Alan Clements begins the story of his new crowdfunding platform more than 30 years ago, when the Internet as we know it today was just beginning to take shape.
“It all came from my initial entry into Burma in ’79,” he recalled. “It was born from the inspiration of seeing perfect strangers offer food, lodging, medicines, and essentially giving me everything I needed, eventually, as a monk.”
It’s a long story, conceded the Buddhist and long-time campaigner for human rights in Burma (also known as Myanmar). But, Clements said, it’s finally culminating in the launch of a free service that’s going to challenge for-profit crowdfunding giants like Kickstarter and Indigogo.
“When I went underground into the country and met with Aung San Suu Kyi and later out into the killing fields of northern Burma, I saw people who were giving their lives and giving their last morsels of food to friends and perfect strangers like me,” he continued. “That’s how we came up with a crowdfunding platform that is driven exclusively by the concept of dāna. It all came down to what she [Suu Kyi] told me was the essence of spiritual revolution, which is the courage to care.”
A long time coming, Dana.io is scheduled to launch on May 14, the birthday of Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha.
Clements explained dāna as "'the practice of generosity", and "io" as inflow and outlfow. "Thus the name," he said.
Scott Nelson, Dana.io’s cofounder alongside Clements and the company’s chief technology officer, told the Straight a more concise version of the tech start-up’s origins.
Clements had encountered a number of challenges with a crowdfunding campaign related to a book he was working on, Nelson began. Every time the word “Burma” came up—which was often, as the project was about Burma—Indigogo, PayPal, or both, would shut the campaign down.
“They have it on a government list of countries you’re not supposed to do business with,” Nelson explained.
The biggest and most reputable crowdfunding platforms also carry fees that are not inconsiderable, Nelson added, especially considering that many of the projects using donation-based funding models are labours of love and operating on a shoestring.
Kickstarter charges fundraisers five percent of total money raised plus three percent per pledge in payment processing fees, according to its website. Indigogo charges four percent or nine percent of total money raised (depending on the plan selected), a three-percent processing fee per pledge, plus a $25 wire fee on each donation made to a campaign based outside the United States.
Nelson said it all left Clements searching for a better way to crowdfund. “And then I think Alan said he put in the search term, ‘number one Buddhist developer’, and Google served me up,” he added with a laugh.
A couple of characteristics make Dana.io fairly unique among crowdfunding platforms, Clements noted.
The first is obviously Dana.io’s biggest draw: it doesn’t cost anything, if nothing is what fundraisers decide they want to pay.
“It’s really built on the pay-it-forward model,” Clements said. “We want to lower the threshold completely as much as possible for people, artists, authors, activists worldwide, to believe in their dream.”
Users will be encouraged to “gift” up to 15 percent of the contributions they receive to keep the site running and to fund future projects launched there. But Dana.io can be used for free.
The site is also notable for accepting Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency that’s quickly growing in popularity as a means of online financial transaction.
According to Nelson, Dana.io might be the first crowdfunding platform in the world that accepts both fiat currencies (money backed by a government) and cryptocurrencies (which utilize decentralized exchange systems).
Clements listed a number of projects he’s excited about that are scheduled to begin fundraising campaigns alongside Dana.io’s launch on May 14.
They range from a movement for a GMO-free world, to a law project for Lakota Indian peoples, to support services for whistleblowers of the Hanford Nuclear Facility in Washington.
There are also a number of Vancouver-based campaigns ready to go. They cover such issues as urban farming, skills training for recovering addicts, and a new hot yoga centre for Chinatown.
“Anyone who has an interest in cowdfunding based upon this dāna principal, go to our site, Dana.io, and we’ll get right back to you,” Clements said.