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Monday, 26 May 2008

Web power: Avaaz beats the Burmese colonels

This is a pretty amazing demonstration of how the Web is able to respond and deliver in ways unimaginable a decade ago.
In the days since a catastrophic cyclone struck Burma and killed over 100,000 people, Avaaz members have donated $2 million (almost 1.3 million Euros) to the aid effort. Our community has given more than many governments, and our aid hasn't been stopped at the border like theirs -- we've supported Burmese monks and other aid groups who have worked without their brutal government's permission. is an international civic organization that promotes issues such as climate change and human rights. Its stated mission is to "ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making." The organization operates in thirteen languages, and claims more than three million members from every country in the world.
It's been a challenge to get such a lot of money in. Most Burmese groups can safely move only a limited amount of money each day through informal networks. So far, we know that $550,000 has arrived in Burma and been spent, and an additional $1,000,000 is en route and may have arrived. We are currently working with the International Burmese Monk Organization and 7 other Burmese organizations, including monk groups, educational groups, and medical clinics, who have asked not to be named for their own security.

The way the money moves is through informal transfers between bank accounts and by hand. Sometimes it is as simple as a deposit in one country that is then withdrawn inside Burma by the account holder and then carried to a monastery or aid group. Because many merchants do this, the Burmese government cannot tell the difference between commercial funds and aid money.

This work carries some dangers; Burmese junta has harassed and, in one case, attacked the groups we are working with. But in the vast majority of cases, soldiers simply arrive, warn our partners that their work must be authorized by the government, and leave. Once they are out of sight, the aid work continues.

It is a challenge in such circumstances to exercise complete oversight over how the money is used -- most of the work is in secret. But we have chosen to work only with the most universally respected institutions, and we have asked them to provide detailed lists of monasteries and groups who receive it. These details allow us to verify receipt of the funds.
And this is where that money's ended up.

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Here's their donation page.

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