Farmers in parched India village use crowdfunding to build canal
When farmers in the scorched village of Horti in Western India were struggling to raise money for a canal, they turned to an unlikely source: a crowdfunding website called FuelADream.
The farmers had never heard of crowdfunding before, but a local non-profit group suggested the site and helped them write a proposal that explained how a canal would help feed local families. Within weeks, they had raised Rs 300,000 ($4,490) from about 100 people. They donated an equal amount of their own money and built the storage duct. Monsoon rains arrived a few weeks ago, filling the new 8-kilometer long, 10-meter wide waterway that runs through fields where farmers will soon plant soybeans, sugarcane and cereal grains.
“Who would imagine that strangers would donate money to help build a canal in a place they had never even seen?” asked Manohar Kulkarni, 69, a retired government official and native of Horti, which used to rely on tankers trundling along its rutted roads to supply water.
In India, crowdfunding is taking an unusual twist. While US sites like Indiegogo and RocketHub focus on financing startups and new products, India’s crowdfunding companies are using the power of the internet to tackle social causes, including early education, childhood nutrition and support for indigent farmers. Given the country’s poverty, donors can make a difference with small amounts of money, and entrepreneurs get the opportunity to experiment with new ideas before pitching them to big-time financiers or government officials.
“There are a billion dreams waiting to come true,” said Ranganath Thota, a former PepsiCo Inc. executive, who started the Bangalore-based FuelADream a year ago. “The power of a crowd is not to be under-estimated as a force for connecting with the world.”
The crowdfunding industry provided about $34.4 billion in capital globally last year and is set to surpass venture capital this year, according to California-based research advisory Massolution. No reliable numbers are available for India which, by all estimates, accounts for a small fraction of this. But local crowdfunding sites are proliferating and drawing attention from backers including the World Bank and Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla, who is financing market-based approaches to development. “Innovative ideas have the best chance of success,” said Priyanka Agarwal, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant who co-founded the Mumbai-based site Wishberry.
“This medium has the ability to democratize funding and get market validation for any new venture,” said Satish Kataria, founder and managing director of the Mumbai-based Catapooolt, the site where Greensole raised money. Piyush Jain has been thinking about crowdfunding in India since he was a student at Harvard University from 2011 to 2013. He wrote his graduate thesis on leveraging the technology to solve the country’s developmental problems and began work on his site Impact Guru in the school’s innovation lab. Now based in Mumbai, he’s run hundreds of campaigns in the past two years and raised about $180,000, including for the education startup vChalk. “Knocking on people’s doors or cold-calling to solicit donations can only go so far,” said Jain. “The old ways are not working anymore.”
He’s working to find new applications for the technology. Later this month, Impact Guru will partner with the United Nations Development Fund for Women to run a crowdfunding contest. Teams in Asia will compete to garner the most capital for women-empowerment projects. Such efforts may end up creating models that can be used for good causes globally, said Trina Liang-Lin, President, Singapore Committee for UN Women. “Crowdfunding draws potential supporters with a call to action,” she said, “and involves them in the success of the projects.”
This article was originally published on EconomicTimes.
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