Growfunding: We support the small in the big city


Nearly a hundred citizens’ initiatives and a handful of start-ups have already sought funding through Growfunding. The Brussels crowdfunding platform with a social slant is organizing a two-day party and debate for its fifth birthday.

In the previous year – September 2016 up to and including June 2017 – the various campaigns on Growfunding together won no less than 400,000 euros. “We happened to have several initiatives that wanted to raise larger amounts, but usually the target amount is between 5,000 and 15,000 euros,” says Frederik Lamote. “Growfunding is there to support the small in the big city.”

Numerical growth is therefore not the first ambition of Growfunding. “When crowdfunding comes up, it’s mostly about the financial side, but for us that’s not the essence. We try to use crowdfunding to strengthen the urban fabric. Our projects are usually small-scale, but they can bring people together and build bridges in a segregated city. We show that things also work in Brussels and make people believe in the malleability of the city. This is called civic crowdfunding.”

Not Flemish enough

Outside Brussels, however, that message often falls on deaf ears. “We would like to expand our field of action further in Flanders, but if we apply for a subsidy, we usually catch the bone because we are not Flemish enough.”

No projects without a subsidy, and no projects without a subsidy. It appears to be particularly difficult to break that circle. “It sometimes seems that a spatial criterion is used, while it is still a community competence. Isn’t Brussels still the capital of Flanders? Other cities could learn a lot from it, because the social and other problems in the metropolis will occur elsewhere in a few years. This is the area where you can search for solutions. However, in Flanders there is little knowledge about the social and financial added value of civic crowdfunding.”

Meanwhile, Growfunding is working smoothly on the development of an international network of similar platforms with social impact from other cities. For example, colleagues from Amsterdam, London, Paris, Bologna and Barcelona, ​​but also Detroit and Montreal will visit Brussels this weekend. “It only took a few emails to convince them,” says Lamote. “That is the advantage of the international image of Brussels. The European Crowdfunding Network takes the opportunity to set up a working group with the various organizations. In this way we can speak with one voice and influence European policy and we may be eligible for the next subsidy round.”

The conference should, however, primarily be the reason to think critically about the role and future of civic crowdfunding. “It’s about the impact we can have on the city, but also how we can continue to innovate to give people access to finance and the opportunity to build a network. The vast majority of the money raised today comes from citizens. That is not obvious. Should governments and companies no longer contribute?”

For Growfunding, their platform should not become an alternative to subsidies, rather a supplement. “Our flexibility allows us to give opportunities to people and organizations who are not ready to go to the government, who do not have the right legal personality or do not fit into the top-down subsidy categories. In addition, it remains a role for the government to provide professional organizations with more structural support.”

Companies could also play a greater role. “They could, for example, impose a number of euros on every euro collected. We can guarantee companies great social added value, with visibility on our busy website. They can get access to networks and places in the city.”

Sponsoring companies must follow the philosophy of civic crowdfunding: the goal is not financing, but social impact. “For most initiatives it is difficult to gain access to companies. We dream of setting up a fund with companies in Brussels that automatically increase each contribution by 20 or 30 percent. Nothing more, otherwise it becomes too easy and you invest less in a network, while that is just an important objective, to have a project go through or to inspire new initiatives. In this way we strengthen the self-organizing capacity of the city.“