my year on kickstarter: crowdfunding development, products and movies

I must say, this year I got a bit lost on what I funded and backed on Kickstarter. Solar power, urban transport maps for Dhaka, relationship movies, magnetic comic strips. Quite a random selection of fun, intriguing, intellectual and useful projects.

In this post, I wanted to look a bit more in depth into what I have supported on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Both to get an overview for myself, and to reflect on what this new form of funding means to me, and might bring for the future. I haven’t backed big amounts, or a huge number of projects. I guess, I am kind of an average backer, with US$ 199 among 5 projects. An average of US$ 40 dollars per project. But it has triggered a couple of thoughts around:

What does crowdfunding mean for international development? How driving local economic development might be supported by crowdfunding platforms? And what it means for specific products and industries?
Here’s a list of projects backed.

First Bus Map for Dhaka, by Urban Launchpad.

I love urban development projects. Urban development is one of the key areas for citizens to engage in and make their immediate environment a bit better, thinking of smarter solutions that benefit all. This project does something very basic: it creates a map for the public transport system in Dhaka. I have never been to Bangladesh, but I know I lost my way a couple of times in the public taxi system in Tijuana, Mexico, so I know how confusing, and potentially dangerous this chaotic system can be. I did see this project as an experiment to provide design principles to development projects, and while I am not sure if printing maps is the most effective way to do that in a city of at least 7 million people, I am curious about what happens.

Bus-Ibague

WakaWaka Power
Pretty amazing that 7,000 people supported and committed to this product, that became a project. It started off as a simple, but by design and technology a pretty cool solar light and usb solar charger. Something I have been looking for before Christmas: for camping mainly, and simply because I think solar energy is very useful in many circumstances. It became a project when they decided to move from assembling in China, to doing so in Haiti. I think there is still a need to get the raw materials from sustainable sources, but this project mixes a cool product, with providing economic development (see below). The innovative solution here is that it combines both approaches, using crowdfunding. On general problems to work in Haiti, have a look at these three posts on the Financial Times, the Nation, and the MIF blog.

Magnetic Comic
This is one of the products that combines my love to graphic novels and comics with cool design. Just an amazing product to create three-image funnies by myself, and I am looking forward to receiving it in March!

She’s lost control
A film by a friend of mine from university. Great stat by Kickstarter that 10 per cent of movies at Sundance have been made using funding from kickstarter. But making movies is not cheap, and any contribution will likely be more of a drop in the ocean. In the end, however, the story is what counts. So I am curious how this one will turn out!

This is not a conspiracy theory
My first project because I loved the original series by Kirby Ferguson that looked at remixes Everything is a Remix. I must say, I had forgotten about it, and it is way behind schedule. But that is part of crowdfunding as well. Not everything will work as planned, and creative processes are challenging. So I let myself surprise, whenever it will be ready.

A couple of questions that I have been thinking about throughout the year when looking at how crowdfunding is starting to spill over to international development projects:

What does crowdfunding mean for international development?
Supporting local development projects directly is probably still more common through lending platforms such as Kiva.org, but it would be interesting to see how many projects fall in this category on kickstarter. Its own statistic does not include a category on humanitarian development.

Somewhat random interventions for development are great, but potentially also not that useful in the big picture. They are great because they are innovative, and they come up with ideas that could not be implemented through our big international system of aid. As small, and local interventions, they probably won’t have much effect on the overall situation of people in countries such as Haiti, or Bangladesh. They are not likely to address the issues researchers have written down in books such as Poor Economics, to use an effective monitoring tool to their intervention, and to implement accountability measures of what happens with the money. Probably I will be doubtful that I would spent the money in the exact same way, but at least I am aware of it, and I have a personal connection through which I could complain. There is always a face behind a Kickstarter project.

Exploring new grounds is definitely a good thing. Some talks with existing development organizations definitely will be useful to not create too many multiple interventions in these places and learn from each other. But to be honest, this doesn’t even happen in the actual system. So who am I kidding.

Driving local economic development: a new form of international development:
It also shows that there might be a new form of international development growing: driving local economic development. It is less about providing aid in form of food, and t-shirts, capacity building, and training workshops, but thinking about creating international product value chains, supporting self-grown economic development.

The Latin American crowdfunding platform Idea.me is the largest one for Latin America, showing that there is increasingly an internal market for crowdfunded products, for an internal, and more sustainable industry. At the MIF, we are going to look at some of these concepts in an upcoming workshop that I am sure I will be writing more about.

What does it mean for specific industries?
Such as solar power. Here’s a great article by Katie Fehrenbacher on Mosaic’s crowdfunding campaigns. This probably means a move of people who are interested in supporting traditional civil society organisations to companies, ideally socially businesses, who provide and distribute specific products for people who might need them. In my view, it will be important to actually not only distributing products, but rather think about producing and creating jobs. In that way, WakaWaka Lights concept to establish an assembly line that provides for jobs for the local community is actually much more sustainable.

What does it mean for product development?
To be honest, going shopping has become more and more boring. Walking M Street in Georgetown before Christmas gives you a very uninspiring line of stores filled with overpriced stuff, not very socially responsible. Of course, in reality we don’t need any more stuff, I probably got all I need, but if I am looking for things, at least I want them to be fun, or interesting, or useful products as presents, or for myself. Small designer stores, or stores fulfilling specific needs are less and less frequent in overpriced shopping districts. So, this creative and useful stuff has migrated to be found on platforms such as Etsy, or Kickstarter. It’s too bad as I enjoy going to real stores, rather than browsing the web. But maybe I am already way too 20th century.

So, this post has been a bit about producing, buying, funding in the early 21st century. I am curious about how it evolves!

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