A project aimed at improving access to healthcare for Congolese refugees in Iowa will be able to move ahead thanks to generous public support via the University of Iowa’s new GOLDrush crowdfunding platform.
[Photo: Dr. Will Story]
A team of researchers, headed by Dr. Will Story, assistant professor of community and behavior health at the UI College of Public Health, looks to assess the healthcare needs of Congolese refugees in Iowa with the goal of reducing obstacles to care such as transportation, language, cultural differences, and confusion with a complex health system.
It was one of three projects selected by the university to pilot the crowdfunding effort and had a goal to raise $10,000 in a month-long campaign.
“I was personally humbled by the generosity of people from the local community and across the country who felt that our project is important,” Dr. Story said. Donors to the project included colleagues, local physicians and concerned citizens and totaled $10,313.
He added, “In addition to reaching our fundraising goal, the campaign exceeded my expectations by helping me to establish connections with likeminded individuals across campus. People now know that I’m working with refugees in Iowa City, which has opened doors to new partnerships with people who have years of experience working with refugees as well as additional funding opportunities.”
Dr. Andrea Achenbach, Clinical Assistant Professor in the UI College of Nursing, practices three days a week in Linn County, Iowa, providing initial refugee health assessments. She first learned of Dr. Story’s proposed work in Johnson County through the crowdfunding campaign and contacted him to explore ways they could collaborate. A few weeks after the campaign launched, Dr. Story said he attended a refugee assistance meeting at a local church and was shocked to discover many of the people there knew about his project and had even donated money.
“I hadn’t met the majority of them. There were about 100 people there: refugees, community leaders, politicians, public health officials from the state and county level. Those kinds of connections are invaluable to get a community-based project like this going,” Dr. Story said. “The advantage of crowdfunding is people hear about the project. A grant is more insular. You either get the money or you don’t, and only after that do you start making connections. This gets the ball rolling early.”
GOLDrush is a partnership involving the UI Foundation and the UI Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Traditionally, faculty rely on grants from governmental agencies or private organizations to fund research and other projects. Crowdfunding allows them to quickly raise smaller amounts than are generally garnered through successful grant proposals while also raising awareness and community buy-in.