Deborah Freeman is the current General Secretary of the Union of Informal Workers Associations (UNIWA), affiliated to StreetNet International. Along with her colleague Eric, she was one of the participants of the capacity-building crowdfunding pilot project. They developed the online crowdfunding campaign “Save the lives of women informal workers & their children: Support 1000 women informal workers and their children in Ghana by providing food, personal protective equipment and funds to restart businesses”. We talked with Deborah to understand what challenges and lessons were learned while following the course and implementing the campaign:
Creating the campaign
Regarding the topic of the campaign, it was clear for Deborah that it should be focused on supporting women. “In Ghana, like in many African countries, women dominate the informal economy. In fact, our membership has over 60% women” says Deborah “The adverse effect of COVID-19 on women cannot be overemphasized. Most of them lost their business capital, and in most homes, women are the breadwinners. So, helping them was really critical.”
The goals of the campaign included providing women with essential food goods, but also Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), business capital and support their contributions to TUC/UNIWA Informal Workers Pension Scheme, to enable them to access soft loans and ensure income security in the future. “We made a decision to go beyond PPEs and build capacity of women in terms of finance and helping them to jump start their business”.
One of the main challenges was signing up to the crowdfunding platform, Given Gain. The bureaucracy delayed the launch of the campaign, but once it was live, Deborah and her colleague Eric quickly mobilized supporters offline and online.
Fostering solidarity among workers
Deborah and Eric started sending letters to supporters outlining the goals of the campaign. Many were in solidarity with their struggles but were also struggling financially themselves and could not contribute. But even those who would like to donate were sometimes unable to, because they did not have a credit card. For Deborah, it is clear that had the platform Given Gain allowed for mobile transfers, they would have attracted more donors.
Thankfully, the Ghana Trade Unions Congress (TUC) stepped up to help. “We circulated the campaign letter and gave it to the secretary generals and chairpersons of all the affiliate unions, there are about twenty of them” explains Deborah. They started receiving calls expressing support for the campaign, including one by the Secretary General of the TUC.
“They did not give us money, but we agreed with them that they should buy Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on our behalf – so they bought PPEs worth over 20,000 Ghanaian cedi”, which corresponds to over $3,500, “and we distributed them among our members across the country”.
Although the donation was not provided through the crowdfunding platform, if Deborah and her team had not invested in the creation of the campaign, they probably would not have had access to those essential PPEs to protect their members.
Deborah strongly recommends other organizations of street vendors and other informal traders to follow and implement the crowdfunding toolkit. But there are some lessons learned she would like to highlight:
CHOOSE CROWDFUNDING PLATFORMS WITH FLEXIBLE AND SIMPLIFIED PAYMENT PROCESSES
For Deborah, the lack of technical skills and not having access to credit cards seriously hindered the participation of many potential donors. Therefore, she advises organizations to make sure the crowdfunding platforms allow for flexible and simplified payment processes, highlighting how mobile transfers are a very quick and accessible way to make donations and therefore might be preferrable to other payment processes.
BE TRANSPARENT AND MAKE SURE YOU MEET ALL THE REQUIREMENTS OF CROWDFUNDING PLATFORMS
Many organizations of informal economy workers are not officially registered and therefore lack a bank account in their own name. Deborah stresses how this is incompatible with crowdfunding platforms such as Given Gain and advises organizations to follow due process. Otherwise, they might not be able to register in credible crowdfunding platforms and it is also detrimental to the financial transparency of the campaign. “Make sure your bank account is in the name of an organizations and not in the name of an individual” she adds.
A CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN HELPS TO BUILD CAPACITY IN THE ORGANIZATION
In Deborah’s own words, creating a crowdfunding campaigns forces leadership of informal economy workers’ organizations to “step up their game” and become more proficient in terms of information and communication technology. Therefore, it can also be beneficial in the long-term.
NETWORKING IS KEY – AS WELL AS BEING AFFILIATED TO A LARGER WORKERS’ ORGANIZATION
Deborah acknowledges that some organizations of informal economy workers which stand alone might have difficulties becoming affiliated with larger organizations, but she emphasizes the importance of belonging to national trade unions centers such as the TUC. Ghana is one of the most advanced African countries in this regard and that has benefited UNIWA in the context of the crowdfunding campaign, but also beyond it.
“Every organization of informal economy workers should endeavor to be part of a trade union center, no matter how difficult the process might seem. Because one of the strategies of trade unions is solidarity.” Explains Deborah “The TUC was in solidarity with informal economy workers, hence their willingness to donate such a huge amount to buying PPEs for informal economy workers. That is what helped us, because we think we are one family. And so, when one side is suffering, the rest should all mobilize and rally behind to make them stronger and support them. And that is exactly what happened to us”.
In this regard, Deborah also recognizes how essential the support of StreetNet International has been. It was through the crowdfunding pilot project that UNIWA managed to receive such support from the TUC. “I want to take this chance to really appreciate StreetNet International for the kind gesture and I will encourage them to keep it up, because it is really helping affiliates”.