Using tech to rebuild a hospital: the story of Dr. Rola Hallam

The People's Convoy campaign was in charge of rebuilding a children's hospital. (Image via CanDo)

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Many people hope to change the world but very few actually do.

Rola Hallam is a British-Syrian doctor. She studied Medicine in 1997 at the University of London. In 2012, she became the medical director of Hand in Hand for Syria, a non-governmental organization in the UK that provides healthcare assistance to areas in conflict.

What Hallam realized being involved on the ground helping refugees is that people who donate money to others in need often aren’t able to track where is their money going to.

“Many people want to contribute and want to know where their money is going to and how much is arriving. They want to feel connected to [whom] they're donating to,” Hallam told Wamda. “Current NGOs don’t do it all. They haven’t caught up with tech and global connectivity. There’s a need to be open and transparent.”

CanDo was her answer.

Rola Hallam sharing her story during the Women in the World Summit in 2017. (Image via CanDo)

In 2016, Hallam launched CanDo, a crowdfunding platform for charity causes. The platform helps donors support a cause they are fond of enables them to know exactly where their money is going. While it is still in its beta version, the platform hosted four campaigns so far.  

The People’s Convoy was a crowdfunding project launched by CanDo, Doctors Under Fire, The Phoenix Foundation and the Syria Campaign.  Its goal was to help rebuild the Hope hospital for children in Syria.

The campaign had 4,800 supporters. The money raised will help the Independent Doctors Association rebuild the facility.

Their other campaigns had over 290 supporters and were spread around 15 countries, Hallam said.

When a campaign succeeds in raising the targeted amount, the money gets directly transferred to the local partner through a bank, then the partner gives it to the charity or the organization in need.

While CanDo is specifically dedicated to one country, there are other humanitarian crowdfunding platforms that are doing good in other parts of the world. Smile To The Future was launched in 2013 and is based in the Netherlands and Belgium. It features projects in Africa and Asia; Start Some Good covers different types of causes including crises, environment, health , youth rights and others. And these are just a few.

The pre-opening day of Hope hospital in April 2017. (Image via CanDo)

The fact that she was not alone, and that she was involved on the ground, were two among various other factors that helped Hallam build her humanitarian crowdfunding platform.

Working through others

Hallam admitted none of what she achieved would have worked if she wasn’t heavily involved on the ground, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis. “I know the organizations [and] the context. That experience contributes and helps at the partner and campaign level.”

Through CanDo’s local humanitarian partners, which include Independent Doctors Association, Insan, and Hurras among others, she was able to conduct a proper due diligence on the charities and organizations that want to raise money through CanDo.

The local partners were also in charge of assessing the campaigns, setting the criteria required to run them on the platform and approving them. “We assess partners, then partners run a campaign. Sort of like an equity platform. Not anyone can launch a campaign,” she explained. “We mention the criteria we use before we accept partners,” she added.

Identifying the potential audience

Another factor that contributed to the success of her platform was following a human-centered design approach, as she described it, to discover who are the customers she might potentially cater to. “Do customers discovery and interviews so you can design your solutions jointly with those you want to benefit.”

Doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t

The entrepreneur noticed that in the first couple of weeks, the website was having a huge dropoff on the landing page. When they reached out to their beta testers, they noticed that people had to scroll down a lot to understand what the campaign is about. “Since then, we changed the configuration of the campaign and made it better designed and easier to comprehend. Be agile otherwise you are at risk of staying at a losing track.”

Learning from others’ mistakes

Hallam told Wamda that people in the humanitarian field are willing to open up and share their mistakes, as they are working for a common goal.

“People in war zones areas are doing amazing things but you don’t know about their work, so this is an opportunity to do so, get to know them, and support them.”

CanDo is currently looking for more strategic partners to help them spread the word. The team will continue to focus on Syria until 2020, then expand their support to refugee-hosting countries and other countries in conflict. One of their main challenges remain training people on the technical side of launching a campaign and preparing and uploading a video.

“This is why many NGOs shy away from capacity building because it’s hard work, but it’s integral for future growth and peace. But it’s definitely a challenge.”

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