Innovative Aid to Haiti
The current issue of Foreign Affairs has an article called A Few Dollars at a Time: How to Tap Consumers for Development, which describes the “innovative financing” movement in which private companies find ways for their customers to contribute to international development. This morning, I came across an example that I guess you could call “innovative aid” as it isn’t so much development financing but rather disaster relief to Haiti.
Zynga is a software company that makes (wildly successful, as I understand) games playable via Facebook and MySpace. They have started a Haiti Relief Fund in which the Zynga gaming community can contribute to disaster relief by purchasing “virtual goods” within their games. They explain on their foundation’s website:
Three of our top games are participating in a special relief campaign to help earthquake survivors in Haiti. Zynga is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from non-withering white corn within FarmVille [one of their games], a Haitian drum on Mafia Wars, and a special chip package in Zynga Poker to support emergency aid in Haiti through the Zynga Haiti Relief Fund. Users can also support the fund by donating directly through Zynga.org…
All contributions will benefit the World Food Programme (WFP), which has set up an emergency response team to distribute food and other relief to thousands in Haiti affected by the devastating earthquake.
Elsewhere, they write:
“The devastation in Haiti is unimaginable, and anything we or our users can do is tiny compared to the utter loss for this nation,” said Mark Pincus, Zynga’s founder and CEO. “In our small way, I hope we can enable our users to help and touch Haiti in a meaningful way where every dollar raised can make a difference.”
Zynga and socially-conscious companies like it should be applauded for dreaming up new ways to respond to perennial problems. I should note that Zynga’s aid to Haiti began before the earthquake; they had already linked the sale of virtual seeds in their FarmVille game to development aid for school construction in Haiti. Sales of that one virtual item, in one game, before Haiti was making headlines, raised over a million dollars. A few dollars at a time can add up to a lot of money.
But, given the magnitude of the disaster that has befallen Haiti, the unfortunate truth is that even a million dollars is a drop in the bucket. So, I hope other companies follow Zynga’s lead and nudge more people (who might not have done so otherwise) into contributing to the relief effort.