Whether with art workshops in Ghana or honey production in Cameroon, Internet users have a variety of ways to finance local development projects. One new platform also gives them a chance to make a profit in doing so.
"I'm going to paint something about peace," says Muhamed Adam in a promotional film for the artist collective Nima Muhinmanchi Art. His picture is colorful and warm, like most works produced in this studio for children from Nima, a slum in the heart of the Ghanaian capital, Accra.
A thousand dollars (772 euros) were needed to organize this after-school workshop. Nima Muhinmanchi Art's campaign to raise the funds, which ran almost a year ago on the world's largest crowdfunding platform "Indiegogo.com," exceeded all expectations. Around $1,600 were donated by Internet users; in return, they received everything from postcards or T-shirts all the way to original paintings, depending on how much money they chipped in.
The power of the masses
Crowdfunding is based on a simple calculation: the more people engage in a project - even if they only donate symbolic sums like a dollar or a euro - the more funds are available in the end. "What's more important than the donation is the number of supporters," says Joana Breidenbach, who served as a jury member in 2011 for the Bobs, DW's prize for online activism.
As a co-founder of "Betterplace.org," Germany's largest crowdfunding platform for civic projects, she knows what makes for a successful campaign: a good idea and strong networking.
"The projects that really take off are the ones that have a cool story," she continues. "The target audience, which is usually young and active in social networks, likes to get involved when they feel they're being addressed."
Since its founding in 2007, Betterplace has collected donations of 10 million euros for nearly 5,000 projects in 147 countries. In contrast to traditional crowdfunding platforms, in which Internet users usually receive something in return like a t-shirt or see their names at the end of a film they helped finance, Betterplace only raises money.
Bank of the future?
The concept has gathered so much steam in the last five to ten years that a new trend is emerging, Breidenbach believes. Increasingly, users are called upon to invest in companies, generally startups.
Blue Bees, a newcomer in the French crowdfunding scene, is betting on participation in "economically viable projects." The platform, which was founded at the end of 2012, only supports companies in developing countries.
"We want to create the bank of the future: aware of its responsibilities, transparent and fair," says co-founder Maxime de Rostolan, who has worked in the development arena for ten years.
The idea for Blue Bees came to her after observing that many interesting projects in developing countries floundered for lack of money because would not lend without collateral.
Honey producer Jacques George Badjang from Douala, Cameroon, experienced that first hand. He had tried in vain to get a loan from banks for his project "Les Mielleries." A microloan wouldn't have been enough because the sum of 20,000 euros he was seeking was too high.
'We aren't beggars'
"Les Mielleries" was the first project financed by members of the Blue Bees community. It took 85 days to put together the money, which Badjang is using to expand his beekeeping network and better distribute his honey. The loan should be paid back in six months, along with 11 percent interest. It's a model that Badjang approves of: "We businesspeople are not beggars. We want to work with various partners in order to achieve growth. In the end, each of us must profit from that."
The Internet users who took part in the project also get something out of it: they don't just get their money back, they make a small profit. And if they enjoyed the experience, they can carry on as "bankers": there are two new projects now seeking funding at Blue Bees: a medicinal garden in Peru and a honey producer in Burkina Faso. It's planned to have the 16,500 euros the two projects need in 90 days.
The artists of "Nima Muhinmanchi Art" have also had further successful campaigns at Indiegogo. For the 56th anniversary of Ghana's independence on March 16, they created a wall fresco. "Imagine Accra" took in $500 in donations.
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