Aleksandra Hiltmann - We all know crowdfunding, but in some places, the concept arrives as a small revolution. Why? Because in a post-conflict society like Kosovo, it can help to circumvent shortfalls of year-long establish funding dynamics.
Tito’s regime, war and its aftermath, international intervention, economic desperation, political turmoil, kleptocracy. Not the best preconditions in Kosovo for a functioning civil society. At the same time, there are always enthusiastic individuals seeking to implement some bright ideas. Might sound pathetic, I know. But from experience I can tell: it’s true.
Unfortunately, over the two decades of international presence, funding dynamics for civil society projects were negatively affected. In Kosovo, it is no secret, that for some NGOs and their members, international money is a welcomed source of income, with results playing only a secondary role. Some major international players do what is called portfolio-driven funding. It is fancy to have for instance counter-terrorism and education projects on your list, even though they are not really your expertise. Result: Local NGOs with these “fancy” projects get spoiled with funding, sustainability and accountability of projects and NGOs suffer.
Truly engaged NGOs on the other hand struggle to acquire the money: they face sluggish application procedures, every time a different form to fill, and have to confront the question of ‘donor pleasing’, whether they have to consider compromising their mission or project goals in order to fit the demands of the donor. In addition, projects carried by individuals are often excluded from funding, since one frequent requirement to apply is to be a registered local NGO.
However, three businessmen, tired of waiting for official procedures and mismanagement, came up with a simple but groundbreaking idea: crowdfunding. The former Swiss banker Georg Fankhauser, together with Vllaznim Xhiha and Mentor Sahiti, both originating from Kosovo, founded Kosova Ideas in 2017. It is the first crowdfunding platform in and for Kosovo, supporting projects in all fields – art, culture, civic engagement, sustainability. According to the platform’s website, of 31 campaigns launched so far, 28 projects could successfully be financed.
Last autumn Fankhauser, together with the project coordinator and HUB manager from
Kosovo, 28 years old Diana Nokaj, visited Zurich. The community meeting room in my neighborhood was full of interested people, mostly people with (Kosovo-) Albanian roots. «The diaspora could move a lot, with little money», Georg Fankhauser said. A credible claim, since a Swiss daily salary often equals a monthly one in Kosovo. However, backers came from all around the world, with only a third of them coming from the diaspora, he explained. Instead of supporting their home country with “classic” remittances which would mainly flow into consumerism, Kosovo Albanians in Switzerland should think about supporting projects - such as the ones implemented through Kosova Ideas.
After working in the field of NGOs on both sides, issuing and checking applications and budgets, as well as writing and checking reports, I came to agree with Fankhauser and Nokaj when they mention the advantages of crowdfunding, compared to the usual funding schemes.
First of all, accountability feels different. If you donate 20 Euros - a big amount of money in Kosovo - you will monitor very closely, if the funding campaign is successful, and if successful whether the project is really being implemented or not. It just feels different if it’s your money and not the UN’s. This setting also gives people who plan and want to implement projects a different sense of responsibility. They don’t do it for a big anonymous player. They create it themselves, they are accountable to their backers who - although some come from abroad - live in the same country, sometimes even in the same neighborhood.
Secondly, much administrative costs can be saved and individuals can apply. It permits to bypass the need of being an established NGO, with offices, structures and all the bureaucracy that comes with a formal organization.
Finally, crowdfunding offers an opportunity for people to develop organizational skills, among others, as well as a sense of self-responsibility. Especially in Kosovo, where the educational system is weak - frequently ranked at the bottom compared to other European countries - and not matching the needs of the labour market, the development of additional skills by upholding crowdfunded projects makes sense.
Is crowdfunding the cure for all the lack of transparency and sustainability? No, certainly not. Kosova Ideas representatives are very aware of that. But it is more than convincing, that crowdfunding is a viable, precious alternative in a context like Kosovo. It gives back ownership to people, who were and still are subject of political games and international interventions.