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Mumbai unites for causes, effects changes

Mumbai’s popular crowdfunding platforms mobilise more than Rs20cr­- Rs25cr every month and are growing at over 100%, say experts

mumbai Updated: Apr 25, 2018 10:39 IST
Sadaguru Pandit
One-year-old Ram Mistry underwent a liver transplant earlier this month after the procedure was made possible by money raised on two crowdfunding platforms.
One-year-old Ram Mistry underwent a liver transplant earlier this month after the procedure was made possible by money raised on two crowdfunding platforms.

Six days after Ishani and Pritesh Mistry had their son Ram, the baby contracted jaundice. Two months later, Ram was diagnosed with biliary atresia. The only treatment for this rare congenital disease was a liver transplant that cost Rs 16 lakh. It was an impossible amount of money for the couple who live in Padra, a village in Gujarat. “Pritesh owns a cement mixing machine and the rent from it pays for the family’s food and other basic expenses. But being a small village, there is not much work or money,’ said Divya Sidapura, Ram’s aunt.

In four months, the family would visit over 92 charity trusts in Gujarat and contact the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for financial assistance. Ultimately, a contribution by Tata Foundation Trust, a grant from Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai and the kindness of strangers made it possible for 13-month-old Ram to become the youngest recipient of a liver transplant in Maharashtra. The biggest share of the money needed for the procedure came from crowdfunding.

On February 1, the Mistrys set up their first appeal for financial assistance on ImpactGuru. In 172 days, people donated over Rs 79,000 for Ram’s treatment at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital. Later, when Ram was shifted to Apollo Hospital Navi Mumbai, the family turned to Ketto and received Rs 6.5 lakh over 30 days. The transplant, which was finally done on April 5, was made possible by the money raised on the two crowdfunding platforms.

“Citizens of this digital India opt for online transactions and shopping,” said Varun Sheth, founder of Ketto. “Moreover, rather than taking out a day from your busy schedule to make a physical donation, philanthropists feel more comfortable in changing lives with a couple of clicks. Donors gets the choice of anonymity, convenience and satisfaction of transparency in making the payment.”

How crowdfunding works

“Once people draw down on savings and exhaust the insurance cover, they turn to friends and family for help to meet such unforeseen, pressing needs. Online crowdfunding platforms just take it online, making it easier and more transparent, helping people take their need to a larger number of people at the same time,” said Anoj Vishwanathan, co-founder and president of Milaap, one of the largest crowdfunding platforms of India.

With Mumbai’s popular crowdfunding platforms mobilizing over Rs 20-25 crore every month and growing at over 100%, industry experts call India the next best country in the crowdfunding sector. Companies like Milaap, ImpactGuru, Ketto and Wishberry have shown they can give people access to resources that were otherwise out of reach.

“People select their own causes and once a fundraiser is up, a dedicated team and a rigorous verification process verify the legitimacy of the person in need and the need itself. Once verified, the fundraiser is made public so that people from across the world can help,” said Vishwanathan. The platforms charge a commission that ranges from 5% to 10% of the amount raised.

The applicants get from one month to three months to collect funds, depending on the amount. “One of our representatives guides them through the process, to ensure their demands reach out in the most effective form,” said Piyush Jain, founder of ImpactGuru. Applicants reserve the right to withdraw from the campaign at any point and the amount gets credited to their account.

An emotional connect

With hundreds of thousands visiting these sites every month, it’s possible to find donors for anything from a travel itinerary to an indie film. Aided by social media and email marketing, crowdfunding platforms connect with an ever-growing audience. For those who need help for medical procedures and treatment, crowdfunding has been a lifeline that can benefit donors too. International donors get tax benefits for their donations and crowdfunding websites that are registered as charities offer tax exemption to the Indian donors.

Non Residential Indians (NRI) comprise the largest segment of the donor pool and account for over 60-70% of total contributions. “There is no surprise there, considering the digital culture which allows crowdfunding apps to be as popular as something like Uber or Facebook. Secondly, it’s more related to the idea of giving back to the society and sharing your own fortune to make somebody else’s life a little better,” said Jain.

Psychiatrists explain people’s motivation to donate money as effective use of subliminal perception – presenting the stimulus in a way that is subtle but makes an impact. To make a campaign successful, it’s necessary to establish an emotional connect with the viewer. “The appeals in crowdfunding platforms will have pictures of people in Intensive Care Units or smiling children who are diagnosed with severe ailments. Along with heart-wrenching words, the package creates an emotional connect with the readers,” said Dr Parul Tank, consultant psychiatrist at Wockhardt Hospital. Paediatric cases, for instance, have a greater chance of being fully funded, according to the data on most crowdfunding platforms.

Health campaigns on the rise

Before crowdfunding became a viable option, most people turned to charitable trusts. However, as Ram’s family knows from having tried their luck at over 90 trusts, the process can be fraught with despair. The applications are also relatively complex and require regular follow-ups. In contrast, the online application system is simpler and once the money comes in, amounts are credited directly to the accounts of the respective hospitals.

ImpactGuru is the only online crowdfunding platform of India that provides tax benefits to donors. It receives about 2000-2500 new applications every month and most are related to medical needs, like expensive surgeries and lifesaving medical procedures. “One of the reasons is because 90% Indians don’t have a health insurance cover and it’s extremely difficult to avail loans of Rs 20-25Lakhs from banks. Also the state and central government programs only provide 10% of the necessary costs of such sky-high bills,” said Jain.

While crowdfunding platforms see a variety of applications, there has been a surge in the number of medicine-related projects of late. Since 2016, Ketto has seen the number of health campaigns increase by 300%.

Over 80% Indians are not covered under any health insurance plan, according to a survey conducted by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2014. The report also highlighted that only 18% of urban population and 14% of rural population is covered under any form of health insurance. This means most Indians have to pay out of pocket when faced with medical emergencies.

In 2017, a joint report by World Health Organisation and World Bank calculated that worldwide, approximately 100 million people are forced into extreme poverty because of their medical bills. In India, the number is a staggering 49 million. No wonder so many people looking for angels in the crowd.