Technology is the enabler of entrepreneurial ideas and crowdfunding is one of them. It could earlier be defined as raising small amounts of money for new ventures but now, it has taken a much bigger leap in with the rise in technology and social media.
For eight-year-old Jhanvi*, who hails from a mid-income family where her father is the sole bread earner, life has posed a serious challenge. All was well until she was diagnosed with Wilson's disease, a rare condition that affects vital organs, which damaged her liver 90 percent. The diseases can not only be fatal but extremely expensive to treat.
In cases similar to Jhanvi's, most of the medical expenses need to be borne by the family. Reports suggest that over 60 percent of the medical expenses are met with personal savings. Government schemes and insurance plans are generally not sufficient to cover medical expenses for serious and rare ailments.
The next step for such patients is to seek support from extended family and friends. According to government data, roughly 5 percent of urban and rural households seek help to cover medical costs. However, with diseases like say cancer or a rare condition like meningitis, one would still need to seek further assistance. This is where crowdfunding steps in.
Technology is the enabler of entrepreneurial ideas and crowdfunding is one of them. The process of crowdfunding could earlier be defined as raising small sums for new ventures. However, it has now taken a bigger leap with advancements in technology and wider reach via social media.
In the last three years, crowdfunding has become one of the primary ways to meet medical costs, especially if the amount is north of Rs 10 lakh.
The concept of borrowing from kin is an established behaviour among people. What a crowdfunding website does is that it brings offline behaviour online.
Crowdfunding: A simple process
The ease and immediacy of the process have helped crowdfunding become one of the top choices to raise funds for such emergencies. Ketto, Milaap, FuelADream, ImpactGuru and Wishberry are leading the crowdfunding websites in India.
To start a campaign, all you have to do is visit one of these websites and create a funding page at no cost.
Those who wish to seek support, need to explain the cause and highlights their problems.
Crowdfunding websites then go through authentication processes to make sure cases are genuine. Patients have to submit an estimation cost, acquired from a hospital for further verification. This helps in gaining confidence for those who wish to donate to support the cause. The websites, with every development, notify donors of how their money is being used.
Mayukh Choudhary, co-founder and CEO of milaap.org, says that trust and validation from those engaging with the platform are the most important things, everything else follows.
"The trust is built over time. The process is simple and it is as easy as shopping online. We have made sure all methods of payments are available so that it’s not the technical issues that hold people back," he said.
People can use internet banking, debit and credit card services to fund a cause on the websites.
Choudhary has found some successful trends in India that have supported those in need. "Indians have shifted from the desktop ecosystem to mobile ecosystem, which is a great help to this industry. The use of messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook have also helped in disseminating information with efficiency. The penetration of social media and smartphones has enabled middle-class Indians to have this option of crowdfunding for their urgent needs," he said.
However, he acknowledged the process has some flaws. The platforms generally are English-based, hence it gets difficult for the rural populace to access such services. "Our next aim is to venture into different languages so that a lot more people could benefit from crowdfunding," he said.
How the concept of crowdfunding got popular
Crowdfunding is not the first thing that comes to mind when a person is in need of financial assistance. There is ambiguity in the medium, it may work or it may not. Nonetheless, crowdfunding has made its presence felt and is now one of the top options for financing medical needs.
"Baseline behaviour of giving already exists, which this industry has further highlighted. Success stories have been one of the most helpful things for crowdfunding. The media has been very helpful to us in this respect. These stories have helped instil hope in people that even if there isn’t a 100 percent guarantee, this method is worth a shot," Choudhary added. Atrocious rates of borrowings have pushed people towards crowdfunding as well.
The platform's revenue model
Crowdfunding websites charge a platform fee for making and running campaigns. For Milaap, the fee is 5 percent of the total donation collected, Ketto charges 5 percent, Wishberry charges 10 percent and FuelADream charges 9 percent.
Many powerful stories are lost amid varied campaigns. Hence, these websites promote some cases which have fallen short of funds due to lack of networking.
"If some stories may be presented to the audience in a credible way, if they do not know the person directly, there will be a propensity to donate. Hence, we started paid channels, layering on top of the existing model," the CEO added.
How people see crowdfunding now
Over the years as the industry has grown, one huge social stigma attached to crowdfunding has been lost. It was a huge problem platforms faced, as people would be hesitant to share their problems with the rest of the world, especially if they were financial in nature.
With the growth of these websites and the business as a whole, people now consider it okay to pursue crowdfunding.
"Am I going to the crowd? Will I tell them all about my problems? It still exists, there is much more to be done. There is, however, a sizeable crowd which believes that crowdfunding is a viable option. The propensity to donate is coming from those people who put themselves in the shoes of those suffering. They ask themselves, what if this were me? And the will to donate appears," Choudhary noted.
When crowdfunding did not exist, a middle-class family would deem it impossible to fund expenses for specialised operations and transplants. What crowdfunding has managed to do is breach that tag. Even if there is no guarantee, there is still a possibility that this new avenue might help. Crowdfunding has helped bring about hope and goodwill among people.
Jhanvi's campaign was hugely successful. She received a total of Rs 2,518,782 through August to November. Her operation went perfectly and she is now recovering.(*Name of the person has been changed on request)