Written by: Yazad Darasha, Media ME
"You can make a living serving humanity and serving God," Christopher Blauvelt, founder and CEO of crowdfunding platform LaunchGood, said in a multimedia presentation to more than 300 people at the Ethical Finance Innovation Challenge and Awards (EFICA) event on Wednesday.
It was clearly a message that resonated, because 46 per cent of his audience hit button 3 on their voting fobs, awarding him the $100,000 prize.
The EFICA, currently in its fourth edition, is an initiative by the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and Thomson Reuters to recognise innovation that promotes ethics in global financial services.
LaunchGood was a finalist for the award alongside Ethis, a company that operates multiple crowdfunding platforms oriented towards social uplift, and the Islamic Finance Institute of Southern Africa (IFISA), which operates a cooperative model in Indonesia that empowers villagers by making them profit-sharers in the development of their communities.
Blauvelt, who converted to Islam in 2001, was stunned just three months later by 9/11, a seminal moment in the lives of his fellow Americans, forcing him to wonder if he had made the right choice, he said. The horrifying event forced him to delve deeper into his new faith and sent him on “a journey of discovery.”
"Nine-eleven is not Islam," Blauvelt said. "Islam is centuries of inventions, innovations and discoveries." He decided that he would dedicate his life to bringing modern Muslim achievements as well as its struggles to the notice of the world.
When he set out to make a movie about inner-city youth and their challenges (which would eventually be released as Bilal’s Stand), he found that he could not raise enough on the world’s most prominent crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. This prompted him to create LaunchGood, intended as a platform for Muslim donations.
But LaunchGood isn’t just a technology platform. It uses trained coaches who provide the tools and the training to people who want to raise funds for charitable causes and community initiatives, thus ensuring that fundraising campaigns have a greater degree of success.
The audience at the EFICA roared its approval when Blauvelt presented a case study of Emirati Amna Al Haddad, who overcame a back injury to win several medals for the UAE as the first hijabi weightlifter. Al Haddad was trying in vain to raise funds for medical treatment when LaunchGood took up her appeal. The campaign’s success finally helped her reach the qualifiers at the Rio Olympics.
"We don’t want to be merely fundraisers," said Blauvelt. "We aim to create an entire ecosystem that helps Muslims realise their dreams and passions. We see ourselves as a community. We believe that Muslims have some incredible values to share with the world and we want to get them out [there]. This is the opportunity for us as Muslim entrepreneurs to create businesses that don’t just make money but push society to be their best selves."
The vision has resulted in LaunchGood going from raising $75,000 in 2013, its first year of operations, to $12 million today. It has more than 60,000 donors from 71 countries and has completed over 1,200 fundraising campaigns.
"Today, we have people like Trump, who want to vilify us and isolate us, saying Muslims are a problem. I want to show the world that Muslims are the solution. We can change our communities and the world forever," Blauvelt said.