Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Crowdfunding Science: Experience from a Developing Country

In 2014, we raised $3772.10 + NRs 61797 from a fundraising campaign in my coordination. Majority of this amount was collected via a crowdfunding platform, the Fundrazr.com and was used to buy UV-Vis spectrophotometer (a scientific instrument) and accessories for Department of Chemistry, Mahendra Morang Adarsha Multiple Campus (MMAMC), Biratnagar, Nepal.
Educational institutions in Nepal like other developing countries lack basic infrastructure (instruments, equipment) for teaching and research in science, as unfortunately, support from the government is not enough. However, despite the lack of basic facilities, few enthusiastic researchers are trying their best to carry out research and train their students in science.
Among various other campuses around the country, MMAMC, Biratnagar desperately needed an UV-Vis spectrophotometer, one of the basic instruments in many disciplines of science including chemistry. Unfortunately, neither MMAMC nor the Tribhuvan University could support the purchase of this instrument, making external funding crucial. Unlike others, Dr. Ajaya Bhattarai, assistant professor of chemistry from MMAMC came forward and discussed the possibilities of obtaining funds with me.
We then decided to ask our friends around the globe to donate. Rather than asking privately, we decided to use a public forum in order to let more people know about our campaign for a good cause.
In recent years, crowdfunding has become very popular to generate funds for variety of purposes including support for scientific research. The crowdfunding is an idea of raising fund for a common cause from a large number of people primarily via internet. Even though crowdfunding had initially found successful in developed countries like US, Europe, and Australia, the rapid rise of mobile technology and social media utilization has made crowdfunding more viable opportunity to finance innovation in developing countries.
Ready to face harsh comments and questions

When you ask for money, there are people who think the donation is important and are happy with it; however, you also face some people who have an aversion to the idea. We also obtained similar responses. Most of the comments we received during the fundraising period were very encouraging. But there were some negative ones. Some people tried to connect my relationship to Biratnagar and if it was for my personal benefit. One person, I know personally, argued really hard with me and said he would donate if it were for his village or school. There were some social media arguments started at the same time referring to the idea of “giving” to developing country is really bad.
Important factors for successful crowdfunding
Not all projects seeking crowdfunding are successful. More than half of such projects fail to reach their goal.  I have following suggestions for successful fundraising campaign.
  1. A clear idea: Our fundraising campaign had a clear goal of buying scientific instrument for MMAMC and a good explanation of why the fund was needed.
  2. Networking: We networked to our prospective donors primarily through Facebook. We have a group of Nepali chemists on Facebook; that helped a lot. We reached out to all of them in addition to contacting people from Biratnagar and those who studied in MMAMC residing in developed countries. We also sent personal email to many donors.
  3. Know your target donors: People who are either affiliated to the MMAMC or had studied chemistry residing abroad were our target donors. However, we raised a considerable amount of money from people residing in Nepal offline. As online payment system is not widely used in developing countries, it was difficult to raise funds inside country via online platform.
  4. Authenticity: It is important to understand the fact that potential donors are very cautious about the authenticity of the fundraising and the proper use of money after collection. Our donors were familiar to the fact that the instruments donated to Tribhuvan University and other governmental research centers mostly sit idle dust covered. Therefore, in our case, we had to convince our donors that the instrument would definitely be used regularly. Dr. Ajaya Bhattarai and his background played crucial role in this case.
A successful example.
Potential funders want to see the people behind the fundraising event. We asked ourselves: do people really believe on what we are asking for? We tried our best to be as transparent as possible telling who are behind the fund raise, how the money will be utilized and who will be responsible for purchase, use, and care of instrument. We requested our friends to share the event using social media.
Before this fundraise event, my friends (mostly chemists) and I had also raised fund to buy a projector and laptop for Central Department of Chemistry, Tribhuvan University. This previous experience increased our confidence and people’s belief on us.
  1. Share and publish the details: We kept updating the progress of fundraising on regular basis. We wrote our aim and objectives clearly on the crowdfunding website.
Did we get all money raised?
The answer is a big NO. In our case, the crowdfunding company deducted 8.7% of the total money raised via crowdfunding platform (online) including the PayPal fee. Plus a fee to transfer money from US to Nepal.

Finally, I am happy to share with you that the instrument we donated is being regularly used and has generated some data. Dr. Ajaya Bhattarai recently presented the findings of his research on the interaction of dyes with surfactants using UV-Vis spectrophotometer in the 16th international symposium on eco-materials processing and design (ISEPD 2015) in Kathmandu, Nepal. This is important to mention here because many people think [which unfortunately could be true in some cases] that donated equipment are not being used rather they are stored with dust covered. Well, we assure to let the work speak for itself. Thank you!