If an individual living in a welfare state wants to help someone in the lower parts of the welfare pyramid on the other side of the planet, he/she does not have an easy and transparent way of doing so. For various reasons, there seems to be today for the individual a mental barrier to donate to humanitarian organizations. Although the large NGOs ARE IMPORTANT, AND VERY MUCH NEEDED! Meanwhile, a friend of mine in the NGO world once said that if she had $100 million USD she would not start an NGO with a $100 million USD budget, but rather 100 NGOs with $1 million USD budgets.
Clearly, something is missing.
The following analogy might help: once can say that the NGO world works as big circles trying to cover a large surface; although the circles (of different sizes) cover a great area together, there will ALWAYS be small areas in between the circles that are left uncovered, and together these many many small areas add up to a large "uncovered" or "unattended" area. These are the areas or the small projects that the NGO, for natural reasons rooted in its infrastructure and design, is too "bulky" and "inflexible" to cover...and it is a good thing that it is so, because if it wasn't for the formal structure and system of the NGO its whole function and operation would be impossible.
But there is clearly a need for a complementary system of aid, a system that's flexible and distributed to the fullest extent possible! A system that does not require a "central hub". A system that is direct, requires short links in the chain and has transparency and feedback and most important of all: is "administrated" and "operated" by the user of it; i.e. beneficiaries and benefactors, respectively. A system designed on the principle of collective intelligence and collective empathy!.
This is how the idea behind p2p-aid was born. The p2p acronym stands for Peer-to-Peer which indicates the distributed aspect of it at the same time as we want to highlight the concept of "Peer" here. Since we are all equals we deserve to be given the same basic human rights and opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, color, age, religious or political views gender, sexual orientation or nationality! Moreover, we cannot solely rely on our governments or NGOs to implement and protect these basic rights for us, we ALL should to enforce these rights, on ourselves and our world!.
The motivation of p2p-aid is that through a self-organized distributed network of people or small groups in need (proclaiming their needs on the network) and those willing or seeking to help others, create a system where the benefactor can be in a direct link with his/hers beneficiary and see exactly what effect the help he/she is giving has on the beneficiary. The portal is to make helping simpler, but also to raise enthusiasm to help people in need and awareness to the fact that even small effort on our side can make a huge difference in the lives of our PEERs. It's a marriage between humanitarianism and social media, one peer at a time!
At 16:53 local time on Tuesday, 12 January 2010, an massive earthquake devastated the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As a result over 300,000 has died, over 500,000 were injured and more than 1,000,000 Haitians are homeless or orphans. A vast majority of the affected are from the poorest parts of society. In fact, due to poor construction, most of the collapsed buildings killing hundreds of thousands, were in the poorest neighborhoods.
The scale of this tragedy created a tremor in the foundations our global society, causing ripples reaching far beyond the Caribbeans, all the way into our minds and hearts. It became evident that the real killer in this catastrophe was not the forces of nature, it was once again the injustice in our global welfare system and division of wealth! the earthquake in Haiti simply highlighted this inequality in a more dramatic way than we are used to. It stood clear that we, in the opportune and comfortable western world needed to act, to reach a helping hand out to the people of Haiti, a country that even before the earthquake of January 2010 was the poorest country in the Americas.
Two days after the earthquake, Babak Rasolzadeh (BR), a PhD student at KTH in Sweden, decided he needed to act, on a personal level. There was 'per se' nothing original about the idea, people had for as long as humanitarian aid and NGOs existed (probably even before that) involved themselves in volunteer work in order to help those in need...wherever it may be. But it did come as one of those sudden flashes of insight, those moments of clarity we ever so rarely experience in our modernized and jet-set western lifestyle. So the same night BR sat down and gathered the email contacts of over 50 NGOs. Then he wrote this email:
My name is Babak Rasolzadeh and I am a Swedish citizen. I'm a 28 years old PhD student in Stockholm Sweden. The past 2 days I haven't been able to eat or sleep properly because of the horrible catastrophe that hat devastated the people of Haiti and their country. I have through various media (internet, TV, papers) seen the absolute horror that is taking place over there, while I am safe and sound over in my own little corner of the world. And now I can't take it any more! Perhaps it is the fact that I am reading Greg Mortensons book "Three Cups of Tea" or perhaps I am simply an over-emotional person, but something inside me convinced me that I need to act, that I need to do something more than just donating money. I guess one could say that I had an epiphany. I don't want to go on about spiritual journeys in the Self and all that, because time is of essence and for every minute the probability of survival for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, is decreasing. So I will cut straight to the practicalities:
I had before Christmas bought a trip to Singapore for beginning of Feb 2010 (i.e. in 2 weeks from now). However, me travelling to Singapore and enjoying my vacation over there is at this point utterly unthinkable! Not while so many are suffering in Haiti. So I thought that I would do differently: I will talk my travel agency into changing that ticket into a ticket to Port-au-Prince and want to volunteer for 1-2 weeks on Haiti instead. I will help with whatever I can and I will do it for as long as I can, and then some more! I don't know anything more than basic CPR when it comes to medical skills, but I speak 5 languages (English, Swedish, French, Spanish and Persian) and I am an engineer.
I will cover all my costs myself and am willing to learn whatever skills necessary over there.
What I would ask from you is guidance as to who and where to contact on Haiti. If you don't know the answers to my told (and untold) questions perhaps you know someone that might?
All help to help would be appreciated.
Within the next week BR got several dozen replies, most of which were thanking for goodwill and kindness, but stating that "at this stage only professional and experienced catastrophe coordinators and aid workers are needed", everyone else would simply be in the way and cause more problem than help, unless you are a doctor or a nurse. Then something happened, and components of the fabric of "things" started to align:
BR got a reply from someone named May Marconet from an NGO named IMC saying that she was touched by the letter and that she wanted to help BR to help. After a couple of phone call "interviews" and a few necessary documents arranged (sending CV, signing of important forms etc.) BR was clear to join IMC as a volunteer in logistics. With some further "alignment of the stars" BR managed to find a very cheap airplane ticket to Dominican Repbulic from where IMC met him up and he was taken to Haiti. On the 22nf of February he embarked on this fateful journey.
Of course, even before embarking on this journey something had begun. BR decision struck a chord in the hearts of his friends in Sweden. Although it might have been different chords in different hearts, they all had two things in common: 1. They were all worried for him, 2. They were all inspired by his reaction. Even though he was just one person and could most probably not make any substantial difference for the people of Haiti, nor their seemingly hopeless situation, he was going to try! Despite the hopelessness of the situation, BR still had hope...in himself, in his fellow man and in the world.
This hope inspired two particular friends of him to indeed do something extraordinary. Andrzej and Marianna Pronobis (A&M) asked BR if he could do them a favor: could he spend approx. 1000 SEK on their behalf on people in need in Haiti? Honored and deeply touched by this act of generosity and trust, BR accepted and promised to fulfill this duty to the best of his abilities.
Haiti and the direct link
In the beginning, during his first week in Haiti, BR gave chunks of the money he had been be-trusted to people on the streets that he found in need; literally handing out 20-dollar bills to people that he thought needed help the most. Despite the obvious unsatisfactory aspect of this (there were simply too many people in need and $20 USD didn't make a long-lasting difference for them), A&M managed to convince friends and family members to collect more money and suddenly the chunk of money that was going to "charity through BR" in Haiti grew substantially. The reason for this is quite obvious when pondered upon: A&M and their friends had through BR a direct link to those suffering in Haiti, those for whom even the smallest aid/donation from a "well-off westerner" made a great difference, even if it was for a short while.
However, because of the larger amount of money, soon BR could turn the "handing out of large chunks of money" charity to a larger and more focused project: together with some local employees of IMC a small project of supplying 50 mattresses to an orphanage. This project is now being finalized!
The need for "distributed and direct aid"
After the experiences in Haiti and getting to know a little about NGOs and talking to various people from that community, it stood clear that the greater NGOs are usually to big to allow the flexibility and transparency that aid to individuals and small groups actually requires! If an individual living in a welfare state (usually in western civilizations) wants to help someone (anyone) in the lower parts of the welfare pyramid, he does not have an easy and transparent way of doing so. Specially considering the fact that a large portion of the budget of NGOs goes to administrative and miscellaneous costs, there is today, for the individual a mental barrier to donate to these humanitarian organizations. The important thing to remember is that the large NGOs ARE IMPORTANT, AND VERY MUCH NEEDED, that is why charity events and galas that help remedy the problem of that mental barrier for people, are so important. Meanwhile, a friend of mine in the NGO world once said that if she had $100 million USD she would not start an NGO with a $100 million USD budget, but rather 100 NGOs with $1 million USD budgets. Clearly, something is missing. The following analogy might help: the NGO world works as big circles trying to cover a large surface; although the circles (of different sizes) cover a great area together, there will ALWAYS be small areas in between the circles that are left uncovered, and together these many many small areas add up to a large "uncovered" or "unattended" area. These are the areas or the small projects that the NGO, for natural reasons rooted in its infrastructure and design, is too "bulky" and "inflexible" to cover...and it is a good thing that it is so, because if it wasn't for the formal structure and system of the NGO its whole function and operation would be impossible.
But there is clearly a need for a complementary system of aid, a system that's flexible and distributed to the fullest extent possible! A system that does not require a "central hub". A system that is direct, requires short links in the chain and has transparency and feedback and most important of all: is "administrated" and "operated" by the user of it; i.e. beneficiaries and benefactors, respectively. A system designed on the principle of collective intelligence and collective empathy!
p2p-aid is born!
This is how the idea behind p2p-aid was born. The p2p acronym stands for Peer-to-Peer which indicates the distributed aspect of it (when it comes to resources, aid, administration, structure, implementation and maintenance) at the same time as we want to highlight the concept of "Peer" here, since we are all equals and deserve to be given the same basic human rights and opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, color, age, religious or political views gender, sexual orientation or nationality! Moreover, we cannot solely rely on our governments or NGOs to implement and protect these basic rights for us, we ALL have to enforce these rights, on ourselves and our world!
The motivation of p2p-aid is that through a self-organized distributed network of people or small groups in need (proclaiming their needs on the network) and those willing or seeking to help others, create a system where the benefactor can be in a direct link with his/hers beneficiary and see exactly what effect the help he/she is giving has on the beneficiary.
It's a marriage between humanitarianism and social media, one peer at a time!
Please have a look at the initial mind map we created while discussing the idea (below). The mind map presents key principles and concepts behind the idea and details of its realization. It also highlights the road map that we plan to follow.
We reaffirm our belief in the humanitarian imperative and its primacy. By this we mean the belief that all possible steps should be taken to prevent or alleviate human suffering arising out of conflict or calamity, and that civilians so affected have a right to protection and assistance.
It is on the basis of this belief, reflected in international humanitarian law and based on the principle of humanity, that we offer our services as humanitarian agencies. We will act in accordance with the principles of humanity and impartiality, and with the other principles set out in the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief (1994). This Code of Conduct appears in full in Annex 2.
The Humanitarian Charter affirms the fundamental importance of the following principles:
1.1 The right to life with dignity
This right is reflected in the legal measures concerning the right to life, to an adequate standard of living and to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. We understand an individual's right to life to entail the right to have steps taken to preserve life where it is threatened, and a corresponding duty on others to take such steps. Implicit in this is the duty not to withhold or frustrate the provision of life-saving assistance. In addition, international humanitarian law makes specific provision for assistance to civilian populations during conflict, obliging states and other parties to agree to the provision of humanitarian and impartial assistance when the civilian population lacks essential supplies.1
1.2 The distinction between combatants and non-combatants
This is the distinction which underpins the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977. This fundamental principle has been increasingly eroded, as reflected in the enormously increased proportion of civilian casualties during the second half of the twentieth century. That internal conflict is often referred to as 'civil war' must not blind us to the need to distinguish between those actively engaged in hostilities, and civilians and others (including the sick, wounded and prisoners) who play no direct part. Non-combatants are protected under international humanitarian law and are entitled to immunity from attack.2
1.3 The principle of non-refoulement
This is the principle that no refugee shall be sent (back) to a country in which his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; or where there are substantial grounds for believing that s/he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.3
2. Roles and Responsibilities
2.1 We recognise that it is firstly through their own efforts that the basic needs of people affected by calamity or armed conflict are met, and we acknowledge the primary role and responsibility of the state to provide assistance when people's capacity to cope has been exceeded.
2.2 International law recognises that those affected are entitled to protection and assistance. It defines legal obligations on states or warring parties to provide such assistance or to allow it to be provided, as well as to prevent and refrain from behaviour that violates fundamental human rights. These rights and obligations are contained in the body of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law (see sources listed below).
2.3 As humanitarian agencies, we define our role in relation to these primary roles and responsibilities. Our role in providing humanitarian assistance reflects the reality that those with primary responsibility are not always able or willing to perform this role themselves. This is sometimes a matter of capacity. Sometimes it constitutes a wilful disregard of fundamental legal and ethical obligations, the result of which is much avoidable human suffering.
2.4 The frequent failure of warring parties to respect the humanitarian purpose of interventions has shown that the attempt to provide assistance in situations of conflict may potentially render civilians more vulnerable toattack, or may on occasion bring unintended advantage to one or more of the warring parties. We are committed to minimising any such adverse effects of our interventions in so far as this is consistent with the obligationsoutlined above. It is the obligation of warring parties to respect the humanitarian nature of such interventions.
2.5 In relation to the principles set out above and more generally, we recognise and support the protection and assistance mandates of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees under international law.
3. Minimum Standards
The Minimum Standards which follow are based on agencies' experience of providing humanitarian assistance. Though the achievement of the standards depends on a range offactors, many of which may be beyond our control, we commit ourselves to attempt consistently to achieve them and we expect to be held to account accordingly. We invite other humanitarian actors, including statesthemselves, to adopt these standards as accepted norms.
By adhering to the standards set out in chapters 1-5 we commit ourselves to make every effort to ensure that people affected by disastershave access to at least the minimum requirements (water, sanitation, food, nutrition, shelter and health care) to satisfy their basic right to life with dignity. To this end we will continue to advocate thatgovernments and other parties meet their obligations under international human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law.
We expect to be held accountable to this commitment andundertake to develop systems for accountability within our respective agencies, consortia and federations. We acknowledge that our fundamental accountability must be to those we seek to assist.
2. The distinction between combatants and non-combatants is the basic principle underlying international humanitarian law. See in particular common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Article48 of Additional Protocol I of 1977. See also Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.
3. Article 33 of the Convention on the Status of Refugees 1951; Article 3 of the Conventionagainst Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984; Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.