Wednesday, September 27, 2023

How the crowd is tackling some of society’s biggest challenges

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Shreya Christina
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Most people associate crowdfunding with raising funds for startups and growing companies. However, one of the first entrants to space was: Crowdfundernow the UK’s largest rewards-based crowdfunding platform, aiming to become the most effective social investment platform in the world.

Crowdfunder, launched in 2013, connects people with community projects and other charities who use the platform to present their ideas to the public, or “the crowd,” to solicit donations for their cause. To date, 400,000 projects have been launched on the platform, of which approximately 60,000 have been successfully funded.

The platform was co-founded by CEO Rob Love, the interactive technology brain behind the Big Brother TV series. Now a dedicated social entrepreneur, he empowers people across the UK to raise money for projects that matter.

After creating some of the biggest websites online, including the National Lottery Online and, Love sold his business and had what he describes as an ethical revelation for his next venture. He says, “I just realized there were better things to do than make Big Brother, which started out as a fun social experiment, but quickly became car crash TV.”

Love teamed up with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to launch River Cottage, which ran several campaigns, including Hugh’s Fish Fight, which highlighted the plight of the world’s dwindling fish stocks.

He says: “We tried to help people make a difference by making them think about where their food comes from. Then we started to see that sense of the power of the people, everyone coming together to create a loud voice, which is really easy to do with digital.”

Soon, Love’s team was approached by communities asking for help with local projects, such as installing a wind turbine in their town or saving their village pub, by going out together. “Around this time, crowdfunding started taking off, so that was the route we went and Crowdfunder was born,” Love says. “We started crowdfunding wind turbines and various other things that communities needed, and it started growing really fast.”

One of the challenges they faced was a lack of understanding about crowdfunding; many saw it purely as a way to raise money for business. “That’s not our concern,” Love says. “We collect money from municipalities. And it’s not just about the money. It’s about validating good ideas and identifying the things people care about.”

Successfully funded community projects include Furry Tales, which provides animal support activities for the elderly in London’s Tower Hamlets, and FoodWorks, a food life skills program to improve people’s health and well-being. Others have focused on sports, the arts, charities and social enterprises.

The platform and power of the crowd came into their own during the pandemic, when it helped address some of society’s biggest challenges, for example helping Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford free school meals campaign against food poverty in children.

“This was during the lockdown when businesses and restaurants couldn’t open, but they were the ones who stepped up,” Love says. “When the community stands up to address issues that governments and businesses can’t, it’s pretty inspiring.”

To date, Crowdfunder has raised approximately £280 million directly through the platform, which has unlocked millions more offline. The platform is starting to unlock more and more money from governments, businesses and other organizations, including those from the public and private sectors.

With inflation and energy prices skyrocketing in May this year, Crowdfunder launched a Donate the discount campaign after then-chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that each household would receive a £400 discount on energy bills. The campaign encouraged people to donate their energy discounts to those most in need.

Love says: “The discount went to a lot of people who don’t necessarily need the £400. They had the choice to give that back to their local community or to charities on the frontline, and together make a huge difference.”

The platform has also become a marketplace for businesses, including some large corporations, to fund projects led by their staff. It expands companies’ offerings to redistribute and upgrade more wealth.

“At Aviva, for example, 70% of their staff use that mechanism to choose where they want the money to go,” says Love. “And they choose the things they care about in their community, often their local branch of a national charity because it helped one of their relatives.”

Crowdfunder has also partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a vaccine campaign. “When you get funding from the government and big business and get recognition from the Gates Foundation, you know you’re on the radar,” Love says. “Those guys have the money, but trying to channel it at the local community level in a way that makes a difference is a real challenge.”

Love is passionate about his belief in the power of the crowd and excited about what is possible. “I see crowdfunding as the ultimate meritocracy; have an idea and find out if everyone agrees, and I think that will become even more important in the future,” he says. “Whatever the problem, there’s a growing confidence and belief that if we all work together we can solve it, and that’s what I find exciting.”

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