8 August 2018

South Africa: Campaigners and K-Pop Fans Turn to Crowdfunding for Conservation

Bangkok — Communities, campaigners and conservationists are increasingly using crowdfunding rather than relying on charities and governments to finance their programmes, according to researchers.

In a recent analysis of nearly 600 projects that have raised about $4.8 million in total, researchers led by Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao at the University of Queensland found that money largely went to Indonesia, South Africa, Costa Rica and Mexico.

The funds came mostly from the United States, Britain and Australia, the researchers found.

The money went to research, on-ground actions such as tree planting, and persuasion - including awareness campaigns or resistance to deforestation and industrialisation, said Gallo-Cajiao.

"Crowdfunding is pluralising conservation - it is no longer just about big non-profits and government agencies that have traditionally dominated the conversation," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

"It is allowing smaller players such as local community groups to back causes they care about, and get results."

Crowdfunding is growing in popularity worldwide as a means to finance innovative products, assistance after disasters, medical procedures and even college degrees.

Environmental causes - from planting trees to cleaning beaches - are a relatively new focus area, but gaining in popularity quickly, with dozens of dedicated websites.

In India, crowdfunding has restored village ponds in drought-stricken areas. It is being used to clean up public alleys in Southeast Asia and build homes for indigenous people.

In Korea, the startup Tree Planet has tapped K-pop fan clubs to crowdfund forests that are dedicated to their favourite bands.

More than 1.1 million people have contributed to planting over 770,000 trees in a dozen countries, said co-founder Jeong Min-cheol.

"Everyone likes trees, and understands they are good and necessary for the planet," Jeong said.

"Crowdfunding allows even individuals to give small amounts for a big cause they may not otherwise have known about - and then brag about it on social media."

The startup has crowdfunded a "memorial forest" for Korean victims of sexual slavery in World War Two, and planted trees in Mongolia to check desertification, and mango trees in South Sudan for livelihoods, Jeong said.

An ongoing campaign provides funding to plant coffee bushes in Nepal to help farmers devastated by the 2015 earthquake.

While money from crowdfunding for environmental causes is "modest", it is empowering people who previously had little agency and enabling access to capital in places where it is scarce, Gallo-Cajiao said.

"It is lowering access barriers, overcoming bureaucratic challenges, funding initiatives that would not be funded otherwise, and expediting fundraising in times of urgency," he said.

"It is also sparking more innovation, as proponents are not constrained by priorities set by traditional funding agencies."

- Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Jared Ferrie

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