose and are able to create an everlasting impact on the world, and that’s precisely the reason they exist.
Originally published at www.redefiningcapitalism.com on January 4, 2016.