One year on from our first virtual crowdfunding event

One year on from our first virtual crowdfunding event

We caught up with The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sanku Project Healthy Children and GiveDirectly one year after our June 2020  virtual crowdfunding event. Read on to learn what these wonderful charities have been up to! 

One year ago, soon after COVID-19 struck and upended everything that was “normal”, we staged our very first Live Virtual Crowdfunding Event. We approached the big day with nervous excitement and countless unknowns: Would technology run smoothly? Would the pitches translate in the virtual world? Would the experience be interactive enough?

In the end, the event was a great success and we were overwhelmed by the generosity and community spirit we witnessed that evening. Together we showed that we could come together despite the obstacles presented by COVID-19 and help raise over A$200,000 in support of three amazing charities: The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sanku Project Healthy Children and GiveDirectly. 

One year on, we caught up with the featured speakers from our June 2020 event — Nick Martin (Deputy CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation), Felix Brooks-Church (co-founding CEO and President of Sanku Project Healthy Children) and Caroline Teti (Director of Recipient Advocacy with GiveDirectly) — to learn about what their organisations have been up to over this extraordinary past year, including how their organisations have adjusted and responded to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

Here’s what they had to say:

Can you describe the impact that the virtual crowdfunding event funding had on your organization?


Nick speaking at our virtual crowdfunding event 

2020 was a very difficult year for The Fred Hollows Foundation, like all international NGOs and Australian businesses and charities big and small. When the pandemic hit in March, we had no idea what the future might hold for The Foundation and if we would even survive. That’s why the continued support of our work from supporters and events such as the Virtual Crowdfunding night were so important to The Foundation. Blindness and vision loss didn’t stop because of a global pandemic. In fact, the enormous disruption caused by COVID-19 has only made the situation worse. People who could have accessed treatment and care have been unable to. The funding enabled us to continue working where we could have the most impact.

Photo Credit: The Fred Hollows Foundation 

 In 2020, thanks to our generous donors, The Foundation was still able to achieve the following:

  • 1.8+ million people screened
  • 6.3+ million people treated with antibiotics for trachoma 
  • 15,358 people trained, including surgeons, nurses, community health workers and teachers 
  • 40,379 cataract operations performed 



Our first-ever virtual crowdfunding event could not have come at a better time. The world was closing down around us, and fundraising events were being cancelled one after the other. We were worried how this would affect Sanku’s future and our ability to serve our partner mills and their customers when they most needed us. Spending an evening surrounded by people who understood our work and who were willing to support us, gave us the boost we needed to carry on and do everything we could to ensure that our partner mills were able to continue adding vital nutrients to their flour.



GiveDirectly raised A$63k at the 2020 crowdfunding event hosted by The Life  You Can Save at a time when the world was grappling with the after effects of the COVID 19 pandemic. While we had started implementing a COVID response project in informal settlements in urban areas, we knew that the need would be greater than what we were able to finance. The [crowdfunding event] raised money that helped us reach an additional ~595 recipients with 3 monthly transfers of 30 dollars a day. These are people who had livelihood challenges including food insecurity, inability to pay rent and in some cases lack of resources to pay medical bills. As they watched GiveDirectly send money to their neighbours, they hoped each day that they too could get a chance to benefit from this life changing program.  


Can you share with us a story of someone who has benefited from your work?


Image of Brian and his mother, Photo Credit: Mark Kachina

It‘s less than 10 minutes before the 6pm closing time at Moi County Referral Eye Camp in Voi town, Kenya. An ambulance approaches with 17-year-old student, Brian Mwachika, accompanied by his mother Demaris Mwake. Brian has struggled with bilateral cataract for almost six years. At primary school, he had trouble seeing the blackboard. Luckily, his mother found out about an eye camp in Voi supported by The Fred Hollows Foundation. Brian walked into the theatre room and half an hour later, he emerged with both eyes bandaged. The next morning after the ophthalmologist removed the patches, Brian exclaimed, “Mother! I can see clearly; I no longer see clouds in my vision.” Demaris moved closer to her son and they embraced each other tightly, “who knew that this day would come to pass?” she said.



Image of Ruhima, Photo Credit: Mussa Yunus, Sanku

Ruhima (22) comes from Manyara, a region of Tanzania that suffers from high levels of malnutrition. At 18, she lost her first child from a nutrition-related illness – he was four months old. Her second child, Riziki, was born two years later. He was often unwell, and Ruhima was worried: “I was not ready to lose another child because of malnutrition, so I decided to go to Dodoma to earn enough money to take care of my child and my family.” When she arrived in Dodoma, she found a job as a cleaner at Bonge Mill, one of our partners, and learned about the benefits of fortified flour. Despite her initial reservations she began buying Bonge Mill flour and sending it home to her son who was with her mother in Manyara. “At first I did not believe that this flour and nutrients would really help my family’s health, but I decided to try them to see what the results would be.” Her son’s health quickly improved and Ruhima continues to buy fortified flour from our partner mills. “I am happy because I know fortified flour ensures a healthy diet for my child and for my family“.



There are hundreds of stories about how recipients’ lives have been impacted by the transfers they received from GiveDirectly. However, the story of Patrick Lunalo, a resident of Mathare informal settlements in Nairobi has caught my attention. Before COVID 19, Patrick worked as a casual labourer and also collected garbage in his community to make a living. On average he made $5 a day. This met his daily basic needs which comprised mainly food. He had to struggle to pay his rent. When COVID 19 hit, the casual jobs were no longer there because of restrictions to mitigate transmission of the virus. When Patrick was enrolled in GiveDirectly’s program, he rekindled his passion of making innovative lamps in his house. He sells the lamps to local women who sell groceries upto late in the night. The lights replaced candles and tin lamps they previously used; creating sustainable change in his community. On the other hand, Patrick reports that he sells a lamp at $4 and can sell between 7-10 lamps a day. 


Can you describe a few ways the last year — and particularly the COVID-19 pandemic — has impacted your organisation? 


In many countries eye health services have resumed. But they have resumed in a new “Covid-safe” way. The Foundation has supported the provision of Personal Protective Equipment, new ways of working including using telehealth and adapted programs to recognise the need for social-distancing and lockdowns. The big lesson of the pandemic is the need to increase investment in national health systems. By playing a role in helping communities respond to COVID-19, The Foundation continues to strengthen health systems that can help ensure pandemics like these will be better managed in future. Better health services and a strong health care workforce are better for eye health as well.



Sanku Smart Dosifier, Photo Credit: Sanku Project Healthy Children 

Over the last 12 months:

  1. Despite our concerns, we not only survived, we have grown; adding key members to our leadership team to help build the systems we need to reach 25 million people by 2025.
  2. We supplied hundreds of health kits packed with protective gloves, masks, antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer to our partner millers, their staff and families, ensuring that our partner mills were able to continue serving their communities by fortifying their maize flour (a staple of the East African diet).
  3. We have entered into partnerships that have helped us explore new ways to reach the most food insecure people. Thanks to these partnerships we are about to enter into a period of rapid growth and are on track to reach 3 million people by the end of this year.



Caroline speaking at our virtual crowdfunding event

We have come face to face with the intensity of a global pandemic and the impacts it can have on people living in poverty. While all organizations have been forced to work remotely, our experience has been worsened by our initial belief that we had to enroll recipients at their households. We have had to rethink this model. We have had to be more innovative about how to reach recipients in need without visiting their homes. At GiveDirectly, we have launched an innovative approach we refer to as MobileAid that targets residents of poor communities using Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and satellite imagery. Given another opportunity to deliver cash in disaster or crisis situations, we are confident that we can deliver the transfers to the right people quickly and at an unprecedented scale and speed. Mobile money and other technological advancement in the mobile communication sub-sector provides us with an added advantage in implementing this model even among people who have been described as hardcore poor. 


Do you have any other message for those who attended and supported your work at the event?


The Fred Hollows Foundation is determined to deliver our vision for a world where no one is needlessly blind or vision impaired, adapting all of our work in more than 25 countries to the new world we live in. None of us can be certain about what the future holds, but we have ensured that we have kept patients and local partners safe, we have ensured the stability of The Foundation through the worst of the pandemic, and we have focused our efforts for the months ahead on getting services back to full capacity as quickly as possible. None of this would have been possible without the continued trust and support of our donors and for that we cannot thank you enough.



Thank you for believing in Sanku’s mission and for giving us strength during one of our most difficult periods.  With support like yours, we were able to protect our network of small mills and close to two million people continued to benefit from maize flour fortified with vital vitamins and minerals. We believe that fortifying food through small mills is essential for getting the right nutrition to those who most need it. We are excited about Sanku’s future and about bringing our sustainable, cost-effective solution to new countries and communities, where it will have a huge impact on so many lives. We are honoured to have you with us on this incredible journey.



We can only speak on behalf of our beneficiaries. They know better than us what this money did in their lives. If only we had an opportunity to bring all of you down here to connect with our recipients, you would all be overwhelmed by the outpouring gratitude in their hearts. Typically, we would consider $30 very little money and may wonder what it can do to a family in an informal settlement in Nairobi. The reality however, is that recipients have weathered the COVID storm in the period they received this money. Many bought food, others paid rent and we have seen many more who have started businesses. People migrated to rural villages because they had no income in the city. However, recipients of GiveDirectly transfer reported that they were able to stay on during the lockdown even with no jobs because they had a little money to cushion them in these hard times.

Photo Credit: The Fred Hollows Foundation 



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About the author:

Anam Vadgama

Executive Business Partner

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.