Regarding Sandy: Crowdfunding in the Wake of Disasters

Disasters expose us to before-unfathomable situations, in which we see the worst the world can produce, but they also often allow us to see glimpses of the best side of humanity. Whether societal crises or natural disasters, when the world falls apart, we find people ready and willing to start putting it back together. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on us here at Launcht, we thought we would take some time to consider where we could fit into this system that creates hope even in the most intense situations.

Throughout disasters in recent years—the earthquakes in Iran, the tsunami in Japan, the revolts in the Middle East, Hurricane Katrina and the others that have followed, etc.—we have seen people turn to the internet and to their mobile devices to keep in touch and help those around them from the first word of the disaster to the final relief efforts. We no longer wait for the 5 o’clock news to tell us what to prepare for, what is coming, and what we can do to help. Today, Google is using crowdsourcing combined with their own satellite coverage to give people up-to-the-second coverage of what’s happening in their area and the areas around them with regards to Hurricane Sandy (check it out here). We are continually seeing people relying more and more heavily on each other for important and potentially life-saving information. Crowdsourcing brings us together, particularly in times when speed and information are critical.

Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, along with social media, can also be utilized as tools to get people back in contact with one another and to get volunteering efforts off the ground. After Hurricane Katrina, volunteers joined together to create Katrina PeopleFinder and get records online so that friends and family could reconnect and be assured of one another’s whereabouts. Within a day they had over 100 volunteers and over 15,000 records manually entered.

Often people want to help in these situations but do not know where to start or where their services are needed. Crowdfunding and sourcing offer the opportunity for people to find ways to donate their time, money, or expertise to already-created organizations. After Hurricane Irene, organizations–from NGOs to the federal government–used crowdsourcing to organize their volunteers and keep everyone connected and up to date on what needed to be done. For more information, click here. The study notes that Hurricane Irene was one of the biggest social media and crowdsourcing events to date, and the use of crowdsourcing is only expected to grow.

Finally, crowdsourcing allows people to share their experiences, gaining connection to one another and shedding light on stories that would have otherwise been overlooked. Launcht worked with Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat, the creators of 18DaysinEgypt, which chronicled the revolts in Egypt by allowing people to upload the stories they captured with their cell phones and cameras when news reporters could not get in to the region. It allowed people to share the story as they saw it, and complied the stories to create a comprehensive vision of what had happened.

Crowdsourcing can help make these times of disaster a little less disastrous. It can help us connect, whether we are connecting over our shared experience or our desire to help. It can help us mobilize faster and help communities clean up when the storm has blown through. As Hurricane Sandy continues to push on, let us hope that we in turn can continue to find innovative approaches for reaching out to one another and helping in times of need.

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