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The Story of #Nafeer: Crowdsourcing in Action

Posted: November 28, 2014 at 12:25 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

[Picture curtesy of Nafeer]

During the floods that impacted the Sudanese capital, Khartoum in August 2013, a youth-based initiative called Nafeer (inspired from the Sudanese tradition of helping those in need collectively) used a variety of social media and ICT tools that included Facebook, twitter, flicker, and a crisis map. With these tools they mobilized a huge network of up to 8000 volunteers who raised funds online and offline; and provided relief to impacted citizens much faster than the government and the United Nations agencies.

“The majority of the volunteers on the ground were not the traditional civil society crowd. Many were professionals who came from the private sector and had useful technical skills that are usually lacking in the typical civil society.”

Most of the donations came from Sudanese businesses and diaspora communities via announcements on Facebook and twitter in the form of in-kind and cash donations. The facebook message below announcing the need for life jackets and vehicles is an example for calls for donations that were posted on social media. There were also similar calls for the mobilization of volunteers to specific locations that needed immediate relief.

The majority of the volunteers on the ground were not the traditional civil society crowd. Many were professionals who came from the private sector and had useful technical skills that are usually lacking in the typical civil society. Nafeer had its own engineering and medical teams. The crisis map, for example, was created by a young female, software engineer while she was trapped in her house during the heavy rains. The map was eventually used by Nafeer, NGOs and the UN to locate the most needy areas for relief. Even the government’s Civil Defence “hotline” was referring people to Nafeer.

“The Nafeer campaign marked the first time crowdfunding was attempted in Sudan during a national humanitarian crisis.”

Nafeer, however, did face some technical challenges linked to the impact of US sanctions on free access to the internet. Nafeer’s members were unable to use a more centralized online crowdfunding platform, because Paypal closed Nafeer’s account citing the sanctions on Sudan. In a tweet by one of the initiators of Nafeer, referring to the operational obstacles the mayor of Khartoum was creating for the group, Amjad Fareed, he said:

“The Americans closed #Nafeer’s Paypal account because of the sanctions on Sudan. What challenges are we supposed to deal with, those from the Mayor of Khartoum or from the Americans?”

This made the collection of funds from diaspora groups much more burdensome, since it was not possible to streamline the process and centralize it in one place. Multiple account numbers of diaspora focal points (mainly in the Gulf, Europe and the United States) were posted on twitter and Facebook for those willing to donate. Despite this decentralization challenge, Nafeer members continued to make public all the funds donated via their facebook page. This created a new model of transparency for the civil society; regardless of the challenge of tracking donations coming from many countries and sent to multiple bank accounts of members of the diaspora.

The Nafeer campaign marked the first time crowdfunding was attempted in Sudan during a national humanitarian crisis. Since then there has been several crowdfunding efforts by the civil society, but they were not all linked to developmental efforts. And they required that Sudanese in the Diaspora assist with linking the crowdfunding page with a bank account  in a non-sanctioned country.

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