‘SOS Relief’ is a digital tool that facilitates person-to-person financial solidarity. It was developed in the first months of the covid pandemic of 2020 by the Belgian artist platform State Of The Arts (SOTA). It connected people in need with people with financial stability that wanted to donate. Individuals could only receive once, but could give many times. In December 2021 SOS Relief was closed to people in need, in order to eliminate the waiting list first. After two years, in April 2022, more than 250.000 euro had been exchanged.
SOS Relief was explicitly focused on the one-time exchange of smaller amounts of money, in order to provide relief for crisis situations. The motivation behind this choice was mainly ideological: this grassroots initiative didn’t want to release the state from its responsibility to organize more structural support measures. As SOS Relief was not a fund to collect money, but a tool to bring people in direct contact with each other via their bank account, only private persons could donate – not organisations. Meanwhile, several organisations did support the volunteer organisation behind the tool.
The SOS Relief tool also led to two sister initiatives: OMUZ in Turkey (using different temporary rounds of exchanges to skip the waiting list) and An Urgent Embrace of Globe Aroma in Belgium (working with newcomers that do not always have a bank account).
Users of SOS Relief can choose between ‘ask’ and ‘receive’, and between amounts of 50 €, 100 €, 200 € and 400 €. On this digital platform, both parties could also leave a short testimony on why they asked for money or wanted to give. People in need also leave their bank account. Based on the principle ‘first come, first serve’, givers and receivers are matched: givers get an invitation by email to transfer their selected amount directly to the bank account of a receiver. There’s no other direct contact between givers and receivers. Neither is SOS Relief collecting money itself as a fund. It’s only matching people as a tool.
To shorten the waiting list, a more structural donor option next to one-time donations is provided: ‘Golden Relievers’ engage to pay 50 €, 100 €, 200 € or 400 € every month for half a year. Every month, they are invited to pay a new person on their bank account.
In 2022, SOS Relief wants to restructure itself to make it more sustainable: decentralizing the workload, solving the problem of the waiting list (i.e. build-up of requests to receive), and making a shareable, open source version of the tool that other communities can use.
SOS Relief was open for “anyone living in Belgium”, also beyond the cultural field. Based on the principle of trust, the identity of givers or receivers is not checked. “But we invite people to evaluate for themselves how big their need is before asking. Don’t forget that every demand leaves less space for others that could be in bigger need.”
Between April 2020 and April 2022, there have been around 800 receivers and around 900 givers, exchanging more than 250.000 euro in total.
SOS Relief on the website of State Of The Arts (SOTA).