Fundraising is an Art

Hanin Azzam Talks about Crowdfunding in the Middle East

This is the third entry in our series highlighting Arab youth change-makers. Read the first piece in the series, an interview with Sandy Boutros, and the second piece, with journalist Tahreer Mortaga on her community space and yoga studio in Gaza.

Hanin Azzam is a regional crowdfunding consultant and fundraising expert in the Middle East. She is the former managing partner at Zoomaal, the Arab world’s leading crowdfunding platform that fosters and enables a new generation of social change makers in the region by promoting the power of the crowd. An experienced and effective business development manager, Hanin is a passionate advocate of grassroots initiatives and has played a leading role in nurturing crowdfunding strategies and campaigns since joining Zoomaal in 2015.

Prior to Zoomaal, Hanin worked on a wide range of media projects and initiatives that included the development and implementation of film festivals, TV productions and independent films. Hanin holds a Bachelor of Communication Arts degree from the Lebanese American University in Beirut. When not working, she can be found reading, supporting the live music scene or watching the latest theater productions.

The relatively new initiative relies on collecting money from a large number of people via online platforms. It’s most popular with startup companies or growing businesses or humanitarian projects as a way of accessing alternative funds.

What is Zoomaal’s mission?

Zoomaal is the Arab world’s leading reward-based crowdfunding platform. Projects focus on art and culture, social causes and youth initiatives. Zoomaal enables project owners to raise funds for projects that contribute to their communities. And, creative artists do not give away shares or intellectual property rights by listing their projects on Zoomaal. Already the company has launched more than 130 successful crowdfunded projects and raised more than $3 million online for projects, at least half coming from the Arab diaspora. We’ve received support from a wide range of commercial partners and organized a lot of workshops and contributed to conferences across the region.

In your work with young female entrepreneurs, do you find they face different challenges in their pursuit of a career?

In many countries, a woman’s primary duties include raising their children and taking care of family members. These duties often stand in the way of pursuing a career or even personal development. Another challenge is self-doubt and mobility. So many women feel they cannot travel and work in another country away from their family. It isn’t because an Arab woman lacks the skills or talent to pursue a career. I think Arab women trying to launch a business or innovative initiative often have limited support and funding to grow from an entrepreneurial standpoint. So we can help them.

What impact does your work have on Lebanese society?

I became the Managing Partner of Zoomaal in 2019 when Lebanon was facing a lot of challenges. It started with the series of wildfires, the devastating port explosion in 2020, the continuing economic and political crisis and collapse of most basic public services. My forever mission is joining the dots between creativity, campaigns, missions and more to help solve social issues and regional problems.

So I refocused the mission of Zoomaal to accept community projects and initiatives for non-profits, creative artists, and changemakers. Zoomaal was no longer a place for startups to fund their projects but rather a platform that accepted projects to support Lebanon on the social, economic, and community level. For the first time, Zoomaal accepted charity projects for individuals and nonprofit organizations since the trend and the most need was to support Lebanon financially from the diaspora through crowdfunding.

Prior to that period, I supported almost all the film festivals from different districts in Lebanon to run their crowdfunding campaigns. Knowing that I hold a degree in TV and Film from the Lebanese University in Lebanon, I know the struggles and challenges that Lebanese filmmakers and artists face to secure funds for their work. I encouraged a lot of artists to use crowdfunding as a tool to finance their projects.

What do you see as the role for young people in creating social change in Lebanon?

On a personal and professional level I want to empower a new generation of community leaders and changemakers in the Arab world to contribute solutions to regional problems. I believe that global challenges from unemployment to climate change, poverty to self-harm will not go away with wishful thinking. I trust that young artists, musicians, filmmakers and Arab creative people contribute a lot to the economy, creating job opportunities that can change the narrative. I have faith that when innovative and creative initiatives and endeavors are created by youngsters powered by the crowd, good things happen. The opportunities to build and create something worthwhile is not limited by borders. It’s our universal right, not a privilege.

What role can women play?

Women are at the forefront. Women share equally the power to end wars and bring peace. Lebanese women work in law enforcement and provide humanitarian assistance since forever. And, I think that is highlighted now in the media during Lebanon’s crisis.

Be it fighters, activists, survivors, community leaders or peace builders, women in Lebanon played a critical role. As a Lebanese female entrepreneur and woman in charge, I put all my power, networking and skills into finding solutions for the problems we face in our country and region. Even though a male entrepreneur Abdallah Absi founded the crowdfunding platform, I know I am the new face of crowdfunding and have added my vision of what women can do to empower community efforts for growth and innovation. Already, I have funded initiatives at home to support the underprivileged and survivors of the devastating 2020 port explosion in Beirut.

What is the future of crowdfunding?

Crowdsourcing for fundraisers is the future. Anyone can share their thoughts with on social media to organize online and offline meetups. It has become more familiar as a way to seek help to fund an initiative or humanitarian project.

What’s your advice to young entrepreneurs?

I advise all young entrepreneurs to first never give up believing in yourself and your ability to be a changemaker. Young entrepreneurs are responsible for creating a better future for their communities and showing through their work how a community can adapt and succeed. It’s simple, really. I tell them to be brave and trust in yourself and your ability to overcome any challenge how long it may take.

How do you deal with stress in your work?

I get wonderful support from my family and friends. They are my best source for positive energy and inspiration. So is dancing to great music and cooking myself a delicious meal!




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