Can world-changing projects be crowdfunded?

The internet offers the opportunity to connect a large number of people, for a common cause. If these people each contribute a small amount of money, you have crowdfunding. Crowdfunding has been used successfully to support independent bands, startup companies, and business/humanitarian projects in the developing world. But what about crowdfunding something really big? Renting the whole Amazon rainforest for instance (to protect it from logging)? Or saving tigers from extinction in the wild? Or supplying the entire developing world with efficient cooking facilities (to reduce harmful soot emissions)?

A big obstacle, to any such scheme, is that people often agree a cause is worthy, but do not give any of their own cash towards it. Why do we act that way?

  • Is it because we’re conditioned to avoid giving? (E.g. “Don’t give to the homeless man, it will only make him dependent on charity”)
  • Is it because, to give to one cause, would feel like an admission that we should be giving to all of them?
  • Is it because we feel unsure of how well our donation would be used? (Or is this just an excuse?)
  • Is it because we put our own affluence ahead of the causes we espouse?
  • Is it because many worthy causes are seen as issues “owned” by particular groups at the left-most end of the political spectrum, alienating those genuinely caring people who happen to have different political views?

I don’t know. But I do know that if we could make large-scale crowd funding work, it could be our best tool to change the world – unencumbered by the hidebound caution of our elected leaders, driven only by the passion of ordinary people.

For a cause you believed in, would you donate to large-scale crowdsourcing? Why or why not?

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