Charity, commonly defined as the practice of being benevolent, giving and sharing, is currently undergoing a powerful transformation. We are seeing signs of charity moving from being dependent on generous donations of large organisations and affluent citizens to becoming more decentralised, thanks to emerging technologies such as VR, the blockchain and P2P lending. Given all the opportunities offered by new technologies, what will the future of charity look like?
Until recently, most charitable organizations relied heavily on sporadic donations from High-net-worth individuals and large corporations. New payment technologies are now allowing charity to be ingrained at a grassroots level by enabling people to make small donations in a convenient way through micro-donations. An emblematic example of this scheme is Pennies, a “digital charity box”, created with a purpose to raise funds for a variety of UK charities. When paying by card in participating retailers, the PIN pad prompts customers with the option to round up or top up their purchase and add a small donation to the payment.
Another potentially far-reaching innovation in charity is the use of virtual reality that allows people to experience, in a very tangible way, the lives of particular groups of people — be that the visually or hearing impaired, refugees, or those living in polluted environments. The organizations that have tested VR with a charitable purpose, including UNICEF and the UN, have reported a strong response from the public (expressed in monetary terms). In 2015, UNICEF in New Zealand virtually transported people in the streets of Auckland to a Syrian refugee camp so that they could experience life there through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. The campaign resulted in one in six people donating on the spot.
The blockchain is a hot topic in incredible number of industries, and charity is no exception. This technology may have answers to some of the biggest challenges charities have always faced – fundraising and building trust. Blockchain technology could improve the transparency of charitable giving by allowing people to track their donations as they go through an organisation. The transaction size is unlimited, so contributing 1 or 1 million USD can be done with the same amount of ease. In traditional channels, big transfers are time-consuming and subject to a potential theft by intermediaries, something that is technically impossible when using the blockchain. Save the Children, American Red Cross, the United Way, Greenpeace, and the Wikimedia Foundation all started accepting bitcoin in 2013-2014, and since then donations to charities through cryptocurrency that take advantage of the blockchain has been on the rise.
Charity today is not as straightforward as it used to be; it goes way beyond donating money or goods to those in need. Would you define P2P lending at zero interest rate and without fixed due date as charity? Non-profit lending platforms, such as Vittana and Kiva, believe it is. Today, you can donate your Twitter followers instead of cash or contribute a few minutes of your time to scan satellite images of a particular plot of ocean in order to find migrant boats in difficulty and help in the refugee crises. New technologies have created myriad opportunities for doing good that are available for everyone – we just need to take advantage of them.
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