Irfan Bashir Shah from Lolab area of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district has written his debut book on crowd funding. While talking to STATE TIMES Irfan shared his experience and motivation behind writing Crowdfunding.Tell us about your background?I was born in Lolab valley of Kupwara District. A few years after my birth, my family moved to Srinagar, where I was enrolled in Burn Hall School, where I studied till 10th grade, following which I secured admission in Delhi Public School, Srinagar. After completing high school in 2013, I took the year off and opted for a few internships. The year I took off made me realize my love for writing. I interned for Kashmir Scan News magazine. The assignments and stories I covered there helped me familiarize myself with the ground realities of Kashmir. I interviewed notable personalities, including the director tourism, director social welfare, and director radio Kashmir.In the same year, I applied abroad to the University of Rochester, where I got a full scholarship covering my tuition, travel, food, and rent. At the University of Rochester, I pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Financial Economics under the program name ‘Quantitative Economics and Econometric Analysis’.At the University of Rochester, I served as a member of the Debate Union. I competed in universities like Cornell University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, University of Vermont, and Yale University. Besides being a debater, I also served as a judge for a debate tournament at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.After graduating from the University of Rochester, I returned to Kashmir and decided to travel for a few weeks to learn more about Indian culture. In May 2020, I got a job at Ketto, one of South Asia’s largest crowdfunding companies as an Executive for Content and Strategy. Within three months of joining, I received the ‘Rising Star’ of the company award for my efforts and dedication.Tell us about your book ‘Crowdfunding: The Story of People’. What is it about?The book explores the world of crowdfunding. In technical terms, crowdfunding is the idea of crowdsourcing applied to financing projects (fundraising). It’s a method used for raising capital for projects by soliciting contributions, usually in small amounts, from a large number of people. Crowdfunding today is mostly done online with the help of social media networks and dedicated crowdfunding platforms (websites). Primarily, crowdfunding is an approach of raising money from several individuals for specific causes, charities, events, community-led activities, projects, or businesses.‘Crowdfunding: The Story of People’ uses a data-driven storytelling approach to capture the impact and potential of crowdfunding in a world governed by inequality. It does so while maintaining a constant grip on both the micro and macro perspectives of collective giving, social collaboration, and financial inclusion. The book is about finding strength in numbers, the belief that change is driven by the collective determination of people.All of us have a unique way of deriving meaning from the stories around us. We all share an inherent tendency to look at something small and connect it with larger patterns. It is how we make sense of our world: through connections, patterns, and shared interpretations. The world of crowdfunding is full of heartwarming and gut-wrenching anecdotes. However, on their own, the stories can only capture a fragment of this world. That’s why this book takes an approach of data-driven storytelling to connect the smaller pixels with the larger picture of the crowdfunding universe. The book’s main aim is to highlight the social potential of crowdfunding as an alternative financial instrument.Why did you choose crowdfunding as a topic to write your first book?History bears witness to the tremendous power of the crowd when it converges behind a common cause. People’s combined actions have built entire civilizations and countries; started revolutions and civil rights movements; created world maps, satellites, and artificial intelligence. It is the collective power of the crowd that has, for the most part, guided the fate of humanity. Crowdfunding, by its nature, taps into the vast financial and social potential of the crowd. I have envisioned crowdfunding as a tool that democratizes finance and empowers people.While working for Ketto, I had the opportunity to interact with people from all walks people. I was inspired to learn about the stories of people who used the power of crowdfunding to make a positive impact in their communities. As such, I became curious and wanted to learn more about online crowdfunding. To my surprise, I couldn’t find a single book from India that covered the social impact of online crowdfunding. While there is significant research on crowdfunding in countries like the US and UK, research in India about the subject was scant. That is when the idea for the book was born.Tell us about your co-author and how you guys decided to write a book together.My colleague and co-author, Ravina Banze, has completed her Master’s in Data Analytics from the Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy. Ravina has over three years of work experience in the development sector with expertise in Data Collection Methods, Quantitative & Qualitative Research. She was working as an analyst at Ketto, and I was impressed by her quantitative skills. When I asked her if she would be interested in working together on the book, she immediately agreed, and so we began laying the groundwork for the book. With our combined skills and experience, we knew that we would be able to finish the book and to justice to the topic at hand. To write the book, we analyzed hundreds of research papers, consulted with industry experts, scanned through countless newspaper articles, talked to NGOs and crowdfunding platforms, read dozens of books, and crunched a lot of data. We contacted both national and international crowdfunding platforms to get data and quotes from them. Overall, it took three months of research and planning and eight months of writing and data analysis to bring the book to life.How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your plans for writing the book?When the Covid-19 pandemic engulfed the entire country, I decided to return back to Kashmir. The time at home allowed me to invest more time in the book. Emotionally, it was a roller-coaster ride, seeing so many unfortunate deaths due to the coronavirus. Interestingly, while most of the industries were adversely affected due to the pandemic, crowdfunding was one industry that saw an increase in revenue volumes. Some companies witnessed as much as a 4x increase in revenue and donation volumes during the pandemic. This shows our collective capacity to empathize with those in distress. I think humanitarian disasters have a tendency to unite us and, in many cases, bring the best out of humanity.Our book has thoroughly covered the role of crowdfunding during the pandemic through robust data and heartfelt stories.What challenges did you face while writing the book?The research on crowdfunding in India is scant, given that it is a new arrival. As such, collecting data and assessing the impact of the industry was a challenge. Thankfully, we received a lot of support from the top crowdfunding platforms of South Asia. All of them were kind enough to share their data and resources to help us write this book. I think they also recognized the need for a book on the impact and potential of crowdfunding in India. The other major challenge was to write the book in a way that it would have a global appeal. We had to create a narrative that covered crowdfunding from a global perspective. Thankfully, we were able to do so after analyzing hundreds of research papers and crunching lots of data.While you wrote the book, there was a blanket ban on 4g in J&K. Did it create any problems?The reduced internet speed was perhaps the biggest challenge I faced personally. One of the major problems was mobility. Then again, it was a collective struggle that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been facing. I only hope that high-speed internet is restored across the entirety of J&K. Access to the internet in today’s world is as important as access to other basic necessities.What response has your book received so far?The book was released on December 25th, 2020, in India and the US. Within just a few weeks, it has garnered a lot of attention. We have received positive reviews from almost all the industry leaders, including the founders of India’s biggest crowdfunding platforms like Ketto, Milaap, Fuel A Dream, and Our Democracy. The book’s foreword has been written by Varun Sheth, the CEO of Ketto, who has been featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, Fortune 40 under 40 list, and ET’s 40 under 40 list of entrepreneurs. The public response, too, has been tremendous, and we are still in just phase one where we are relying on word of mouth publicity. As we begin phase two and focus on social media outreach and digital marketing campaigns, we are hopeful we can reach a broader audience and raise awareness about crowdfunding in the general public. We also plan to send the book to major universities and libraries across the world in phase three of our outreach plan.What are your future plans?In the future, I hope to connect with people through stories that capture the essence of being human in a profoundly interconnected world. As long as my life is in service to others in some way, I think I will be content. Writing is something I have passionate about since I was 14 years old, and in the future, I hope to pursue this passion and experiment with various storytelling methods. In the long run, I hope to be an authorpreneur.
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