Geek Speak: Mishon Sutherland, cofounder of FundWeaver

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Mishon Sutherland is all about “breaking down barriers”. Born in Chilliwack, Sutherland is the 25-year-old cofounder and community manager of Vancouver’s FundWeaver.

Launched on January 17, FundWeaver is the first crowd-funding website dedicated to projects of aboriginal—First Nations, Métis, and Inuit—people in Canada. According to Sutherland, they’re hoping to expand the platform to the United States in the future.

So far, one project has used FundWeaver to crowdsource funding. Filmmaker Angela O’Leary raised $780 from 15 people for the production of A National Crime, a documentary examining Canada’s treatment of indigenous people in the context of the United Nations’ definition of genocide. Her goal was $10,000.

FundWeaver takes a four-percent commission from the cash raised by fully funded projects, and six percent for partially funded projects. There’s no commission on any funds contributed above a project’s goal. Projects can raise funds for up to 88 days on the site.

The Georgia Straight reached Sutherland by phone in North Vancouver.

Where did you get the idea for FundWeaver?

FundWeaver came from a personal experience of mine. I was on INAC’s [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s] aboriginal portal, their funding tool. Myself, along with millions of other people, has spent many hours going through paper applications, sending them in, waiting for a response, and there hasn’t been another way. There hasn’t been another way. Leveraging the Net, social media, it just seemed like a logical choice.

My partner, Colin Lyons, he attended school in Barcelona and spent six months in São Paulo, Brazil. His roommate was the founder of Catarse.me, which is the biggest crowd-funding website in Brazil, and that’s where the idea came from. Catarse.me is a great website. A lot of great projects are going through there. It’s funding by the people for the people.

How would projects benefit from looking for cash on a specifically aboriginal platform?

Crowd-funding online is a great tool. With social media, a project is able to reach friends, friends of friends, and their friends, and quite quickly a person is able to get the nucleus of their venture, their project out to a wider audience.

In aboriginal communities, social capital is definitely something that goes back a long way. These networks and these degrees of separation that are between each of us, they’re so close that word of mouth—we call it the moccasin telegraph, where my family’s from—news spreads like wildfire. If one community member, two, three are working on these great projects, it’s just a great way to get more attention spotlighted on these projects. Of course, people want to become a part of something much bigger than themselves, and contributing to each other’s success—there’s no better way.

What kinds of projects do you think would benefit from seeking funding on FundWeaver?

There are no restrictions. There are no boxes. We are not trying to pigeonhole the types of projects that do come through the site—all types. If you are photographer; if you are a carver who’s looking for funds for materials; if you’re looking to, as in Angela O’Leary’s case, for funds to edit a documentary film; if you’re a painter—these are the sorts of professions, as of late, we’ve been receiving emails from.

We have youth councils from across the country emailing us, trying to figure out exactly who we are and what we can offer them. We’ve had women’s groups approach us. I’ve even heard mentions of crowd-funding in terms of looking for funds to create a film about various treaty negotiations that are going on. We’ve had representatives that are part of the movement against Enbridge. There really is no end. We just want to be a resource, another avenue to raise funds.

Any tips for people thinking of using your platform?

Absolutely. The biggest thing across the board, if you’re looking to crowd-fund, is to make a really great video. Get creative. You want to really touch the public. You want to engage them. You want to pique their interest. You want to encourage them to hit that “contribute” button.

We have a minimum of $20 that you can contribute. You can contribute up to $1,000. It really just depends. A great video—that’s the key. It begins there. Once the video is launched, that’s when the interesting work begins, because we want our project creators to be engaging not only their local communities but their online communities as well to really get your community behind the momentum that you’re building around your projects.

Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? You can tell Stephen Hui on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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