This story is from the 2018 Access FYI: FedEx Young Innovators List. Explore more from this issue
Dr. Rolla Hallam

Dr. Rola Hallam: Harnessing Tech to Help Humanity

In the midst of a humanitarian crisis, this British-Syrian doctor's CanDo crowdfunding platform has harnessed the power of people and technology to bring aid where it’s lacking.

Dr. Rolla Hallam

Growing up in Syria, Dr. Rola Hallam never imagined that her homeland would one day become a war zone. But when this horrific new reality emerged in 2011 — killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of people, including some of Hallam’s relatives and friends — the British-Syrian anesthesiologist felt compelled to leave her practice in the U.K. to help her fellow Syrians in any way she could.

Once she arrived in Syria, the activist and co-founder of aid organization Hand in Hand for Syria quickly realized the majority of efforts to access and distribute medical supplies and building materials were being disrupted by local and international regulations governing non-governmental organization (NGO) funding. She also saw that 75 percent of the aid work in Syria was being carried out by local humanitarians who received less than 1 percent of the funding. “The reason that people survive in a crisis is because of the people in crisis themselves,” Hallam says. “If we truly want to save lives in crisis-affected communities, we need to support the local humanitarians.”

Surrounded by professionals from all over Syria and abroad who were trying to help, Hallam experienced first-hand the “power of the people,” which inspired her to create the world’s first crowdfunded humanitarian platform, CanDo, in 2016. What makes CanDo stand out is its emphasis on global connectivity and transparency. Contributors know that 100 percent of their donation is used to directly support a project. “People see war on their TV screens but also big charity scandals,” Hallam says. “People feel helpless but want to help. Our platform connects those who want to help and those who are best placed to help the people suffering.”

Today, the not-for-profit platform is responsible for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for urgent health projects in war-torn Syria. The crowdfunded campaigns have helped combat food scarcity by teaching remote communities to grow and sell their own food, provided vital psychosocial support to Syrians living in dangerous areas where aid cannot yet reach, and aided in the construction of badly needed schools and hospitals — including the world’s first crowdfunded hospital, located in rural North Aleppo, Syreia. The Independent Doctors Association is even using the CanDo platform to raise $92,000 in funds to keep the hospital open. And although the focus of Can Do is currently Syria, the platform will expand in 2020 to countries supporting refugees and dealing with conflict.

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