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“Crowdfunding” is an ubiquitous buzzword among young creative types. But how much do online platforms like Kickstarter really help? Lifestyle Caribbean talks to Caribbean filmmakers and artists about their crowd funding experiences

If you’re one of those people who spend too much time surfing the Web, you may have heard about the man who raised US$55,492 on a website called Kickstarter, to make potato salad. The individual, aptly named Zack Danger Brown, mounted the campaign as a joke, and plans to donate the money to charity, but his stunt does demonstrate the weird potential of the phenomenon known as crowdfunding — the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people via the Internet.

“Crowdfunding” is a newish word — it entered the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary only in 2011 — for the online manifestation of an idea that’s as old as the hills. It’s certainly not unknown in the Caribbean, where a lack of formal funding in areas like healthcare has often caused people to turn to their communities for support. The fundraising cake sale or concert put on to help pay for somebody’s surgery or repair a school — those are examples of crowdfunding, of a sort.

A search on crowdfunding web sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or GoFundMe for Caribbean projects doesn’t yield much — which is unsurprising, given the size of the region, and the fact that anyone who ventures onto these platforms is casting their project or product into the fray alongside thousands of others with higher profiles and larger, savvier networks. And, as is often the case with online financial transactions, there are barriers to entry for people from certain countries. Kickstarter, for instance, allows only people with bank accounts in a handful of developed nations to launch projects.

Canada-based Trinidadian Ian Harnarine was one of the early Caribbean filmmakers to test the crowdfunding waters, putting his narrative short Doubles With Slight Pepper on Kickstarter in 2011. “Quite frankly, it was the only way Doubles With Slight Pepper could have been made,” says Harnarine. “I personally don’t have the money to pay for a film, and I didn’t know anyone that would be willing to fund the entire project. But I’m really lucky to know a few people that do want to help me, and have $50 or $100 that they would be willing to donate.” Harnarine surpassed his Kickstarter fundraising target of US$10,000 by $300, raising funds from forty-eight backers.

Another early Kickstarter user was St Lucia-based Guyanese Onel Sanford Belle, who ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for her film Everyday Heroes in 2011, raising more than the US$9,000 she needed to complete the project.

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