How to Stop Ebola with Bitcoin All Year Long

November 25, 2014

2:30 pm

You know Black Friday and of course Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday is a social movement held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and is a day of giving back. Started in 2012 by the UN Foundation and 92nd St Y, #GivingTuesday has become a worldwide sensation, uniting nonprofits, CEOs, heads of state and everyday people in championing the causes they care about. The big hit is a viral “unselfie” campaign, where contributors snap photos of themselves holding signs showing what they support. Last year, everyone from Steve Case, to Bill Clinton, Heidi Klum and, well, me helped raise more than $27 million in online donations.

I’m obviously not the biggest deal in that line up. But, I was part of a larger group of friends and family, NGOs and major corporations working together to give back during the holiday season. Google and Mashable hosted the first-ever “Hangout-a-thon” – a Google+ version of a telethon – where celebrities Jennifer Garner and Sophia Bush chatted with fans about social good. The Nasdaq also lit up its Times Square tower for #GivingTuesday and The White House featured the one-day event on its blog. All told, more than 320,000 tweets supported #GivingTuesday and boosted donations by 90% from the year before.

#GivingTuesday fell during the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year, and I joined thousands of people in contributing to the relief effort in the Philippines. Today, we are in the midst of a public health crisis–one that has received less attention than previous emergencies, but is equally damaging to those affected. Support for Ebola has recently picked up thanks to Facebook and Google, and next week I plan to continue this effort.

But if you are one to give back during the holidays, or are looking to create a new habit of giving, you can get involved with stopping Ebola any day of the year, and you can utilize bitcoins to do so.

Bitcoin Against Ebola is a nonprofit platform that channels bitcoin contributions to charities in Sierra Leone. The site is directed by Bitcoin startup, Beam, which specializes in low-cost international money transfers. Sending money to West Africa via traditional services like Western Union or MoneyGram costs roughly 11% and can take two to three days to arrive. Using Bitcoin, Beam sends donations to Sierra Leone within minutes and at 2% cost. This means that if you want to send $100 to West Africa, you can choose the fast lane and contribute $98, or take the slow boat and deliver only $89.

Sending money via Bitcoin costs less than wire services because no clearinghouse is needed to process transactions. Ghana-based Beam and its mobile money partner in Sierra Leone, Splash, charge 2% to cover overhead expenses and split the difference. Visitors to Bitcoin Against Ebola select the nonprofit they want to support, pay in bitcoins, and then Beam then converts the amount into Sierra Leonean Leones so that Splash can deliver the funds in local currency.

I plan to donate to Lunch Box Gift, a nonprofit in Freetown that delivers hot meals to families. Lunch Box Gift started during three days of lockdown last September, when the Sierra Leonean government restricted movement in attempt to slow new infections. Memuna Janneh, Lunch Box’s founder, organized friends to distribute meals throughout the city, and the program later expanded into an ongoing initiative. So far, they’ve provided 2,600 meals, and they aim to reach 50,000 within the next three months.

Though my contribution in bits may seem miniscule compared to the massive scale of the Ebola outbreak, sent via Bitcoin it carries more value. When combined with the larger movement on #GivingTuesday, each contribution generates a greater impact. This Tuesday is a chance for us to come together and recognize the issues that matter to us. Whether it’s a local charity in your city or a national awareness campaign, join us on December 2nd and give something back. You can contribute to any cause and at any amount that you like. Just remember that large or small, every little bit helps.


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Sarah Martin leads Boone Martin, a global communications firm specializing in digital financial technology. Sarah works on expanding access to Bitcoin in emerging markets and growing new economic opportunities. Visit and follow along @sboonemartin.

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