JAKARTA: When COVID-19 hit Indonesia in March last year, graphic designer Lody Andrian could not help but feel sorry for his friends affected by the subsequent lockdown.
Andrian, who is also a singer-songwriter for a heavy metal band, saw how some of his friends who work in the music industry – from musicians to roadies and sound engineers – lost their income entirely as bars and venues were shut.
Then there were other friends who worked at hotels, restaurants and cafes, all forced to take unpaid leave as employers struggled to pay their salaries.
Meanwhile, he realised that he had more disposable income. “Because everyone was working from home, people don’t spend much on clothes, transport, entertainment and dining out,” Andrian told CNA.
“It was enough to make me think: what can I do to help those who were affected?”
Andrian, a bespectacled 29-year-old with long flowing hair, soon contacted a computer programmer he knew from work. They went on to design and build Bagirata, a peer-to-peer crowdfunding and wealth redistribution website.
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He recruited two friends who had recently lost their jobs. One served as the social media coordinator while the other was responsible for verifying potential recipients.
Bagirata – which means “distribute equally" in Bahasa Indonesia – was launched in mid-April 2020. It has now raised and distributed more than US$37,000 to nearly 1,500 people ranging from restaurant workers, taxi drivers, school cafeteria vendors to soap opera extras and tattoo artists.
HOW IT WORKS
Andrian said after he had the initial idea to build a platform, it only took his team one week to design and build the website.
“The goal was to have the platform ready as fast as possible. I don’t need it to be fancy and overly complicated. I decided to make something simple, using simple technology but gets the job done effectively,” he said.
To do this, the team used open-sourced templates, forms and spreadsheets. “It allows us not to build everything from scratch. The only thing we built was an algorithm to randomise potential recipients,” he said.
The result is a sleek, mobile-friendly website containing nothing more than black text on top of a white background without any visually enticing graphic or fancy interface.
Bagirata’s homepage comprises brief information on what the social venture is all about. It then provides an option for signing up as a donor or recipient.
Applicants are told to fill out a form detailing how they are affected by the pandemic and why people should donate money to them.
“We then verify their story and see if they meet our criteria. We don’t accept business owners even though they too are affected by the pandemic. This website is for small vendors and workers who cannot afford disruption in their cashflow. Not business owners with a lot of savings,” he said.
Meanwhile, donors are given the profiles of 10 randomly generated potential recipients and their stories. Donors can also check the recipients’ social media accounts to see if they are who they claim to be. This helps to gauge if they really need the money
“If donors feel they can relate to a recipient’s story, they can donate money directly to their personal account. We don’t keep or manage any money ourselves,” Andrian said.
Conversely, if donors do not feel that they can relate to any of the 10 recipients’ stories, Bagirata will randomly generate 10 more profiles for their consideration.
“Through our randomiser algorithm, we prioritise people who have not received anything so we can help as many people as we can,” he said.
Donors can give any amount of money to as many people as they want. “We have had people donating 7,000 rupiah (US$0.50) to 3.5 million rupiah (US$250),” Andrian said.
EMPATHY TOWARDS OTHERS
Andrian said he had always been sympathetic towards those who are less fortunate.
Although he had never participated in any social venture or movement until he started Bagirata, he feels very strongly about the issues of community empowerment, poverty eradication and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.
The middle child of three grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood in the Jakarta suburbs of Bekasi. His housing complex used to be surrounded by impoverished kampongs and overcrowded shantytowns.
“I used to hang out with the kampong kids. I used to play soccer with them. But as my housing complex grew, they got pushed out and their homes were levelled to make way for big houses and shops. Suddenly, my friends were gone,” he said.
“I guess that’s where my empathy towards other people’s plight come from.”
This empathy is reflected in the metal music he writes. The lyrics are mostly social commentary. He is also particular about the type of projects and clients he chooses in his professional life as a freelance graphic design consultant.
“I gravitate towards projects with positive social impacts,” he said.
SUSTAINING THE PROCESS
Early on, Andrian realised that the recipients’ success in crowdfunding their needs depended largely on their ability to write compelling stories.
“Not everyone has that flair to convey their message and appeal to potential donors,” he said.
In this regard, he has been engaging visual artists to create illustrations and short animations for Bagirata's Instagram account. Each post features stories of different recipients’ plight and a link to their Bagirata profile.
“We prioritised (the stories) from those who at the time had not received any donations yet. And the campaign was quite successful. It inspired people to donate because in some situations, their predicament was better conveyed visually instead of words,” he said.
Although the tactic works for one-time donors, getting people to regularly donate their money to strangers has been challenging.
“It’s hard to convince people to donate in the first place, let alone get people to do it regularly. We have had many people who wanted to help as a one-off gesture. Getting people to continue donating requires us to keep twisting our brains,” Andrian said.
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Bagirata is now approaching businesses, convincing them to donate a fraction of their profit to the cause. “We have managed to get a few small businesses on board but we still need many more,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of applicants continues to grow as the pandemic drags on. There is a backlog of around 2,000 applicants who have passed the verification process but are still waiting to be featured by the service.
“We have to be mindful of our supply and demand. That’s why we are thinking of taking some of our early recipients off our list in order to squeeze in others,” he said.
Although Bagirata has been around for nine months, Andrian said he did not plan for the platform to last this long.
“In the beginning, I thought Bagirata would only be needed for three months as a financial cushion before everything returns to normal, companies start rehiring and people get their jobs back. But I was wrong,” he said.
“I hope one day we can close our service but from the looks of it, that won’t happen very soon.”
Read this story in Bahasa Indonesia here.