If you donate money to help starving children or victims of disaster somewhere in the world, you never really know how much of your well-intentioned contribution actually gets to the intended recipients.

According to United Nations statistics, large aid groups typically spend 60 cents of every donated dollar toward operational expenses.

A trio of Israeli and Jewish angel and tech investors decided it was high time for a totally new model.

The 3 Million Club, named for the approximate number of children in the world who die annually of malnutrition, allows people to purchase lifesaving products produced and distributed by vetted partners in the recipient country.

The online venture began with a pilot program enabling donors to purchase a specially formulated peanut-butter paste, RUTF, which was distributed in cooperation with Real Hope for Haiti and helped nourish some 2,000 children back to health.

Two more products are now available on the site: the Hippo Roller that enables women, children and the elderly collect five times more water than in a standard bucket; and Lucky Iron Fish, a fish-shaped piece of iron that people can put into cooking pots to treat anemia and other effects of iron deficiency suffered by 3.5 billion people worldwide. Another therapeutic food item will soon be added.

“Local organizations and factories really appreciate how we empower and trust them to serve their own communities by partnering with them directly to produce and distribute lifesaving items,” CEO Chamutal Afek-Eitam tells ISRAEL21c.

“In contrast, many international NGOs place their own staff in these communities, which not only adds to operational costs but also disempowers local agents who know their communities best.”

Childhood malnutrition is one of the target problems the 3 Million Club was founded to address. Photo: courtesy
Childhood malnutrition is one of the target problems the 3 Million Club was founded to address. Photo: courtesy

Giving goods rather than money lets donors be confident that their purchase won’t fall into the wrong hands, be mismanaged, misspent or used for administrative costs. Donors receive tracking notifications via email.

Afek-Eitam says that the average international NGO spends 60 percent of its budget on operations, while the 3 Million Club uses 80% of every US dollar spent in its online shop toward the purchase of lifesaving items. The remaining 20% covers online maintenance, transaction fees and payment to manufacturers.

“We literally double the impact of your dollar,” she says.

Getting the word out

Registered as a 501c3 nonprofit in Miami, Florida, with all R&D and operations currently hosted in the Tel Aviv offices of Wix, the 3 Million Club was founded in August 2014 by innovation and technology angel investors Franck Benhamou, Dan Vigdor and Ran Tushia.

They chose Afek-Eitam based on her 16 years of experience in humanitarian aid and international innovation development.

After growing up in central Israel and serving as a combat medic instructor, she went to volunteer in war-torn Kosovo in 1999 and ended up staying there for three years.

“Since then, I’ve done emergency relief work and education programs on behalf of international NGOs and UN agencies while living in Eritrea, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she says.

“I came across only a handful of professional Israelis in this sector, and they were wonderful. We have a great understanding of how to handle humanitarian crises but Israelis don’t normally see it as a career path and I wanted to open this path to Israelis so we can better address the magnitude of suffering across the world.”

Following 10 years of field work, Afek-Eitam began studying for a doctorate in the Netherlands, researching how organizations can use technology to learn and apply lessons from one disaster to the next. With Web technologists Ishay Green and Leon Fedotov, she developed the Humanitarian Genome platform to aid organizational learning in times of humanitarian emergencies.

Two and a half years ago, she came back to Israel after 16 years abroad to give birth to her first child. Shortly before the birth, Green got her in touch with Tushia, who had a foundation in place and needed someone to implement it. She took the job and later brought in digital marketing expert Oren Sela as COO.

3 Million Club CEO Chamutal Afek-Eitam and COO Oren Sela. Photo by Louiz Green
3 Million Club CEO Chamutal Afek-Eitam and COO Oren Sela. Photo by Louiz Green

The 3 Million Club has support from the Israeli offices of Wix, eBay, Fiverr, the Lexinta Group and Spotinst.

“We have only two people on our payroll. We try to keep it as lean as possible,” Afek-Eitam says. “We outsource everything we can.”

Right now the organization is seeking additional funding to develop its tracking technology as well as strategic partners to meet humanitarian needs worldwide.

“Our greatest challenge is reaching out to organizations and manufacturers who can partner with us,” says Afek-Eitam. “We want to get our name known so they will come to us.”

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