Is Crowd-Funding Our Ticket to Power?

despicable me minions crowd funding

Alright, so we’ve raved and ranted about citizen journalism, but I know you’re are just DYING to discuss further elements of political economy in relation to new media. So…

The wonderful Sue left a comment saying “…one interesting change is that of crowd funding – artists, designers, inventors etc can circumvent regular grant schemes to get their ideas/work out into the world.”

“Who needs the bank?!” After Gru loses funding from the bank, Gru decides to call it quits due to lack of money but the girls and the minions pull enough money together to build their rocket.

Sites such as Kickstarter and Pozible have made it pretty easy for people to fund their own projects.  No longer do we have to jump through the hurdles of grant applications, obtain hefty bank loans or compromise our ethics for corporate sponsorship. Successful projects also often use social media to spread the word of their idea. But what about something a tad grittier…?

Could crowd-funding be used as a tool to smash power structures like the patriarchy???

feminist ryan gosling patriarchy

Check out this new campaign launched by Sarah Silverman – apart from prosthetic penises, it’s SFW : )

Basically the Equal Payback Project is trying to raise nearly 30 trillion dollars to close the gender wage gap in America (the average working woman still makes only 78 cents to a man’s dollar). If the target is reached, every woman in America will receive $435,049 – the amount lost on average to the wage gap.

Now the project pages says that “We’re not asking women to literally pay themselves back. That would be silly. Instead, the money raised goes to the National Women’s Law Center, a non-profit group fighting for equal pay through legislation, education and advocacy.”

So far, the project has raised $93, 246. 

Really, the Equal Payback Project is a just a fundraising drive but somehow the crowd-funding label gives it an edge.

now I feel cool, kid putting sunglasses on

So does online crowd-funding help us pulverize power elites because we no longer need their help? Can we use it to create a chain reaction of change?  

Image credits – first, second, gif

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16 responses to “Is Crowd-Funding Our Ticket to Power?

  1. Awesome post – cartoon + Ryan Gosling + mature content video featuring Sarah Silverman – genius. Crowd sourcing definitely shifts the balance of power back to collective individuals but the challenge remains as how to cut through the information overload and ensure your crowd funding project has sufficient reach to build momentum to achieve its goals. Checkout this editorial – http://www.crowdsourcing.org/editorial/grassroots-power-how-crowdfunding-for-education-solves-problems-from-the-ground-up/30694 – this is an awesome example how crowd sourcing leads to community engagement and enables better outcomes for education. Quote – ‘crowdfunding is the likeliest tool to give that change wings’. Love it.

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    • Cheers Sarah, any excuse for minions and Ryan Gosling is a good one ; )

      I totally agree that the way in which crowd-funding is conducted is significant and clearly it works better for those that have the time and resources to invest in marketing.

      Thanks for the link, it’s an interesting article. Whilst I think it’s mostly positive, I also wonder if crowd-funding for education costs bears it’s own problems with power – structures that influence who gets what.

      For example, I’d assume it would be easier for projects in middle-class/wealthy areas to be funded by the local community than in lower socio-economic areas. I just worry about this model taking off too well and government’s dropping their responsibility in favour of people funding themselves. I do think there is a middle ground though : )

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  2. Despicable Meeee crowd sourcing!!!! LOVE!

    I have been thinking about crowd sourcing a fair bit recently thanks to wonderful blog posts such as these and a friend who just got her project funded through Pozible. It’s great to see worthy causes being picked up and funded. Something that struck me recently though is the fact that people are unwilling to pay for their news. That it’s a right to have good quality, free journalism. Kind of scary when you start to question who should be paying for it and how that swings the bias of the news. [http://journalism.about.com/od/trends/a/How-Can-Newspapers-Remain-Profitable-In-The-Digital-Media-Age.htm]. Democratic society is dependant upon news, but we too often take it for granted.

    Your points about crowd sourcing are really thought-provoking, Emmica. The Sarah Silverman clip you posted is a great example of the types of instances in which the power elites are circumvented and societal change can be effected.

    I’d like to put forward my opinion that crowd funding does not necessarily guarantee that the power elites are excluded/bypassed. If an idea is funded, it’s not too hard for the big guy to buy it out. I found a wonderful article by Jack Wroldsen that talks all about the bastardisation of the crowd sourcing process.

    You can check it out here:
    http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/vanep15&div=22&id=&page=

    In any case, it will certainly be interesting to see if crowd sourcing is a flash-in-the-pan change or an online revolution.

    Amy @ http://www.welcometothespinternet.wordpress.com

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    • Hey Amy, thanks for the comment : )

      In terms of paying for news content I wonder if we’ll see a shift in people’s mentality as we become more and more saturated with information that is frequently of poor quality. Perhaps we have reached an equilibrium of free content and people will want to go back to paying for media that is essentially better. What do you think?

      I think the point you raise about the big guy buying ideas is particularly salient. Many of the campaigns on Kickstarter appear to be business ventures whereby people are investing or purchasing the products. Whilst it’s true that new media can allow for social projects to gain funding, are the majority just helping rich people get richer?

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  3. Nice one!! Look, I agree I think there is a good chance for the broader global community to get some really important campaigns off the ground here. I wonder what Marx would say though, and his modern day counterparts – the critical political economists? Is the already oppressed proletariat sharing the little money he has with his fellow struggling peeps? Possibly. I guess there is scope for some significant wins, but there are just so many causes. Is this a bit of ‘Cyberbole’? I have to query how long this crowd-funding thing will last for. I’m a pessimist and think we will delve into a ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ over it. I just feel that existing power structures (political and economic) will never allow initiatives by the broader community to take hold. For example – the car that runs on water/hydrogen has been patented by oil companies since the 80s yeah? And General Motors Holden purchased and destroyed a major rail system in the US since the 1920 to ensure that they could continue to sell vehicles to Americans? While these are the most extreme of cases (and might be accused of the urban legend status) – we do know that large corporates will do extreme things to retain power. I don’t know if crowd-sourcing initiatives are strong enough to come up against these greedy giants. http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×5862555

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    • Thanks Amber!

      Yep I totally hear you with the water/hydrogen cars!

      On a similar note, I watched this awesome doco the other night called Fed Up and it was talking about obesity in America and the sugar content of processed foods.
      The power of the food industry to influence government regulations such as labelling laws and cafeteria food in schools was astonishing. I completely agree that corporations will do whatever it takes to maintain power.

      I guess I can see crowd-funding working for small-scale projects and perhaps this gives some power back to the little guy but essentially when we talk about structures – I don’t think they are being smashed.
      I also think that social ventures in middle class/wealthy areas are more likely to be funded than those in low-socio economic communities and thus the system is reinforced.

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  4. Great post, its interesting to look at the effect of crowd funding to see if it debunks the political ecomony perspective. While I would say it to some extent undermines it I’m not sure to what extent it could be overstated.

    Taking the example of making movies, while 10% of movies in Sundance Film Festival were kickstarter funding they wouldn’t see the same ticketsales as the latest blockbuster. It helps small successes but I can’t think of an example (and I would be more than happy if I there is one) where something became big with the grassroots type of funding you get from crowd-sourcing.

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    • Cheers, it was fun to write!

      I’m definitely with you regarding the extent to which crowd-funding can smash power structures.
      Plus even if a campaign does reach great success financially (say a business venture) does that actually indicate a power shift just because the owner didn’t have to get a bank loan? If all it’s doing is helping one person make money than really it’s just another tool of capitalism : )

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating topic Emmica! I view crowdfunding as part of a broader crowdsourcing trend in new media where producers and consumers can be brought much closer together in far more dynamic ways than the traditional ‘market’ or social space allowed for. Wikipedia is a good example, or innovation platforms such as Kaggle. These in turn seem to me to tie in with sites like Etsy and so forth which cut out the middlemen in many ways. Very exciting stuff!

    Although these systems have the capacity to increase efficiency, knowledge and opportunity, I’m not sure whether they can or will be used to smash up the power structures of the elite, for much the same reasons others have posted above.

    That being said, perhaps something along these lines could emerge: people buy credits on a crowdsourcing platform designed specifically for social justice campaigns of any variety. Prospective campaigns are then voted on or funded through users’ allocation of credits, similar to Kickstarter. Something like this could become a bit of a hub for activists, and a way for less active people with social and environmental concerns to feel like they are making a meaningful contribution. It would be cool if that crowdfunding could be combined with other forms of crowdsourcing within the same platform – so people compete and/or collaborate to come up with solutions for problems (many of which could turn into campaigns), and the platform could also be used to source volunteers and other forms of assistance for prospective or approved campaigns. One thing Kickstarter has shown is that, if projects communicate effectively with their audience during project/product development, they can often end up with a better product and often make funders feel very invested in the process and outcome. It would be nice if that could be done specifically for social justice campaigns.

    I imagine there would be a host of problems such as the familiar cycle of hype and disappointment with the end product that so many crowdfunding campaigns have suffered. Moreover, it would all need to be kept accountable somehow, so maybe a policy is that the budgets and expenditures of these campaigns are kept transparent or something?

    I don’t think that this would dismantle elite power structures, but if systems like this took off over time, it might take some of the power over social issues away from the powers that be, not least in terms of funding.

    However, your point about governments reducing funding if systems like this took off makes me pause. Most developed nations have shrinking budgets and thus NGOs picking up the slack is already a big issue, as for example in low-income housing. It would be unfortunate to see social justice pushed further out of the public sector. If it does, though, perhaps it would be best to see the third sector democratised through crowdsourcing systems.

    Really interesting topic mate……

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    • Appreciate your comment Ben, you always push me to think further! I like the idea of people being involved in the project and I think this has worked well for game and entertainment creators. I agree that it would be awesome if this could be applied to social campaigns but then again it might get too messy in an online environment! Community consultation is already a difficult and complex undertaking – I’m not so sure it will work online as yet…

      I also wonder though about transparency issues. Whenever you give money, whether as an investment or donation I feel that the receiver has a moral obligation to share where the money is spent – even if this is just an end of year financial report.

      Yep, exactly what you mention about the pressure on NGOs to provide low-income housing options and youth services such as half-way houses. We pay taxes so that our government can implement and provide services that assist society as a whole and I definitively worry that if they think we can fund ourselves, they’ll lower their financial commitments. Man, I think I need to listen to some happy music now lol!

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  6. Very thought-provoking Emmica! I think that crowd-funding will continue to grow and it will be interesting to see how different industries will utilise it as it is very evident that it can be a successful platform. I didn’t know about Sarah Silverman’s campaign before but watching the campaign video did bring my attention to an issue that I haven’t given too much thought too, very effective. I do think that there will be a tendency for multiple crowd funding websites to over saturate the marketing though. Also the Ryan Gosling meme made me lol.

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    • Thanks Rachel : ) Yes I do think it can bring attention to issues that people perhaps haven’t thought about but I maybe that is more about public relations and advertising rather than the actual act of crowd-funding.

      You raise an excellent point about the saturation of the market and I can see issues arising when platforms need to compete i.e. stricter controls, advertisements and investments by larger corporations. I think it’s an interesting area and yep – any excuse for a Ryan Gosling meme haha!

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  7. Hi Emmica and others. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts on crowd sourcing. As some one who works in the not for profit sector, I too have been thinking about the potential of these types of platforms and wondered about their success rate. In principle, I love the concept of people going to market directly with their ideas but I wonder how much money is really being raised. Either way, it is a great way to raise awareness and mobilise people behind your cause. Rather than seeing as a negative and something to be colonised by the power elites, I view crowd sourcing as a medium for creating social capital. Cheers, Rachel

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    • Cheers for your insight Rachel, I appreciate another side of the story. It’s true that crowd-funding can provide not-for-profits with new revenue streams and this could be potentially significant given the current Australian climate of cuts to funding/grants etc. I do wonder though what the ethical implications are? How beholden to the investors would not-for-profits need to be? Still, it’s a very new area and I’m sure we’ll know more when further research is conducted : )

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  8. Hi Emmica,
    It is very interesting topic and post. I think, it depends on the issue and creativity of the campaign, to achieve the target funds and crowd. They are several of examples of successful crowd funding. However, some of the crowd funding projects fail badly. If we look up the reasons of failure that are not because of elite power, the reasons are different from this. For example, some organisations could not do proper advertisements, and people do not know about them, or they did not set their goal properly. And it is same with the successful projects, they also have different reasons. Yes, they crowd funding helps to pulverise power elites.

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    • Hi Sana, thanks for the interesting comment.

      I agree that some campaigns fail badly but I disagree that it’s not because of power elites…
      For instance, not having sufficient resources is often related to capitalist structures and the fact that a few people have a lot whilst many people have little. Whilst some campaigners might be naturally great at communicating or have access to experts, this wouldn’t be true for many like not-for-profit or community organisations. If crowd-funding were to pulverise elite power structures it would need to be an accessible model for all. Very though-provoking discussion though : )

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