The Soft Power of Crowdfunding

On any given Sunday, I am used to spending a couple of hours to set myself for the week ahead. While immersed in my routine, I stumbled in an old piece by the Financial Times which I had printed out: an interview with Jeff Lynn, Co-Founder and Chairman of the London-based leading equity crowdfunding platform Seedrs, titled Crowdfunding a mission to save capitalism from itself.

THE RISE OF POPULISM. Jeff Lynn argues, “Crowdfunding is part of the solution to the rise of populism and policymakers should focus not just on the income gap but the wealth gap. Many salaried workers see the assets of the rich, such as housing and art, rising in value far faster than wages. That leads to resentment and the rise of figures such as Donald Trump.”

In this debate, someone asks: “In the age of Trump, Brexit and populist politics, is online crowdfunding a tool for fending off populism or embracing it?” “A bit of both,” claims Social Entrepreneur Paul Hilder co-founder, along with David Cameron’s former senior advisor Steve Hilton, of the political crowdfunding platform Crowdpac.

DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION. Many local authorities are putting forward crowdfunding as a way to enabling democratic participation. An example of this is civic crowdfunding platform Spacehive which supported London mayor Sadiq Khan to help transforming local places.

At a much broader extent, the international interest group European Crowdfunding Network fits in this category by hosting, next 28 and 29 June 2018, the 3rd ECN CrowdCamp “The European Dimension of Civic Crowdfunding” with the aim of answering questions including: how can crowdfunding prove itself as a valuable asset to public administrations and citizens? Or, how do policymakers perceive these opportunities? How are they are going to exploit those in the future?

PRIVATISING POLICY MAKING. However, some political commentators see in this attempt of increasing the democratic participation, the risk of privatising policy making “outsourcing decisions about what should be funded to a populist conception of ‘the public’”.

Moreover, someone could argue that crowdfunding reproduces inequality requiring on one side people to be digitally savvy and, on the other, large social networks which strongly correlate with income. In this regard, a Mother Jonesarticle points out, echoing a study by University of Washington Bothell, that crowdfunding has the potential to exacerbate social inequities.

It is a developing debate and the comparing and contrasting game evolving. What we can claim here is that in the fifty shades of gray of the soft power of crowdfunding, its attractiveness holds firmly on its attitude of building communities.

In the end, there is much more worth exploring in crowdfunding than just an alternative way for start-ups and growing companies to fundraise and it is all about its main social aspects: participation and social engagement.  In other words, the unique value of crowdfunding is not money, it’s community.