NI app shows exactly where your charity donation is going

  • ESTHER is a peer to peer charitable donation platform, which allows the user to donate directly to someone living in need in their own city.

    Once signed up, the user receives a short biography detailing the situation of a local person in need. They will then get updates on how the recipient is doing once they receive donations, which they receive on a pre-paid card.

    Co-founder Ailis McCaul said this “looks like a normal bank card, and the recipient of the donation can spend it on anything they like in shops; they just can’t take money out of an ATM machine with it. In the future there will be restrictions on certain things though, such as alcohol and gambling.”

    Chief executive and co-founder Carol Rossborough had the idea for ESTHER around two years ago, having noticed the increase in the lack of trust towards charities, yet increase in need from people living in poverty. She believed that peer-to-peer giving could help to combat this. She watched a video about a YouTuber who was contacted by what he assumed was a scammer from Liberia.

    RELATED: Belfast poverty-fighting startup wins trip to New York showcase

    Ben Taylor from the Youtube channel Pleasant Green was contacted by Liberian Joel, who asked if he could send him some electronics which he would sell and then split the proceeds with Ben.

    Ben, who specialised in exposing scammers, had even previously gone viral after posting ‘horse poop’ to a different Nigerian scam artist. He said his initial theory was to waste as much of Joel’s time as possible, but then he asked him to take some photos of Liberia on his phone and send them to him with the promise of payment.

    The first pictures were blurry so Ben sent Joel a $30 camera and gave him some photography tips on holding the camera still and finding good lighting. The end result was 20 shocking images of Joel’s impoverished village. Ben went on to create a photo book showcasing this work of Joel’s– who said he wanted to be a journalist. The book entitled By D Grace of God initially sold around 2500 copies at $10 each, raising $25,000, according to the Daily Mail.

    This money was then used to help Joel, his family and the children in his Liberian village.

    Carol saw this video in 2017 and to her it demonstrated that if a person gives another person trust – the way Ben did by sending over the camera to Joel – they will use that help to do good.

    She wanted to recreate that sense of trust between two strangers in Belfast, so that someone who wanted to help could directly donate to someone in need, with the peace of mind of knowing that the help was actually helping.

    Ailis said they had originally thought of using Blockchain to do this, but that no Blockchain start-up needs Blockchain to start-up. There were other simpler ways to get started on solving this problem.

    She told Sync NI: “People often think, ‘where is my money going and is my donation making an impact at all?’ We thought that if people could see a direct impact on an individual from their contributions, will that make them more likely to give? So we tested it out when we first started.

    “We contacted Storehouse food bank charity which is one of the largest food banks in Belfast city. They put us in touch with five people in need on very low incomes, and then when people donated to them we collected those donations through the charity’s website and texted the donors to let them know the impact they had made. We had no marketing budget but we actually raised a grand more than our target.”

    “One person was able to buy their son a Christmas present for the first time. One could top up their electricity when otherwise they would have been sitting in the cold and dark. Recipients who had previously turned down the counselling service provided by Storehouse, started to accept the counselling. Not because the money freed it up, but because for 6 weeks they didn’t have to focus on things like ‘how am I going to feed my kids next week?’ By helping to fulfill people’s basic needs, it was actually making other services offered by the charity more effective. That is why all of our recipients are also supported by our partner charities.”

    The ESTHER pilot - giving directly from Ailis Mone on Vimeo.

    ESTHER has received funding through grants and is now a fully functioning app. Ailis said the team is running a two-month short-term pilot to learn as much as they can for the moment, and a much larger scale pilot will be launched in 2020. Currently, anyone from anywhere can sign up as a donor but for the time being, donations are only going to vulnerable people living in Belfast.

    The team hope to expand the initiative to help major cities worldwide in the future.


    For more info on ESTHER, visit or sign up at

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story