It is undeniable that COVID-19 has been devastating in manifold ways, exposing the dysfunctionalities of societies all across the world. However, there is much to be said about the power of benevolence in times of distress and insecurity. People have coalesced behind movements to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society have access to the resources that they need to navigate these challenging times.
As the Advocacy and Philanthropy Chair for the University of Michigan’s Pakistani Student Association, my job is to promote civic engagement and spread awareness about important humanitarian causes amongst those in our community. Given the state of the pandemic, I knew that some people in Pakistan would be hit harder than others, and I felt compelled to take action.
I turned to a global crowdfunding platform called GlobalGiving, looking for a nonprofit doing relevant relief work that the U-M Pakistani Students Association (PSA) could financially support. When I came across the Network of Organizations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP), their mission instantly resonated with me. NOWPDP is a disability inclusion initiative dedicated to the social, educational, and economic empowerment of people with disabilities. On their GlobalGiving fundraising page, they were collecting donations to provide food packages to families of people with disabilities who were in desperate need of assistance.
People with disabilities in Pakistan are unfortunately marginalized in profound ways and the implementation of laws intended to help them (i.e. Disabled Persons Ordinance, 1981) has been weak and inadequate. As a result, they face overwhelming social stigmas, limited access to quality education, and minimal employment opportunities in the labor market. Due to their constrained economic mobility, the COVID-19 lockdown has put them in an even more precarious position.
Alongside our two co-presidents, Hira Khan and Madiha Khanani, we explored NOWPDP’s website and social media accounts, learning all about the work that they do to circumvent the obstacles faced by people with disabilities. Inspired by their work, we finalized our decision to move forward with the campaign so that we could help get these families fed.
I emailed the External Engagement Manager of NOWPDP, Amin Amir Andani, and explained that we were interested in creating a crowdfunding campaign to support their efforts. He excitedly responded and our ensuing correspondence was instrumental in helping us determine a fundraising strategy.
We decided to set our goal at $1,000, which would feed about 38 families in Pakistan. Once our fundraising page was set up on GlobalGiving, our Marketing Chair, Sana Abedi and I created a flyer which outlined key information about our fundraiser, our Venmo handle, link to the page, and a list of how much it would cost to feed 1 family, 2 families, 3 families, etc.
Then, our PSA Executive Board did an enormous social media push on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. We spread the word in our community group chat and consistently provided updates about our fundraising total as it increased. I also provided information about NOWPDP as well as links to their website and Facebook page. We specified that their donations would be going towards purchasing packages of wheat flour, rice, lentils, chickpeas, oil, sugar, salt, red chillies, turmeric that would then be distributed to families.
Moreover, we provided ways in which the community could also support the cause. In particular, our Marketing Chair created a bingo board for Instagram stories through which anyone could collect and transfer small donations from friends and family in an engaging way. Gradually, we saw that more people started donating, and the small donations quickly added up!
“For those of us in a position of relative privilege, we have a moral obligation to give and support others in the ways that we can. And in that process of giving, we inevitably find fulfillment and hope.”
Providing clarifications to our community with regard to legitimacy and transparency was an additional priority of mine. I explained that the money would be going through the GlobalGiving platform, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered with the government that thoroughly vets projects in order to ensure that they satisfy IRS guidelines for international grant-making. I personally reviewed the guidelines and timelines for the vetting of projects. By the recommendation of a community member, I also provided the link to GlobalGiving’s page on GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting about U.S. nonprofit organizations, so that the public could peruse the specifics of their financials and operations.
When a student brought up a concern about public health protocol, I immediately sent an email to the External Engagement Manager who reassured me that they were only procuring rations from vendors who had demonstrated that they were fulfilling safety measures recommended by health professionals (masks, gloves, regular disinfection, etc.). This applied to everyone in the distribution process as well. Within 48 hours of receiving the student’s concern, I had not only followed up upon the matter, but also promptly relayed this information in the community group chat to alleviate concerns that may have discouraged others from donating.
By the time that the global day-long campaign called “Giving Tuesday Now” was upon us, we were a week into our fundraising efforts, and we had raised around $800. I thought that it would be a good idea to do another social media push since there seemed to be a lull in our donation stream. So, I created a graphic pertaining to Giving Tuesday Now and its celebration of generosity around the world in order to prompt more people to submit donations.
Eventually, we not only reached but also surpassed our goal of $1,000 in less than two weeks! Everyone on our PSA Executive Board was thrilled to finally see our goal reach fruition after many days of campaigning. We were even more thrilled that our efforts would help to feed about 40 families.
As I reflect on the creation, progression, and culmination of our fundraiser, I think about the idea of virtual mobilization in the time of COVID-19. Everyone is facing this crisis differently and in varying magnitudes. Sometimes, that reality can be incredibly demoralizing. For those of us in a position of relative privilege, we have a moral obligation to give and support others in the ways that we can. And in that process of giving, we inevitably find fulfillment and hope.