Teenagers across India are crowdfunding to help social causes. Here’s how | more lifestyle | Hindustan Times
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Teenagers across India are crowdfunding to help social causes. Here’s how

They’re crafting evocative online campaigns to raise money for heart surgeries and musical instruments, cataract care, even to help NGOs make rent.

more lifestyle Updated: Aug 02, 2017 22:31 IST
Madhusree Ghosh
The crowdfunding pages of teenagers Crish Chengappa, Sathvik Vudumula, Ishnoor Singh, Varun Jhunjhunwalla, Aryaman Shaan and Meher Kaur Rikhy. They are among hundreds of children across the country successfully raising money for social causes via online crowdfunding campaigns.
The crowdfunding pages of teenagers Crish Chengappa, Sathvik Vudumula, Ishnoor Singh, Varun Jhunjhunwalla, Aryaman Shaan and Meher Kaur Rikhy. They are among hundreds of children across the country successfully raising money for social causes via online crowdfunding campaigns.
CROWDFUNDING DOS AND DON’TS
  • Do choose a realistic monetary goal
  • Use video to tell the story of your cause, but be honest and accurate.
  • Prepare a list of initial funders and get commitments from them before you go live, so your campaign opens with some momentum.
  • Make sure you get both kinds of supporters – those who will give you funds and those who will share your initiative on their social media pages.
  • Keep thanking funders through the campaign and sharing updates during and after.
  • Don’t pick a cause you are not really passionate about because it’s hard work and you could lose interest midway.
  • If you can’t find, in advance, at least five people who will donate to your campaign, don’t launch it. Wait. Or reconsider.(Source: Ranganath Thota, founder and CEO of FuelADream)

No one is too young or inexperienced to make a difference, that’s the message teenagers are taking away from their successful crowdfunding initiatives.

“Kids typically raise money for two kinds of projects — innovations they want to create, or causes they want to help fund,” says Ranganath Thota, founder and CEO of crowdfunding platform FuelADream.

With help from platforms like FuelADream, Ketto and Bitgiving, they’re learning how to use videos to elaborate on their cause, interviewing potential beneficiaries to give potential donors a face to identify with.

They’re also learning how to raise funds effectively — identifying a first batch of donors before the campaign goes live, for instance, to make sure there’s initial momentum, and using parents’ LinkedIn ids to reach the right audience.

In some cases, they’re helping other children get essential surgery, in others they’re helping an NGO raise rent for its spaces. One teen is creating a home automation system that will allow you to operate light switches remotely, at low cost, when you go out of town. Another has such a successful campaign raising money for musical instruments for underprivileged children that it’s turned into an annual benefit concert at his school.

Crish Chengappa, 15, raised Rs 2 lakh, enough for five subsidised heart surgeries for children.

“It’s a good idea for kids to crowdfund for a cause. That’s how they will learn to give back to society. We just have to make sure that they are not too young to be exposed to the online world when they do it,” says Varun Sheth, founder and CEO of crowdfunding platform Ketto.

Sometimes, the initiative starts as part of a school social work quota. Sometimes, it’s the school that introduces the concept of crowdfunding too.

That’s what happened at Delhi Public School (Bangalore North).

“I first heard about crowdfunding in February, when I met Mr Thota and invited him to speak at our assembly,” says principal Manju Balasubramanyam. “At the assembly, a group of students asked if the school could launch a campaign of its own.”

Thota put the school in touch with Rotary Indiranagar and the Needy Heart Foundation and thus was born ‘DPS Big Hearts’, an online campaign launched in May to raise Rs 16.5 lakh in 60 days to fund heart surgery for needy children. A total of 44 students signed up as campaigners.

Crish Chengappa, 15, brought in the most funds — a whopping Rs 2 lakh, enough for five subsidised surgeries.

“Every child raised the targeted Rs 40,000. They and their parents learnt to use social media constructively in the process,” Balasubramanyam says.

The school campaign collectively raised 16.9 lakh, enough for 41 surgeries.

For Chengappa, as for many of the other students, their campaigns were proof that they could make an impact.

“Some people set up online banking accounts specifically for this campaign. Some went to their banks several times to process payments, as there were tech glitches,” Chengappa says. “It was really gratifying to see the lengths to which people were going, to help us save a life.”

‘I’ve learnt that the possibilities truly are limitless’

Ishnoor Singh, 17, raised Rs 76,000 to build an affordable home automation system so people could switch their lights on and off remotely even when out of town. He was inspired by how worried his grandparents would get when they left their Amritsar home to visit him in Gurgaon. (Sanjeev Verma / HT Photo)

When 17-year-old Ishnoor Singh’s grandparents came to visit from Amritsar, they would constantly worry about the safety of their house. Singh thought they could rest easy if they got a home automation system installed.

“So I looked up the options online and found out that the systems available were really expensive and complicated,” says the Gurgaon boy. “What my grandparents, and many others like them, need is a simple, affordable use system that can help them control their lights remotely.”

Since he dreams of being an entrepreneur specialising in affordable tech, he decided to try and create an Android app that would control switches remotely.

It took him six months to create a working model, using off-the-shelf components such as a programming board, wifi module, relays, an adaptor and a breadboard.

Then he needed financial help to build five prototypes for market testing. It was Ishnoor’s parents who suggested crowdfunding because they wanted him to find out if the idea was worth funding.

“I had set a target of Rs 45,000 but within the first 10 days I already had Rs 76,000,” he says. “I got support from unexpected quarters. Some very senior professionals connected with my father on LinkedIn shared his post and that really helped. A total of 46 people donated.”

Singh is now building 20 prototypes instead of five. “It will allow me to do more extensive testing,” he says. “I will be testing among our neighbors, some of the funders, if they are willing, and of course, my grandparents. After leaving it with them for a fortnight, I will document their feedback, the glitches, the failures and possible improvements.”

To Ishnoor, the best thing about his crowdfunding experience is that it told him how much people in the real world actually connected with his idea.

“What started as a pet project to test my skills is turning into a product that consumers could actually buy,” he says. “The biggest lesson I have learnt from this experience is that if you dream big and stick to your dreams, the possibilities are truly limitless.”

Instruments of change

Varun Jhunjhunwalla, 18, raised Rs 85,000 to buy musical instruments for underprivileged children -- and expanded that campaign into a fundraising concert that has now become an annual event at his Mumbai school. (Aalok Soni / HT Photo)

In his final year at Mumbai’s Cathedral & John Connon School, Varun Jhunjhunwalla had to pick a social service project.

“Music had helped me a lot in dealing with school stress,” he says. “I knew that children from government schools faced large amounts of pressure both in school and at home. I thought maybe introducing them to music would help, be something creative they could do in their free time.”

So he began to volunteer at BPK Sahakari Vidyamandir in December 2015.

But he had a lot of trouble sourcing instruments for these classes. “There were days when we had only one set of keyboards and a guitar for the eight students I was teaching. Some students drew piano keys with chalk on the benches to learn the correct finger positions. I got into some trouble with the school the next day because some of them had used permanent marker!” he says, laughing.

So he launched a crowdfunding campaign called Songs for Change on Ketto in June 2016, thinking people would donate enough to buy a few instruments for the school.

The campaign met its target of Rs 85,000, but that was just the beginning.

“After his crowdfunding target was reached, he approached us and proposed a fundraising concert to raise money for NGOs like Muktangan, which work to promote music among underprivileged children. The idea was welcomed by the school,” says Susan Vaidyan, psychology and music teacher at Cathedral. “Varun, with the help of other students, organised the event and sold tickets—mostly to their parents and parents’ friends.”

The concert raised close to Rs 3 lakh and has become an annual, student-driven event.

“The concert gave underprivileged children from across the city a platform to perform, and with the money we earned we bought guitars, electronic tablas, a harmonium, electronic tanpuras, music books, score sheets and choir costumes, dancing shoes, ukeleles and keyboards that are being distributed across BPK and all the participating NGOs. And there’s some money set aside for next year’s concert,” says Jhunjhunwalla, 18.

More students from Cathedral are now volunteering at BPK and Muktangan, offering instruction across a range of instruments.

‘The idea that will work is the one you implement’

Aryaman Shaan was going to volunteer as a tutor, with Mumbai NGO LCCWA. When he realised how much of a problem funds were, the 17-year-old instead launched an on-going online campaign to raise money to pay their rent.

Aryaman Shaan, 17, from Mumbai began volunteering with a local NGO during his summer break last year.

The Logic Centre & Community Welfare Association offers children from local slums free after-school classes and one free meal a day.

“I soon realised that funding was a constant challenge, so instead of volunteering there to teach, I decided to raise funds for the NGO,” says Shaan, now a Class 12 student.

He weighed different options – organising a fair, trying to get corporate sponsorship etc. “I decided to go with crowdfunding because it seemed like the simplest option,” he says.

In the week since his campaign went online, it has raised Rs 99,000. The goal is to raise Rs 2.4 lakh over 45 days.

“The key to crowdfunding is getting people to connect with your cause,” Shaan says. “I made several trips to the NGO and spoke to the founders, volunteers and many of the children to understand their issues and struggles.”

Shaan then posted pictures and stories detailing some of their struggles, so that the donors could actually get to know some of the people they would be helping.

His parents helped by sharing his campaign link on their social media accounts and inviting their friends to do the same.

The money will be used mainly to pay the rent for the five rooms used by LCCWA.

“Rent is our biggest challenge,” says Chaitali Gupta, programme cocoordinator and managing committee member. “Donors pay for books and the food but the rent is Rs 2.40 lakh a year and we have no steady corporate sponsorships to help us raise this sum. We are grateful to Shaan for trying to help us with this.”

Shaan, for his part, says the campaign has taught him that “there are a million ideas one can have, but the one that will work is that one that you implement”.

“This experience has also given me a deeper understanding of just how privileged I am,” he adds. “And that goodness does exist.”

Listening in

Meher Kaur Rikhy, 18, raised Rs 65,000 so a three-year-old could get cochlear-implant surgery.

When Meher Kaur Rikhy was 10, her parents asked if she would like to volunteer, meet and help children less fortunate than herself. She said yes.

Eight years later, and she has completed a successful campaign called IHearU, raising Rs 65,000 for a free cochlear implant surgery for a child whose parents couldn’t afford it.

“Through the NGO Kids for Kids, where I volunteer, I met Dr Shalabh Sharma, a senior surgeon who does cochlear-implant surgeries free at Gangaram Hospital. He introduced me to children who could benefit from a cochlear implant but could not afford one. One of them was three-year-old Preeksha,” says the Gurgaon student.

She then met a five-year old boy named Sumant who had undergone such a surgery. When he told her how he now went to a mainstream school and enjoyed life a lot more, she decided she wanted to help someone have that experience.

She launched her campaign on the crowdfunding platform, Bitgiving, in November.

“I chose crowdfunding because I believe there are people out there who want to help, but have not had the right opportunity,” she says. “I worked to create a buzz around the campaign. I created a video talking to children who had had the surgery. I approached an artist, Sanjay Sharma, who’s donated the painting that became the logo of my campaign. I had notebooks printed with this design. Anybody who donated got one of these notebooks as a token of appreciation.”

The donors did not disappoint. “I had strangers from cities in southern India donating money. I also had donors from the US!”

As Dr Sharma puts it: “Meher has a kind heart and this shows in her efforts to raise money for another child.”

An I for an eye

Sathvik Vudumula raised Rs 2.20 lakh for free cataract surgeries for 100 women in rural Telangana.

Sathvik Vudumula, 18, from Hyderabad generated so much interest with his campaign to fund free cataract surgeries for the elderly last year that it went into Phase 2 and benefited 50% more people than he had originally targeted.

It all started when he began to volunteer with senior citizen NGO HelpAge India and saw old people suffering with vision impairment.

“I also met a couple whose children had abandoned them because they were physically impaired and partially blind. This shocked me and I wished do my bit to help,” he says.

So he launched Re-vision, a crowdfunding campaign aimed at conducting free cataract surgeries and restoring vision to elderly people who couldn’t afford care for themselves.

“The idea was to treat 100 women from rural Telengana, with the help of Operation Eyesight Universal [OEU], an international NGO working to eliminate avoidable blindness,” Vudumula says.

This would require Rs 2.20 lakh, a sum he ended up raising through crowdfunding.

“We organised the surgeries with the help of local hospitals and also documented their reactions after the surgery, which were heart-touching,” says Dr Santosh Moses, regional manager for South Asia at OEU. “Some said they could now see their grandchildren, others were grateful they could go to the washroom by themselves.”

After the first 100 surgeries, though, there were still a lot of requests from the local NGOs. “So we ran a second crowdfunding campaign and raised another Rs 1.10 lakh to conduct 50 more cataract surgeries. These funds were raised within three weeks,” Vudumula says. “My parents’ friends helped my campaigns gather momentum. I also got some media attention, which enabled me reach my goal through many anonymous contributors across India. In many cases, all it took was the cost of a restaurant dinner, and they could help restore someone’s eyesight.”