The lesson of crowdfunding at times of crisis

Chris is a small business owner. He runs a bar in Toronto and recently launched a crowdfunding campaign. Sometimes government help isn’t enough. Chris is not alone. Restaurants, music venues and theatres, gyms and beauty salons account for most of the businesses that have started asking for help directly from their customers. Daniel Tsai, who teaches business and law at the University of Toronto, explained that this indicates “a level of desperation by these businesses” and “if the government has failed you, and if banks have failed you, this is the option that you have.” 

According to one of the largest crowdfunding platforms, the American GoFundMe, we are in presence of long-term systemic problems that many companies will have to keep dealing with. However, the issue seems to be broader. According to another crowdfunding platform, the British JustGiving, although there has been an explosion of crowdfunding campaigns before and during the pandemic, either because of the increased awareness of this financial tool or because people are more inclined to use it, the fact that stands out is that the most significant increase in campaigns goes under certain keywords such as ‘rent, therapy, eviction, unemployed, surgery or distress’. In other words, there is a great need for help, starting from fundamental needs.

In Italy, too, many have decided to join forces to try to react constructively to the current state of affairs. Today, 24 April 2021, marks the end of the third civic crowdfunding campaign launched by the City of Milan in collaboration with Produzioni dal Basso, a crowdfunding platform. The aim is to take care of one’s own space, one’s neighbourhoods.

Intesa Sanpaolo, the bank, has launched a crowdfunding programme aimed at financing over 30 projects to create a generational bridge starting from three key themes: environmental sustainability, social inclusion and access to the labour market for people in difficulty. “Our daily behaviour and way of acting look with increasing determination at these instances”, commented Stefano Barrese, head of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Banca dei Territori Division, “with particular attention to communities.”

These stories, albeit from different angles, suggest that there is despair, but also a desire to react, a desire to return together to be protagonists of our lives, a desire to create a community beyond solidarity, to hold hands with confidence. I think this is one of the most powerful legacies of this pandemic and, at the same time, an extraordinary message because it tells us that without a positive attitude it will be very difficult to move forward.

An Italian version of this article was originally published by La Discussione.