Crowdfunding for women street vendors in Bangladesh: challenges and lessons learned

Repon Chowdhury, President of Labour at Informal Economy (LIE) – StreetNet affiliate in Bangladesh – was one of the participants of the capacity-building crowdfunding pilot project. Together with his team of five members, they developed the campaign Support vulnerable women street vendors in Bangladesh. We reached out to Repon to understand what were the challenges they faced when developing the campaign and what are some lessons learned which he can share with other street vendors interested in investing in crowdfunding to support their members.

Creating the campaign

Similar to other participants of the crowdfunding capacity-building course, Repon and his team decided their campaign goal to be supporting women street vendor who had lost their capital and livelihood due to the pandemic. “We intended to support around 200 women street vendors in the city of Dhaka who are in a vulnerable situation” says Repon “We targeted these women because they are mostly single mothers or sole income earners for the family and did not receive much assistance from any other government bodies or support organizations”.

Most of the women LIE aims to support are members of LIE, while others are not. The crowdfunding campaign is aligned with LIE’s priorities of ensuring social protection for informal economy workers, therefore the campaign aimed to provide these women with PPEs and food items.

Challenges in implementation of the campaign

Registering in the platform Given Gain was a bit of a challenge for Repon and his team. StreetNet was required to provide a letter attesting LIE’s status as an affiliate and the process took longer than expected.

Repon and his team wrote the draft copies for campaign materials and improved them with the feedback of the StreetNet team and of the trainer Marco Kuntze, Director of Relishing Digital and the consultant hired by WIEGO to support StreetNet with this project. For Repon, that support was valuable to develop materials, but the real challenge was being able to follow-up continuously with the campaign due to a lack of human resources.

“We do not have any full-time fundraising person in the organization to follow-up, regularly track and manage all the activities and emails. It is a continuous process, and we need someone in the organization to work on this area, because our team already has a lot of responsibilities” Repon explains “In the future, we will need someone only focused on fundraising issues”.

Another issue was the lack of awareness of crowdfunding campaigns in Bangladesh. According to Repon, “In the Bangladesh context, this is a new thing for us, for organizations to engage in crowdfunding. It will take some time and since crowdfunding practices are still not very popular in Bangladesh, we have to work further in this area”.

Although members of LIE were very enthusiastic about the campaign, some were frustrated with the lack of progress. This is one of the challenges faced by many organizations – on the one hand, they need someone focused on fundraising to improve their financial capacity; on the other hand, the lack of financial capacity does not allow them to hire new staff. But Repon is confident they will be able to face these challenges with the support and solidarity of key partners.

“Our members and leaders were very excited, it was a good new thing to see an informal economy organization launching this digital campaign” says Repon “Our national trade union center, the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress (BFTUC), they also shared our campaign on their social media channels and would continue to support LIE for the improvement of this area. And some of the contributions we got so far are from trade unions, actually. But still, we are behind the target.”

Just as it was the case with participants from Ghana, Repon also pointed out that having to use credit cards to make donations also made the process more difficult to support the campaign in the Given Gain platform. “There is a need for more payment options” Repon says, saying that there are many local digital payments alternatives that would be more suited to mobilize supporters in Bangladesh.

Lessons learned

Repon is committed to investing in crowdfunding on a long-term basis, so he mostly views the participation of his organization in the capacity-building course as an important first step and explains why:

Crowdfunding is a good skills development training:

According to Repon, the course allowed him and his team to develop important skills related to the implementation of campaigns. “Before the crowdfunding course organized by StreetNet, we had no idea about the ways to mobilize such funds through a platform. It was a very good learning experience for me and by colleagues from LIE, to understand the process and dynamics and techniques. This is knowledge for our lifetime and for me and my team. So, I would like to thank StreetNet and our trainer Marco for providing us with good knowledge and skills in this area”.

Participating in the course with other street vendors organizations is good to develop your network:

Another highlight of the capacity-building course, in Repon’s perspective, was the opportunity to follow it along with other StreetNet affiliates. “During the training process, we were introduced to other organizations and shared ideas and experiences”.

The course allows organizations to expand their fundraising to digital campaigns

Repon describes the course as being “timely” and credits StreetNet for the initiative. Now that digital tools and skills are more important than even before, it is crucial for organizations to learn how to fundraise online.

“I see a very good prospect for organizations like us to continue to work in this area. Maybe we will not get any immediate results, but in the long-term, if we continue keep investing in this area, it will be a new platform for successful fundraising.”

Overall, Repon says that they would not have done anything differently. He has a long-term strategy and is also relying on the support of StreetNet to continue to develop skills in this area. “I hope this training process can continue and maybe StreetNet can form a network for the people who attend this capacity-building course and follow-up from time to time, that will help us to keep in track in this area”.

LIE has already been supporting members throughout the pandemic; however, the crowdfunding campaign did not mobilize enough funds until now for them to strengthen their activities as planned. You can still donate to LIE’s crowdfunding campaign and support 200 vulnerable women street vendors in Bangladesh!