Microsoft is proud to be launching our third year of Civic Tech focus at MassChallenge with the Civic Tech Scholarship. The scholarship recognizes 5 startups as they enter the MassChallenge accelerator with a cash grant to help them grow their businesses. Microsoft’s Civic Tech Scholarship aims to identify startups helping elected officials deliver improved services to citizens, increasing communication with residents and enhancing government effectiveness. The ultimate goal is to identify solutions that foster citizen engagement and transparency between government and constituents. This blog post highlights the work of one of the 2016 Civic Tech scholarship recipients.
— Aimee Sprung
For many of us, donating is the most socially conscious way to offload the things we no longer need. You don’t want to throw away that perfectly good sweater you never really loved, or the baby toys your toddler doesn’t play with anymore. The best thing would be to give them away… right?
The answer is a little more complicated. Most people think that by donating items they are gifting them to someone in need. The reality is that the majority of what we donate is ultimately resold for profit. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that only 20% of donated clothing items end up in thrift stores. The remaining 80% is sold to wholesalers who then resell them largely in underdeveloped countries at marked up prices, or into industrial processing streams.
The used goods trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, based almost entirely on our charitable donations.
This unfortunately isn’t great news for developing economies. As countries in regions like Africa and Central America are flooded with used clothing from the US and Europe, their native textile industries are unable to keep up. It’s a cycle that puts manufacturers, factory workers, and even skilled laborers like tailors, out of work. It’s gotten bad enough that many African countries are banning imports of secondhand goods outright.
Even considering the clothing and household items that are sold in thrift stores, our donations are generally not getting to the individuals and families in our community with the most urgent needs. Large donation and thrift centers in the US are not in the business of outfitting or equipping the needy. Rather, the sale of our donated items finances their operations (often worthy programs like employment for the disabled, but in some cases shady operations which barely qualify as non-profit). The result is that our stuff rarely makes its way to people living in shelters, to single mothers struggling far below the poverty line, or to teenagers living on the streets: namely, people for whom even thrift store prices are out of reach.
Donii is a social enterprise whose mission is to get the stuff you donate directly to the people in your community who need it most. Donii works with local charities like homeless shelters and youth welfare programs so that, through them, you can give to people with critical material needs. Simply tell Donii what you want to give, and select from a list of local human service organizations that need it. Donii picks up the donation for you, and you get a personal note telling you how it will be used and a tax receipt when the charity receives it. Each organization on the Donii platform gives the items they take in directly to a person or family in their programs.
Boston’s most socially innovative companies, like Microsoft New England, are partnering with Donii to empower their employees to give better. Rather than waiting for the perfect time to drop your stuff off at a donation center, bring them to work with you… you’re going there anyway! Donii will pick up and deliver for you, giving you the confidence that your items are being put to their best possible reuse.
Donii partners with companies looking for creative and effective ways to engage employees in a year round social impact effort. Companies get ongoing impact metrics and dynamic stories about how their donations have helped people in their community. They build meaningful connections with nonprofit organizations throughout the city. And they join a growing list of companies dedicated to having a positive impact in Boston, putting them visibly at the vanguard of local poverty alleviation.
Residents of Greater Boston donate millions of items a year. If every donation were matched to a person in need, we could wipe out material need as effectively as food banks and soup kitchens have minimized hunger. Isn’t it time to start giving better?