Author:Shonali Banerjee (University of Sussex)
Paper short abstract:
In an increasingly digitized development sector, crowdfunding platforms look to bridge the gap between individual donors and local development projects. My research explores the complicated relationships and power dynamics between individual donors, crowdfunding platforms, and local NGOs in India.
Paper long abstract:
The development sector has long been in dire need of alternatives to mainstream international aid, with increasing emphasis placed on expansion of digital capacities. Technological advances and prominent global access to the Internet have revolutionized how individual donors interact with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and philanthropic giving. My research focuses on digital crowdfunding platforms and their influence on NGO fundraising from individual donors, or "micro-philanthropists", in India. Through the lens of Indian platform LetzChange and their NGO partners, this paper discusses the complex realities of online fundraising, and how NGOs are attempting to use the "assets" of increased digital presence to appeal to individual donors.
Bishop and Green laud crowdfunding platforms as digital equalizers in a world of altruistic billionaires, arguing they afford the average individual with the same "hyper-agency" as Bill Gates when directing their philanthropic donations (Bishop and Green, 2010). However, during my field research I discovered that while crowdfunding platforms may function as equalizers from the donor's perspective, local NGOs do not see them as egalitarian. My paper further examines how Indian crowdfunding platforms use algorithms and user data to determine visibility, inherently favoring tech-savvy partners who are highly active on social media. NGO partners had access to the same technological services from the platform but only the most digitally proficient organizations were able to succeed in appealing to individual donors. I discuss this unique system of digital inequality, more intricate than straight-forward digital divide, which reflects the nuances and power struggles of an increasingly digital aid sector.