Magazine article

Philanthropy carries with its name a traditional legacy of large donations from the wealthiest members of society, titans of new industries and generous individuals. While many of these renowned philanthropists are still active players, technology has enabled the entrance of new movers to mobilise philanthropic capital and COVID-19 is a great example of this collective response.

The pandemic has taken the world by surprise in a matter of months; halting mobility, paralysing economies and creating unprecedented pressure on national health systems. With the same whirlwind that marked its arrival, has been the response from governments rolling out emergency plans and budgets, businesses who refocused their priorities and repurposed their operational facilities to make much needed materials and people lending a hand to their elderly neighbours - the world has seen phenomenal stories of humanity and compassion during these unprecedented times. While populations around the world are physically distancing, people continue to empathise with their neighbours in China, Italy, the United States and elsewhere, spending more time than usual at home, and online.

Technology is a decisive player in this pandemic, as health professionals around the world are harnessing knowledge and skills to develop a vaccine, better suited personal protective equipment (PPE) and ultimately a cure. Digital health technology is under development to support population screening, tracking the infection, prioritising the use and allocation of resources and designing targeted responses. However, these are not the only areas in which we have seen technology play a transformative role in the global response. During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has accelerated the trend of online giving, transforming  traditional means of sourcing, accumulating and dispersing philanthropic capital for social issues and enabling new players to join in support.


For an individual to initiate a donation to an organisation requires a level of trust that the funds will be spent according to its promise. Blockchain is a tool that has been used to track donations providing more transparency and enabling people to give directly to organisations and individuals affected by the virus. Chinese start-up Hyperchain has developed a donation-tracking platform that has already attracted $2 million in donations, supporting Hubei-based facilities, including the Tangshan People’s Hospital, the Jiayu People’s Hospital and the Xiantao No. 1 People’s Hospital. Blockchain allows donors to track their donations, as they create digital records of all transactions which are traceable and immutable. Donors no longer have to rely on good faith that the money will support those most in need and affected by the virus. Furthermore, in China there has been strong engagement and anti-corruption measures taken by the Xi government, which has been encouraging the use of new technology such as blockchain to provide more transparency.


Social distancing can be a profoundly lonely and disorientating experience, but it can also bring together a massive virtual audience around a common cause. The World Health Organisation teamed up with Twitch, on March 28-29, to stream 12 hours worth of gaming, music and sports content. Viewers were invited to donate to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund while enjoying a virtual event with their friends and family. This Twitch-facilitated eventbased fundraiser raised $2.77 million dollars at a time when most of the world could not step outside their homes for anything more than groceries or health services. Streaming platforms are what virtual gamers, for example, rely upon to monetise their daily content and maintain a deep interconnected life with their community and the non-virtual world. With the COVID-19 response, these platforms are becoming increasingly relevant to the wider public. Technology can bring communities together around social good, now more than ever.


Gaming and philanthropy have not traditionally been associated, but this trend is now changing. For those of us who do not game or know the world of eSports or professional competitive gaming, there is a misrepresentation of the community as being cut off and isolated, when in reality this is far from the truth. A 2017 CAF survey found that 58% of gamers were interested in donating while playing and 59% would be more likely to pay to remove commercials if some of the cost went to charity. In many ways, professional gamers were early adopters of “working from home” while managing to stay hyper-connected and leveraging their network to raise capital. Platforms such as Twitch, Tiltify, Discord, Extra Life, Desert Bus and Games Done Quick are bringing people together now more than ever, raising impressive amounts of money in support of the COVID-19 response, using new technology combined with traditional methods of fundraising. This is done by asking participants to pay an entry fee to play or watch, or the gamers openly encourage viewers to donate to a specific fund.


Influencers, the omnipresent player in the digital space, have also taken up a significant role in philanthropic activity and social good during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most influencers have almost unanimously shifted their content towards public health messages and support for capital raising initiatives across streaming fundraisers, gaming and eSports. #HopeFromHome is a digital fundraiser that was hosted April 7th, supported by a collective of influencers such as YouTube gamer and influencer Jacksepticeye. This prominent influencer announced the event on his channel and subsequently over 2,000 creators signed up to participate, with a presence in over 34 countries and a collective following of more than 300 million. The government of Finland has formally recognized the role of influencers and they have been enlisted to inform the population in efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, particularly those that do not follow mainstream media. In short, you do not need to be a billionaire to be a philanthropist.

Technology has enabled new tools to raise money from anyone online, from the comfort of their home, and in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, the results have been impressive. We believe this is only the beginning, marking a new trajectory for raising philanthropic capital from new segments of society.