We live in an age where a person who needs money can just go online and find charitable donors who will fund him till he can stand on his own feet. It’s a one to one deal, a donor directly interacting with a recipient.
What’s striking is how the middleman and charitable organisations that once stood between donor and recipient, are completely out of the picture.
This direct connection between donor and recipient is one of the less talked about disruptions of the technology revolution. We have all seen it in action. Be it for a working single mother who starts a Go-Fund-Me campaign when she discovers her child has a rare illness that requires expensive treatment. Or even a struggling writer who puts a ‘Donate’ button on his blog. Or Bill Gates who is personally supervising the deployments of billions of dollars in charity to fight malaria and finding ways for cheaper energy and what not.
What makes charity on the internet so effective is the way it helps a person in need reach out to an almost infinitely large audience. The more donors one gets, the better. And finally there is the power of the emotions stirred within you on actually seeing who you are helping, and realising how something inconsequential to you, can make a huge difference to their lives. Put all these together, add the power of micro-payments, and even the most insurmountable financial mountains, can be overcome, one step at a time.
It was not always like this. Some years ago, I was involved in a charity effort for CRY (Child Relief and You). We had put up a poster in Spencer’s, a big supermarket in Bangalore, and were happily counting the money we had collected. Just then, a CRY official walked in. It seems she had flown down from Mumbai, in part to supervise the charity drive we were working on. But what struck me was the money she had spent on her flight ticket, was more than the entire money we had collected that day.
At least, the lady had the right intentions. Usually in India, most of the money donated to charity is siphoned off before it reaches the person for whom it was intended. It starts right from the little child on the street who begs for money, which he has to hand over to some evil Fagin. Or the amoral politicians who siphon off millions from funds collected for farmers who are in dire straits after their entire year’s harvest has been wiped out by a flood or some other natural disaster.
My experiences have made me leery of charitable organisations and middlemen of any sort. Instead I prefer direct charity. Like if a child or an old lady comes begging outside the supermarket, I hand over a fruit. (I can’t imagine a Fagin eating oranges and bananas.) Or the orphanage down the road, where my sister once in a while hosts a feast - the pleasure on the kids’ faces makes it worth our while. My wife too has her pet projects but it’s all one to one. If it’s not, I usually avoid getting involved. Even if it’s natural catastrophe like floods, cyclones, earthquakes… there’s always the question of whose pocket the money will be going into.
Anyway, India has been slow to catch up with tech developments related to charity. But the current government is relatively tech-savvy. Critics question the government’s motives about its drive to make every Indian open a bank account, link it to their national ID card (Aadhaar), and avoid using paper currency.
I don’t have the answers to that. But what I do know is that it’s never been easier to avoid the sticky fingers of the corrupt middleman. We can now send money directly to a someone who really needs it, and be sure they will get it.
One good example is a recent initiative to help the Indian soldier that I came across. But first, some background.
Pakistan, which borders India, is one of the world’s largest breeding grounds of terrorists. The only thing stopping the brainwashed suicide terrorists from crossing over the border and slaughtering innocents by the thousands, are Indian soldiers. They give up their lives so the rest of us can enjoy safer lives.
Now everyone knows that Indian soldiers are not particularly well paid. So what happens to the family of this fallen soldier? Yes, the government will provide a pension to the widow and a bit of money. But what about his dreams of building a house or educating his kids in top schools? Sadly, they will fade away as there just won’t be enough money.
And that is why this message which popped up on my social media struck a chord with me.
It is a website launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, with the help of the actor, Akshay Kumar.
This website contains details of soldiers who sacrificed their life to protect our nation.
You can contribute a minimum of ₹10 (Rupees Ten) to a maximum of ₹15 lakhs according to your ability. Once a soldier gets ₹15 lakhs, he will be removed from the list.
Just think. If 50 lakh Indians (of a total 125 crore) contribute just 10 rupees each, the amount collected will be ₹5 Crore.
A humble request. If you cannot contribute, please forward this message so someone who can.
I usually delete these things without reading. But I have always felt a bit guilty about not helping India’s soldiers in any way. So I read the message, and clicked the link. I found I could contribute money directly to the fallen soldier. Being a skeptic, I did a little research. The site was genuine, run by the government, and an initiative of the Bollywood actor, Akshay Kumar.
Of course, there was still a risk that this money could be stolen by some corrupt official. But it’s much harder to do that when there is digital trace of every transaction.
As I clicked the button to contribute, I realized something. I had spent a lot more yesterday on buying a cellphone. But the joy of getting that gadget was nowhere as satisfying as the feeling of doing my little bit for the soldier.
People generally like to do what makes them feel good. With charity becoming easier, more people are going to try it, and feel good.
It sure looks like the charity is going to be trending.