Crowdfunding: Ushering an era of community support

by Anoj Viswanathan 

Usually, when people come to a crowdfunding platform like Milaap to raise funds for an urgent medical need, they have already exhausted their own savings, liquefied all possible assets, run out of their insurance cover (when they have one), and often, are neck-deep in debt. So far, crowdfunding has been the last resort for many who are battling medical crises. Surprisingly, almost two-thirds of India’s healthcare expenses, amounting to nearly USD60 billion, is out-of-pocket: from savings, borrowings, and support from friends and family; so the behaviour does exist offline. The challenge is in bringing people online, to where they can do the same with greater ease.

One of the many reasons for this hesitation to come to us earlier could simply be that, asking for money is difficult, more so, when done publicly. The fear of being seen during and remembered for our weakest moments is not the best of feelings; but is that the true perception? Do people really just remember you as somebody who could not do sufficiently for themselves?

Contrary to common notion, the real driving factor in online crowdfunding is empathy, and not sympathy. The idea that anybody could be in a situation of dire need, that it could be anybody’s child, parent, sibling or friend who requires help, and if that were the case, would they not need all the help they can find? Most people would donate if the answer is a ‘yes‘.

A case study to prove the point

Dr. Pravalika, a young doctor from Vellore, a small city in Tamil Nadu was diagnosed with cancer. She was still in her final year MD when she casually got her Lymph node tested. The unfortunate  cancer (Lymphoma) diagnosis changed life for her and everyone around. Treatment was expensive, and her family managed the finances to pay for her treatment for a while. She was advised 2 cycles of Brentuximab, an antibody-drug conjugate medication used to treat relapsed or refractory Hodgkin lymphoma, followed by stem cell transplant which would cost an additional ?15lakhs. Unfortunately, her medical insurance did not cover her charges, since the drugs were monoclonal antibodies and the stem cell transplant is not approved under her policy. Eventually, her friend started an online fundraiser for her, and managed to raise nearly ?27.5lakhs of the required ?30lakhs, by spreading the news across their networks of friends and colleagues, while encouraging to spread the word further.

This allowed Pravalika to successfully proceed with the treatment. Today, she is a brave cancer survivor, thanks to the 900 people from across the world, both friends and strangers, who made the contributions towards her cause.

Honesty is the best policy for crowdfunding

Again, unlike what most people assume, belonging to a less privileged strata is not a pre-qualifier to raise funds online. Medical expenses can sum up to tens of lakhs, an amount that could be difficult for anybody to arrange urgently. As a platform, we have come across questions regarding the legitimacy of a cause, given that a certain campaign organizer came from a well-to-do family, or someone who went to a good college, but the truth is, honesty and transparency are the only prerequisites that make you eligible to raise funds.

Medical emergencies can befall anyone. According to National Health Profile (NHP), only 27% Indians have health cover. This means that 100 out of India’s 135-crore population have no cover against disastrous health expenses. Moreover, cancer care has materialized as an insurance product only a couple of years ago, and there are still many diseases and conditions that are not covered by insurance.

This is the reason, fundraising platforms like ours, work to not just inform people of this route, but also to make it incredibly easy to start a fundraiser, share their story, and raise the funds they need. We try to reduce the time and effort that goes into the entire process for campaign organisers and donors alike. Sharing updates or news on progress with supporters is also made incredibly easy, because a large part of trust depends on seeing the difference their participation makes.

So, if a loved one’s life depended on it, would you not walk that extra mile to gather support, and give this easy, debt-free way to raise funds and make their battle easier, a try?

Anoj Viswanathan is the President and co-founder of Milaap, India’s largest crowdfunding platform.