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On the road to success with crowdfunding and team spirit: KIT students open a bakery in Sri Lanka

One of the first projects that has been funded successfully through KITcrowd is “Bread for Perspective” (Brot für eine Perspektive) by the “Engineers Without Borders” (EWB) university group at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The group had made it their goal to build a bakery for war widows in the north of Sri Lanka. This bakery is intended to secure the livelihoods of the Tamil women and their families, who still suffer from the consequences of the devastating civil war that took place in the region between 1983 and 2009. Over the course of ten months, the team collected 70,000 Euros in donations, most of which came through KITcrowd. We interviewed three EWB members after their return from Sri Lanka.

Engineers Without Borders: Pascal Otterbach, Michael Kalkbrenner and Marcel Mott

How did the idea for “Bread for Perspective” come about?

Marcel: We found out about the situation of one particular Tamil person and their situation in Sri Lanka from an EWB member. He got us in touch with our later project partner, the “Sisters of the Holy Cross” order. We visited them in Sri Lanka in the spring of 2014. At first, we were concerned about the political situation and security in the country. Luckily, the conflict calmed down after the presidential election in January 2015, and we made more concrete plans. Soon, we decided to build a bakery that would allow the local people to maintain their own livelihoods and provide work to the war widows.

You started planning almost a year in advance. What did your preparations involve?

PascalTogether with our project partner, we first decided where to build the bakery and how many people were going to work there. On this basis, we started calculating the dimensions of our building, drafted a blueprint and worked out which materials we would need and what cost we were facing.

Michael: Sustainability was also an important factor for us. This is why we planned a building that can be expanded during a second construction phase. We further ensured to use materials that could be sourced locally.

The project was funded entirely by donations. What were your experiences with crowdfunding?

Pascal: Crowdfunding is a great way of financing a project like this – but a crowdfunding campaign also requires a lot of work. KIT offered us invaluable support both in terms of the production of our film and the creation of a professional design. The KITcrowd network helped us address a large audience of potential supporters, many of which actually donated in the end.

You were able to collect more than 35,000 Euros and mobilise a large number of supporters through KITcrowd. What helped you achieve this?

Marcel: You need to keep in mind that KITcrowd has only been around since March 2015; as such, it has not yet achieved sure-fire success. A successful campaign needs to be based on an interesting idea that is worth funding. Most of our donors are engineers who like our pioneering spirit and who want to support our commitment. In addition, advertising is important. You need to mobilise your own network. It helped that the EWB student group has already been active for ten years and is correspondingly well-known.

During the 100 days of construction, you must have had a few surprises here and there. Which low points and which highlights do you remember particularly vividly?

Pascal: On the day of our departure, we were told that our planning permission had been revoked for political reasons. We had to find an alternative as quickly as possible. Luckily, we found a new plot of land within a few days. Of course, this forced us to modify and adapt our plans. This necessity to react spontaneously to new situations and develop solutions collectively really tied us together as a team.

Michael: Throughout the entire project period, I was impressed by the immense sense of loyalty both within our team and between us and the order. Considering the economic situation in Sri Lanka and the low income of the locals, I found it admirable how many of them volunteered to help us entirely for free.

Marcel: One of my personal highlights was seeing how many of our team members changed their flight bookings so they could stay until the end. Absolutely everyone was bursting with team spirit and enthusiasm for this project.

Are you still in contact with the sisterhood?

Michael: The project needs follow-up attention, of course. We have pledged our support for any technical questions. If any problems should arise, contrary to expectation, we will help as much as we can. Of course, we are still responsible for the bakery to some extent, even after our departure. At the moment, we do not know if we will fly back to Sri Lanka at some point.

What advice can you offer to other project leaders who are considering KITcrowd as a means of funding?

Pascal: KITcrowd is an excellent tool – if you know how to use it. It is important that the teams take responsibility for their crowdfunding campaigns, mobilise their own, private networks and advertise as much as possible. The attention generated from that will also benefit future projects.

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