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World

Kickstarter Launches Drive To Raise Funds Supporting Refugees

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If you have an idea for a film or an invention but you don't have the money to do, Kickstarter may be an option. But if you're trying to handle the most complex humanitarian crisis since World War II, well, the White House thinks Kickstarter could help there too. This week, the crowdfunding site broke its own rules after being approached by the White House. It launched its first-ever charitable drive to help with the refugee crisis. Julien Schopp is the director of humanitarian practice at InterAction. It's an alliance of NGOs which help vulnerable people around the world. Welcome to the program.

JULIEN SCHOPP: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Is raising money in conventional ways for the refugee crisis going so poorly that Kickstarter and another companies have to be asked to step in?

SCHOPP: Unfortunately, yes, in the sense that the crisis has been going on for four years now. The toll is, as we all know, huge. Kickstarter, I think, is a way to reach new people, potentially, a new generation. So it is positive. By the same account, it's definitely not sufficient.

SIEGEL: U.N. says it's about $4 billion short of the amount that it would like to raise. That sounds like a very tall order for an online operation like Kickstarter.

SCHOPP: Yes. We should not believe that Kickstarter or any of these initiatives will fill this gap. It will potentially assist some organizations - in this instance, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees and their NGO partners - to assist the people in the neighboring countries of Syria and to ensure that their food rations are as they should be and that the minimum protection that they're afforded under international law is respected.

SIEGEL: Just by way of contrast, $4 billion is the U.N. shortfall. The hugely successful online campaign for ALS drew about $80 million, I believe. So we're talking about a different order of funds that are required here.

SCHOPP: Absolutely, and for something that is very difficult for the public to necessarily understand. As you said, it's a very complex crisis. It's been going on for a long time. It seems far away from the public, especially in America. So this is a means to really reach new people. By the same token, the solution is going to be a political one.

SIEGEL: As public reactions to crises go, how would you describe public engagement with the refugee crisis?

SCHOPP: Well, until the influx in Europe, in the past few months, the engagement was very minimal. As an anecdote, one of our NGO members, a very well-renowned NGO member - when the Philippines typhoon happened, the Syria crisis was happening for two years. They raised the same amount of money in two weeks for the typhoon in the Philippines as they had in two years for Syria.

SIEGEL: Is it essentially about vivid pictures?

SCHOPP: It is about vivid pictures. It is about something that's easily understandable. Unfortunately, a child dead on a beach elicits emotions. And we want to help. People with guns that are fighting for political motives is much more difficult to feel empathy for.

SIEGEL: I mentioned the U.N. shortfall. Do you expect the United Nations will actually meet its fundraising goals this year?

SCHOPP: No. We can safely say they won't. They haven't in the past four years. It never has met its goals for the Syria response, so if it gets to 60, 70 percent, to some extent, it's a success.

SIEGEL: Well, I mean, as good as the optics are here with - for Kickstarter or with Kickstarter, are governments, including ours, passing the buck here? Is this a way of avoiding responsibility, to say, here's a novel way to raise some money?

SCHOPP: Passing the buck would imply that it's to not engage financially. And that, I would say no because the U.S. government's been pretty generous on the crisis. Passing the buck politically in the sense that, has the West, has the Security Council engaged sufficiently on the Syria Crisis - no. More needs to be done, and this will only be solved politically, not by just distributing humanitarian aid.

SIEGEL: Julien Schopp, thank you very much.

SCHOPP: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Julien Schopp of the NGO alliance InterAction. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.