Tuesday, April 26, 2016

McMaster grad has raised $113,300 for Ecuador earthquake relief Eileen Knowles IndieGogo campaign had a modest goal of $8,000. The goal is now $500,000

Eileen Knowles was sitting comfortably in her house in Ecuador on the night of April 16, when she felt the ground shake.
It was an earthquake. A big one. She started hearing news about people dying near the epicentre. In panic, she called her friend who lives very close to the epicentre. Hours went by, but her friend was okay.
The earthquake was the worst to hit Ecuador in nearly seven decades. As of Saturday, on the country's ravaged Pacific coast, 654 people were killed. In addition, another 16,600 people were injured and close to 7,000 buildings were destroyed, while more than 25,000 people a living in shelters.
'We want to ensure that the people are getting the funds in the best possible way.'- Eileen Knowles
Knowles was in shock but knew she had to do something. And her training at McMaster University would come in handy. She started an IndieGogo fundraising campaign. It had a modest goal, just $8,000 USD. It passed that target before the day was done. As of Monday, more than $113,000 had been pledged. There's a new goal now — $500,000. 
Knowles was born in Ecuador but moved to Toronto when she was 15. She has recently returned to her birth country to work in the non-profit sector as the Country Director for Global Citizen Year. CBC Hamilton spoke with her about the campaign, how the money will be used and how this became possible because of McMaster University. 

Q: What made you start this campaign?

I saw the impact of the earthquake the morning after and my friend suggested to me, 'Hey why don't we start a crowd funding campaign?' and I agreed. I don't have any experience in crowd funding but I wanted to try it out and see what happens. Randomly, we started with an $8,000 goal on IndieGogo and by just the end of the day, we had over $20,000. 
We did not walk into this with any kind of strategy or high ambitions. We just thought this was an opportunity to get a little extra money for the people who might need it. It was the overwhelming response, that we got from our friends and networks initially, and then the public at large that made us want to take this more seriously. 

How will this money help?

We are giving the money to Red Cross in Ecuador as they have the expertise and the macro vision of what's going on and what the needs are, but we are making sure that the we have visibility in terms of what the needs are and how the money is being spent. 

What was your reaction when the campaign raised 14 times more money than you had asked for?

Through this campaign, I have realized the generosity and the care people have for the people in Ecuador. There has been overwhelming response from China, Canada and all over the world and I am very grateful for that. But of course, with this comes a great amount of responsibility and accountability in terms of money. We want to ensure that the people are getting the funds in the best possible way. 

Is the money still coming in and what is your next goal?

Yes, we are going to be fundraising for the next 30 days. Now we have a team, we have a strategy, so this is just the beginning. We have now reached out to many more people and organizations like UN Charter and global communities and we are using their network to help us. Many media channels like the Huffington Post are also pitching in by featuring this campaign on their website. 

How did your time at McMaster University influence your work?

My social entrepreneurship and international development career took off early on due to the work I started at McMaster. I graduated in 2007 with a Political Science degree. I became interested in social justice at McMaster, following a trip to India during my 1st year there. The next year I founded SEED Canada, also with McMaster students, a scholarship program for students in Zambia and Kenya.
I also co-chaired the Global Citizenship Conference at Mac, which still exists. My time at Mac marked my commitment to social justice which has been a central pillar in my life. 

How are the conditions in Ecuador right now?

The earthquakes haven't stopped.  We are really worried because the risk is still there. I have my earthquake backpack ready. Even after 72 hours of the earthquake, they were finding people alive, which is incredible. It feels like we are in a war. People are very affected. 
But, it's very touching to see that everyone in Ecuador is involved in relief efforts. It's challenging but I think people are finding the strength and doing what they can to help the affected. 

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