11 October 2012

Can Crowdfunding Catapult Women and Girls?

Women Deliver hopes to literally propel women's advocacy on International Day of the Girl through the launch of its online funding platform, Catapult. Users will have the opportunity to end gender inequality by providing financial support for girls and programs that support them. According to Women Deliver, only 2 cents of every development dollar targets adolescent girls.

“Catapult is a connector,” said Founder, Maz Kessler. “It’s a tool for people to take direct, effective action to create change. Catapult unites online supporters with trusted organizations to help fuel the movement to end inequality for girls and women.”

Catapult builds off the success of other crowdfunding platforms like Kiva, Do Something and Kickstarter. The projects can be searched by users on the platform, and are further organized by special Catapult Curators who will highlight projects that speak to their interests. Curators include actress and advocate Maria Bello; Man Up Campaign Founder Jimmie Briggs; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Director of Family Health Gary Darmstadt; GirlUp Teen Advisor Co-Chair Annie Gersh; and Women Deliver President Jill Sheffield.

Users will have the opportunity to support projects like:
Narishakti – The power of women in Mumbai” – The Sanmitra Trust will provide HIV-positive women with an intensive five-day training session to learn how to create solid business plans, manage loans responsibly and set up small businesses. The program will also provide women with ARV treatment and access to support groups.
Young men’s education camps on gender and sexuality – This project will host youth camps to educate boys to take a principled stand against the root causes of commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines.
One of the emerging criticisms about crowdfunding has been the ability to hold projects accountable. Whether it is an individual who uses money from a Kiva loan for things other than the development of a business or it is a musician that does not produce the album he promised on Kickstarter, ensuring that funds are used as intended is challenging.

The campaign is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has set forth the goal to raise $45 million over the next three years. “I am always inspired by the commitment of women I meet in the developing world to create a better future for their families. Investing in women can be transformational for entire societies. Today reminds us that we all have a role to play in unlocking the potential of women and girls,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With celebrities in support and big name organizations behind Catapult, it stands to reason that the $45 million goal is attainable. The argument made by Catapult is that women need more funding in order to achieve their goals. Microfinance makes very much the same argument, but the results have been anecdotal and the rigorous studies call into question the claims of overall positive change.