Action. Transparency. User feedback. Equality. These words kept popping up as I talked with Maz Kessler, founder and creative director of Catapult, about her new crowd-funding platform. Catapult, which went live in beta form on October 11, is dedicated to promoting equality for women and girls by giving women and girl-focused organizations a place to campaign online.
Right now, all organizations – big and small – whose programs benefit women and girls at least 80% of the time, can apply to have their projects listed on Catapult’s crowdsourcing platform. One of their large partner organizations, Global Fund for Women, assists with vetting of organizations and projects.
The application process is rigorous, requiring financial transparency materials, references, and annual reports, and although it may keep some of the smallest grassroots organizations from applying, it does not seem as complicated as some international NGO grant applications.
Catapult is filling what Maz and her team see as a “lack of clear and achievable asks” in the realm of international development. Translated into everyday language this means addressing the failure of something like Kony 2012 to make any real change.
Activism is really good at stirring people to care about an international problem; then they click a Like button and slacktivism sets in.
In campaigning for women and girls, there are often “brilliant pieces of communication” on a particular issue and the response on a human level, Maz told me, is “Oh my God. Yes. Child marriage is terrible. You’re right”. Yet, people don’t know what to do then to make a change. To address this, Catapult has positioned itself between the “awareness-raiser and the NGO implementers”, between the campaign and the people acting to address the problem, to help connect passionate donors with trusted organizations.
Catapult achieves transparency by prominently displaying each project’s budget, including administrative expenses on their page, giving perspective donors an idea of how the money will be spent. “I don’t want to force our partners to forgo their costs”, Maz said. Rather, “we all need to talk about what it costs to really do this work”. This is a stance very much aligned with WhyDev’s belief in the necessity of overhead costs as well as Good Intentions Are Not Enough’s views set out in ‘Lies, White Lies, and Accounting Practices‘.
Moreover, including budgets should help more than the donor, Maz said. “Because this is all about solving problems for girls and women. We hope people will be really interested in how these problems are actually being solved and what they cost”. Indeed, project budgets could give development workers more information about partner budgeting and the types of programs that organizations are implementing to address issues faced by women and girls.
But Catapult’s approach is not without its limitations. The budget line items can be pretty vague, with entries like $28,000 for “income generation training”. This may be in the interest of not overwhelming donors with too much information, or restricting recipient’s flexibility in implementation. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to track whether or not highly detailed budgets are more attractive to certain donors.
Eager to see Catapult in action, I donated $20 to Gardening for Health. Based in Palawan, Philippines, Gardening for Health has a modest $2,000 budget to help women start vertical gardens. A Google map on the right of the page showed me exactly where the project is located. A link on the left led me to more information about the partner organization, Roots for Health.
If Gardening for Health manages to raise the remaining 95% of their budget in the next five months, they will receive the full amount to implement their project and I’ll get regular updates for the first year. However, unlike Kickstarter or other similar platforms, if they don’t raise all the money my contribution will be returned to me as a Catapult gift card and I’ll be able to choose another project to fund.
Thanks to some large foundation funding, Catapult does not charge either donors or partner organizations for transaction costs of listings. And donations are tax deductible in the United States.
Until Catapult launches a full media campaign around Giving Tuesday, as the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the U.S has been dubbed, they will be checking and tweaking the platform and structure. Inviting us to a place of “shared learning” and more transparency, they are seeking feedback on the design and opening the conversation through the various social media spaces to see what works and what doesn’t work for donors and partners.
All the projects listed on Catapult’s platform are working in some way towards equality for women. And they cover an impressive range of topics, from maternal health and child brides, to LGBT issues and education. Many small grassroots organizations are already out there working for gender equality and women’s rights and many of them are in danger of closing and most are underfunded.
“All the expertise resides in the NGOs, right? Because these are fabulous NGOs and they are working in context, in country, in region, and in community to solve problems in their own way and so we hope that people will want to support them”, said Maz.
Rather than start her own organization to directly help women and girls, Maz saw the huge potential for change that was possible by opening up campaigning opportunities for these local, knowledgeable, NGOs. Even in beta form, Catapult is a valuable mechanism for organizations to share their programs and then their success.