University of Sussex
Banerjee, Shonali Ayesha.pdf (17.89 MB)

Intimate technologies for development: micro-philanthropy, crowdfunding platforms, and NGO fundraising in India

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posted on 2023-06-09, 21:23 authored by Shonali Ayesha Banerjee
This thesis presents an account of my research on crowdfunding platforms and their nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners in India. The current era of increasing reliance on technological advancement pressures the international development sector to innovate and digitize its programs and aid delivery. Crowdfunding platforms evolved in this technological climate to fill certain gaps between individuals and social projects. NGOs are compelled to diversify and innovate their fundraising strategies to keep up with industry standards and appeal to wider networks of individual donors. The primary research question addressed in this thesis is whether new fundraising models like crowdfunding are changing the overall landscape of development aid and NGO practice, particularly in India. I also investigate the emergent popularity of crowdfunding platforms and what this discloses about the relationship between Indian ‘micro-philanthropists’ and local NGOs. I have comprised this thesis of nine chapters segmented into three broader sections: Section I – Premise, Section II – Platforms, and Section III – Peer-to-Peer Fundraising. Section I outlines the premise for my research, covering the methodology, Indian context, and theoretical framework. Through semi-structured interviews, I gathered data from 6 crowdfunding platforms and 25 NGOs, in addition to on-site observations and online analysis. I then introduce the Indian context for my research, as India is currently undergoing a dynamic period of technological, political, and social change. Section I concludes with the theoretical and conceptual framework for this thesis. I situate crowdfunding at the nexus of three major bodies of literature: philanthrocapitalism, ICT4D, and digital inequalities and affordances, as well as the sub-themes of brokerage, citizen aid, and social media. Section II focuses primarily on ethnographic data gathered from 6 crowdfunding platforms. I discuss international crowdfunding practices for NGO fundraising, focusing on interviews with US-based platform GlobalGiving and their sister organization GlobalGiving UK. I explore how crowdfunding differs from mainstream top-down aid practices, and what role it aims to play in NGO fundraising. I then introduce the 4 Indian platforms I researched - Impact Guru, Ketto, LetzChange, and Small Change – and analyze key differences between the Indian and international crowdfunding platforms. I discuss how platforms appeal to NGOs and seek to distinguish themselves from each other. This Section concludes with data collected from NGOs operating in India, the majority of which use the crowdfunding platforms I researched. Section III focuses on the intimate and interpersonal aspects of NGO crowdfunding in India. I first explore trust in the Indian giving sector by discussing historical practices of giving and the pervasive levels of distrust that mark the Indian NGO sector. I detail how crowdfunding platforms help local NGOs rebrand themselves through marketing that harnesses the ‘technological intimacies’ of their existing social capital and interpersonal connections through social media and digital communications practices. At the center of my analysis lies an exploration of the nature of digital divides and inequalities, examining peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising models and exploring how Indian crowdfunding platforms aim to blend existing intimate social bonds with the leverage of new technologies like social media and WhatsApp. I conclude the thesis by discussing whether crowdfunding platforms have created anything truly ‘new’ or if they have simply evolved existing practices into digital spaces.


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