Crowdfunding website aims to rebuild Palestine

BuildPalestine site plans to tap diaspora for funds to back grassroots campaigns

A new platform wants to tap Palestinians around the world to crowdfund for projects in the territory with a community focus.

The nonprofit, BuildPalestine, aims to be the go-to platform for the diaspora to fund projects that are designed and implemented by Palestinians, and which have an eye on long-term impact.

“Giving in Palestine is a very donor-dependent economy,” said Ola Aboukhsaiwan, a BuildPalestine co-founder. “There is no flexibility to reframe the problem and come up with another solution [if the donor-approved programme isn’t working]. We wanted to create a space where identifying the problems, and the solutions, come directly from the community.”

"Palestine needs ongoing efforts to rebuild and help the community"Raising money for Palestine is challenging given falling aid figures for the territory and the shift of donors’ focus to places such as Syria and Iraq. The UN agency for Palestine refugees has received just 46 per cent of the $3.5bn pledged by donors for Gaza’s reconstruction in the aftermath of the 2014 conflict with Israel.

“The world is picking and choosing which causes to support,” said Aboukhsaiwan. “Palestine doesn’t just need [relief] support like during the 2014 war. [It needs] ongoing efforts to rebuild and help the community.”

There are some 12 million Palestinians globally who the platform aims to reach, according to Aboukhsaiwan.

BuildPalestine currently has four projects on its books, selected from 35 applications. Launched two weeks ago, the platform has raised half its $25,000 goal. If they reach their target by the end of November, the four projects plus BuildPalestine will get $5,000 each to get off the ground. The projects include first aid training for ‘first responder’ volunteers in Gaza and an NGO that uses music as therapy particularly for women.

The site hopes to ramp up the number of campaigns it hosts if the pilot phase is a success, by inviting some 500 applications from Palestinian NGOs. The application process is three questions, said Aboukhsaiwan. “It’s simple: what is the problem, what is the solution and what is the impact you hope to deliver?”

"Crowdfunding brings transparency to giving. It addresses the power imbalance between donor and recipient"As with other crowdfunding platforms, BuildPalestine is all-or-nothing – projects only receive funding if they reach their target. The platform does not host campaigns to fund individuals. BuildPalestine takes a 5 per cent slice of the money raised to pay for operating costs.

Each organisation is vetted by the platform, according to Aboukhsaiwan, which ensures they are a registered with a bank account in the US. This helps potential donors who may be worried about who exactly they are funding, she added.

“Crowdfunding brings transparency to giving,” said the 22-year-old co-founder. “It addresses the power imbalance between donor and the recipient. It shows donors trust grassroots problem solvers to come up with the solutions that fit them the most.”

The online funding site hopes to pull in corporate backers, too. Private sector support would help BuildPalestine host events and build a global “ambassador network” to raise awareness of the platform and its projects; the platform is already in talks with Palestine-based firms, according to Aboukhsaiwan.

BuildPalestine hopes to extend further afield in the Middle East if the model works, something the founders hope to assess in the coming year.

“We are different in that we focus on building the network, making sure the [donor-recipient] relationship is live and continues to give,” she said. “We are facilitating a digital community.”