Crowdfunding Medical Treatment for People in Need

Chase Adam

Chase Adam is being honored as a Champion of Change for his accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

I was sitting in the back of a bus in a small village in Costa Rica called Watsi. A woman in tattered clothing was standing in the aisle in front. She was holding a red folder and speaking to the passengers near her. I thought she must be selling stickers or skin creams.

A few minutes later I looked up and found she was making her way down the aisle toward me. She was holding a plastic bag, and although she had only passed a few passengers, the bag was bursting with money. I couldn’t believe it. In my year and a half in the Peace Corps, I had never seen a bus salesperson earn so much.

When she reached me, I still had no idea what she was selling. Then the man next to me asked to see the red folder she was holding.

The instant she opened the folder, everything came together. There was a photograph on one side and a document on the other. The photograph showed a young boy with an incision across the width of his stomach. The document described his medical condition. The young boy was her son.

In that moment I had what can only be described as an epiphany. If I could somehow connect this woman with my friends and family back home, she would have the money to pay for her son’s medical treatment within the day.

As a result of that experience on the bus, I decided to create a global crowdfunding platform for healthcare called Watsi, named after the town I was traveling through at the time. On Watsi, anyone would be able to donate as little as $5 to directly fund low-cost, high-impact medical care for people in need.

After a year and a half of working on Watsi, our team launched the platform to the public in August of 2012. Within hours of launching, an online technology forum called Hacker News had driven more than 15,000 people to our site. All of the patients posted on our site had their medical treatments funded within hours, and we received hundreds of emails from people around the world who were interested in what we were doing.

Since the day of the launch, Watsi has grown quickly. We’ve been featured in the media by outlets like the New York Times, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal; we’ve entered and won numerous social innovation competitions; and most recently, we were the first non-profit to be accepted into Y Combinator, a prestigious investment program in Silicon Valley that has incubated some of the fastest-growing internet companies of all time. We have also managed to raise some operating capital, and we are now three full time staff living and working in the Bay Area—just a stone’s throw away from the offices of technology giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple.

We are both humbled and surprised by the amount of support we have received. But without a doubt our greatest success so far is having told the stories of the first four hundred patients who have had their medical treatments funded on Watsi.

We believe that technology is fundamentally changing the face of international development. Aid is no longer an anonymous exchange of resources between two unknown groups of people. Instead, technology is making it easier than ever to bring people together. And by connecting people in a meaningful way, we think it is possible to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Chase Adam is Co-Founder of Watsi.

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