In September 2014, several reports explored the difficulty that fundraisers were having as they struggled to raise money for the fight against ebola. A number of factors – from the seeming remoteness of the disease in Africa, to the expectation for the government to simply deal with these sort of issues – left people in a state of passivity, while the disease continued to ravage cities in West Africa and NGOs battling the disease were left with increasingly steep bills.
Then there were scares at home. Here in the United States, a couple of cases brought the reality of the disease to the attention of the nation’s news media. A man in Dallas, having travelled to Liberia, passed away from the disease in a Texas hospital. A New York doctor contracted the disease while working abroad and caused a stir by having a night out on the town shortly before the symptoms appeared (the disease only being contagious, of course, once a carrier is symptomatic).
But as time went on and no new cases popped up, the fear dissipated – and so did the media attention.
While the disease still threatens many communities in West Africa, the situation has certainly improved. In conjunction with the brave work of many NGOs – as well as government personnel from a score of nations, including the United States and Cuba – donors finally broke the dry spell last fall by opening their wallets. Beginning with high profile philanthropists from the tech sector, the flush of fundraising and government-vowed assistance at least partially ameliorated the peak level of carnage wrought by the virus. Now, Mali is ebola-free, and Liberia and Guinea are moving to reopen schools in the coming months.
Bill Gates began the big donor trend in September 2014, when he committed $50 million to fight ebola. He donated another $5.7 million in November. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife followed suit, pledging $25 million to the cause last October.
Facebook went on to initiate a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for ebola. Big tech is also providing logistical support for the effort, as recent news out of the Davos summit reveal that a collaboration of companies including NetHope, Facebook, Cisco, and Inveneo will work to provide reliable internet connectivity to support NGO work in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.
Compared to fall 2014, there also appears to be a significant increase in bottom-up fundraising: a Liberian student at Eastern Mennonite University is teaming up with Nobel Peace laureate Leymah Gbowee to raise money; organizers in Winnipeg are putting together a concert to benefit children orphaned by the disease; to date, the crowdfunding site GlobalGiving has helped raise $3 million for 29 community organizations on the frontline of the fight against ebola.
The path to eradicating this horrible virus is still long and difficult, but global efforts that arose from the uproar over the initially weak and non-unified response to the disaster appear to be making a very tangible impact.