Introduction

HishamKharma is using an online community-based platform to bring much needed cohesion to a national problem in Egypt: blood donations. From patients in need of blood, to donors, hospitals, blood banks, and citizen sector organizations, Hishamis pioneering the first effort to unify previously scattered and distrusted actors under one umbrella. In doing so, Hisham is restoring trust and rapport into Egypt’s blood donation system and providing quick and free access to blood for patients in need.

Acting out of a need to solve a national problem, Hisham Kharma created the first online trustedcommunity and platform to link blood donors with recipients, aggregate all blood donation initiatives in one place, and map out areas of the country where there is availability or shortage of blood.His platform, Law Andak Dam (meaning If you have a conscience/If you have blood) is the first to group all actors under one umbrella including patients in need of blood, donors, hospitals, blood banks, and citizen sector organizations. Using Hisham’s platform, both users, suppliers and supportive institutions can go to one place and quickly identify where particular blood types and quantities are needed as well as where they are available at any given time—a centralized system that is very new to Egypt.

Relying on the viral nature of social media and people’s desire to give during times of crisis, Hisham formed a large network of donors and a community of concerned citizens who are willing for the first time to donate blood to strangers. Though traditionally Egyptians only donate blood to family members or close friends, Hisham foresaw the opportunity to expand the definition of family to all Egyptians by embedding trust and rapport into a platform that had already been noted for successfully connecting divers segments of the Egyptian population—the internet. Law Andak Dam is connecting patients to blood donors who are complete strangers and thereby restoring faith into a system that has historically been known for its inefficiencies and lack of credibility.

To alter attitudes towards blood donation, Hisham thought to build a community based system for blood donation relying on a renewed sense of social solidarity, trust amongst a younger active generation who want to contribute to society, and the simplicity of a system that functions independently of (but in coordination with) government national blood banks. In addition to creating an online community that is actively donating blood to those who need it based on demand, Hisham’s system is supported by a trusted network of institutions (hospitals, private blood banks, national blood banks, and CSOs) to connect blood donors to receivers via social media and other means in later stages.

Capitalizing on the fact that young adults make up for almost half of Egypt’s population as well as the knowledge that 31.2 million citizens in Egypt are internet users, Hisham uses non-conventional, light-hearted campaigns as well as social media to promote his cause. Even if elderly people or those who do not have access to the internet are the ones in need of blood, they will be able to call on a younger family member or friend or on the ground community centers of CSOs to connect them to Hisham’s platform.

Hisham is building a community approach to blood donation, capitalizing on post-revolution wide-spread social media usage, to decrease the amount of time it takes for someone in need of blood to receive it and restore trust in the blood donation field.Hisham’s objective is to become the “yellow pages” for blood in Egypt, with full directories of blood banks reporting their available stocks and shortages. Already working in several regions in the Egypt, he plans to expand his reach throughout the rest of the country and to provide a complete mapping of available and needed blood nationally.

Egypt current blood donation system—with 250 national blood banks—is bureaucratic and has no tracking system linking the different branches together. Thus, when a patient needs blood for a surgery or needs regular blood transfusions, it is the responsibility of the patient and the patient’s family to search for a donor with a matching blood type. Often families travel from one blood bank to the next in search of the right blood type and, in many cases, are required to additionally find a donor to replace the blood taken out of the bank. They suffer delays and have to pay many fees in the form of bribes. If there is no replacement blood, then the patient needs to purchase the blood—sometimes at a high price.Families with limited economic means might not be able to afford to buy blood and if there is no one in the extended family with the matching blood type, then the patient has to wait until the family can find someone to donate the blood. This waiting game can be fatal for the patient. Occasionally hospitals have their own blood banks, but they often have a very limited supply of blood.

In addition to requiring replacement blood to be found, national blood banks do not have a centralized system to call or find out what types of blood are being stored in local blood banks. There is no internal or computerized system for this.Further, an underground black market has evolved where blood is bought and sold. Blood donors make money from selling the blood they donate, hospitals sometimes ask the families to donate blood then go around and sell it to another patient, in addition to other gaps in the system. Despite efforts by the Ministry of Health issuing a decree banning the sale of blood in 1999, the black market continues to exist as long as the need is not addressed. Private blood banks are allowed to sell screened blood but this is a limited supply only available to private hospitals that can afford to buy it since it is paid for by the patient.

There are several citizen sector organizations working on blood donation campaigns such as Resala and Freeblood.com and others that use mobile blood donation units that collect donated blood from throughout the country in addition to events and blood drives. While these organizations serve as an informative platform on blood donation, they do not have a system to match patients with donors nor do they address the lack of trust in the current blood donation system. While there are public sector efforts encouraging blood donation campaigns, there is still a need for a centralized computerized system to track blood supply and demand, grouping all organizations and blood banks under one tracking system.

To tackle the national problem of blood donation and matching in Egypt, Hisham started with an online platform “Law Andak Dam” to match blood donors with recipients, formed partnerships and collaborations with all other initiatives working on the issue, and started building a community of committed citizens who want to help. During the revolution, Hisham began mapping out where donors were located and coordinated with national blood banks to send vans to those areas and to transport the blood to the hospitals that needed it. From then on, Hisham became a focal point for blood donation and matching in Cairo and surrounding areas. He is expanding throughout the country by forming partnerships with local CSOs that have offices in different areas.

Hisham’s naming choice for his initiative, a colloquial Arabic phrase with a double meaning, gets the message across and captures people’s attention. Literally, “Law Andak Dam” means “If you Have Blood” and more figuratively it means “If You Have a Conscience.” This controversial name has grabbed the attention of many individuals who felt compelled to donate blood out of a sense of public duty and media sources picked up on the topic, bringing this national problem to the forefront of public discussions. Hisham’s system is the first to group all efforts under one umbrella and to map out the blood availability and shortages in the country. His platform is the first to offer people the chance to receive blood for free and in an efficient manner. Using a simple interface, viewers can access the Law Andak Dam website and click on two options—“I Need Blood” or “I Want to Donate Blood.” There is a directory of other organizations like Resala and resources to help families searching for a donor. Those in need of blood (whether the patient, patient’s family, a hospital, or blood bank) can send their requests by sending an email, filling out an online form, sending a message on Twitter, a message on Facebook, or by checking the online directory of donors. People can also contact other CSOs which are listed on Hisham’s platform in addition to links to other portals that have donors listed. When a person agrees to be on the “Law Andak Dam” list of donors, he or she agrees to be available to donate blood on the spot when a patient with their matching blood type calls or contacts them via internet. After creating a list of reliable donors, Hisham set up an online presence through Facebook, Twitter, and emails.

To register as a donor, the person must fill in information about their blood type, location, and phone number. To register as a person in need of blood, the patient or patient’s family fills in information about their blood type, phone number, and number of blood bags needed. The request is then routed to donors with the matching blood type and location. When a person fills out the “I need blood” form, the system automatically sends out the notice in the form of an email that is also connected to Facebook and Twitter of Law Andak Dam that accordingly broadcast the message to their different health partners and other public figures to widen the outreach. Communicating with the National Blood Bank of Egypt helped Hisham further identify the gaps in the system and pointed him in the right direction. Hisham has explored initial talks with telecommunications companies to analyze the possibility of integrating SMS (short messaging service) in to his initiative but decided to postpone this step so as to avoid it being adopted by a private company and used purely for CSR purposes, which might compromise its purpose as a community based initiative.

Using conventional and non-conventional partnerships, Hisham is successfully reaching the young population in Egypt who want to do something productive to help their country. He uses humorous and light-hearted slogans and campaigns as a way to attract donors and also to build a community around blood donation. Just as critical to Hisham’s work as providing blood to those urgently in need, are his efforts to restore trust in the blood donation system.He is thus forming a community-based initiative that counters the mistrust of national blood banks that rarely outreach to the community. Hisham’s approach encourages people to donate blood to others regardless of their religious or ethnic background. This notion of donating blood to strangers is completely new in Egypt. Within the first year alone, Hisham’s platform was able to help 3,000 patients find blood quickly.

Hisham has led several online campaigns, encouraging a renewed sense of public service through blood donation. During the last two years of protests in Egypt, there was an increasing demand for blood transfusions in hospitals, and as Hisham was responding to requests and successfully matching people, he was flooded with phone calls from national blood banks, government hospitals (i.e. El Kasr El Aainy), citizen sector organizations, and patients’ families who thought he was the focal point for coordinating the matching process and delivery of certain blood types to the hospitals that needed it. Thus, Hisham realized he needs to form a team in order to expand his capacity. His team consists of a project/community manager and graphic designer. He also relies heavily on volunteers to help with we development and multimedia, content, social media, and community curation. Using very few resources, Hisham’s primary revenue source is from in-kind donations. However, in order to make his organization sustainable, he decided to register it a trademark under thinkk inc © which is his creative website. Revenue from think inc © which mainly comes from advertising sales is fed into Law Andak Dam to provide sustainability to the organization.

Since the launch in 2012, Hisham managed to collect over 600 people to join his list of donors through word of mouth alone. The number has now reached 800. Hisham has chosen not to use any mass advertising again to protect the initiative at this stage of its implementation to make sure it preserves the “by people for the people” essence of the initiative. However, he relies heavily on social media including Facebook and Twitter. Using social media allows him to not only reach out to a wide audience but also to meet requests for blood in a timely fashion. Most requests for blood are met without the donors having to be registered, simply by on the spot volunteers who are part of the group who respond to the posts. The donor directory feature is only part of the process, a huge part of the system relies on broadcasting and spreading the case on our large online social networks to instantly reach potential donors.

Law Andak Dam has played a major role in matching patients with donors in recent clashes between protestors and state and military police (i.e. Mohamed Mahmoud, Presidential Palace incidents). Hisham provided donated blood to the Cancer Children’s Hospital and Demerdash Hospital amongst others. During the Port Said massacre and a recent train crash incident, Hisham was the main actor providing donated blood. It is important to note that Hisham works with many CSOs and intermediary organizations to provide the blood. The blood never passes through his organization as he serves as more of a connector between those who need it and those who have it. Thus, the screening of the blood and other associated legal issues are still the responsibility of the local citizen sector organization or blood bank that he works with.Furthermore, Hisham continues to seek unconventional partners outside of the health sector to increase his reach. For example, Bey2ollak—a mobile application for traffic updates—agreed to feature Law Andak Dam as a premium partner, whereby traffic updates can be given for the circulation of donated blood. The application would for example inform citizens of where they can donate blood in emergencies and show high congested areas of traffic so donors can find the most easily accessible areas to donate blood.Hisham also convinced a cupcake brand, Devour, to put the Law Andak Dam sign on their cupcake boxes to alert buyers to the cause when they buy red velvet cupcakes. Additionally, he launched a campaign to increase visibility with online comedy TV station, Gomhoreya TV (http://elgtv.com). Partnering with a comedy station has been very successful as it has found a way to keep the topic of blood donation light-hearted when it is traditionally a very controversial and sensitive subject.

Hisham’s work has received significant public attention and media spotlight with magazines such as Daily News, Egypt Today, Bright Creations, E7na Magazine, Almasry Al youm, El Watan, and Ladybird, Ideaneurs (a new magazine for Entrepreneurs). Today Law Andak Dam has over 10,000 Facebook Followers, over 2,500,000 Friends of Fans, over 4,800 Twitter Followers reaching over 5,000,000 friends of followers.His next stage of work will be to solidify more partnerships on the ground with CSOs to reach more governorates, lead campaigns to make his platform spread more widely to increase access to blood, and to start SMS (short messaging) services with advertisements and corporate partners.

Growing up in a musical family and having many musical talents himself, Hisham relied heavily on his artistic and creative abilities to find unique solutions to new problems. As a youth he transferred these artistic skills to the field of engineering and technology and became actively involved in entrepreneurial endeavors. During his university studies, for example, Hisham and a group of his colleagues came up with a system for a virtual meeting room and conferencing platform—something that hadn’t been done before in Egypt and proved to be valuable to his school.

After graduating from Computer Science, Hisham started working as a programmer and succeeded in his work. Hisham, however, soon felt that programming didn’t allow for him to express his creative side nor use his critical thinking skills. Against the wishes of those around him who warned him of losing a high salary and of his responsibilities as a newlywed, Hisham decided to leave his job and look for something that allowed him to be more artistic and entrepreneurial. Interested in the field of creative advertising, Hisham went back to school. In 2007 he graduated from the Miami Ad School in the U.S. and after returning to Egypt, Hisham soon became the Creative Director of a multi-national advertising company that worked in Egypt, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates. Since the start of his career, Hisham has received over 40 awards and has been recognized internationally—chosen by Nike Egypt to be one of their three ambassadors in the world.

Despite his success in the advertising industry, Hisham often felt that his work was just contributing to consumerism, with minimal social benefits. He was also troubled by the fact that many people in the industry had to surpass ethical boundaries in order to progress in their careers. Compounded with these sentiments, Hisham found himself in a hospital next to his uncle who needed blood for a major surgery in 2008. He was struck by the fact that even in a private hospital his family was having trouble finding blood for him. While making countless phone calls to find a blood donor with the right blood type for his uncle and eventually having to pay bribes in order to receive it, Hisham realized that there is no system in place in Egypt to access blood fast and that it often came at a high price.

More so, the problem of the lack of access to blood in Egypt became more vivid in Hisham’s mind during the revolution as he went to the protests and saw with his own eyes how many people were getting injured in clashes with police forces and did not have quick access to blood. Amidst a time in Egypt when Hisham looked around him and found chaos and lack of community mobilization and religious and economic differences being highlighted, he wanted to do something productive that would bring people together behind a cause regardless of their differences. He created a portal www.iwasintahrir.com after Egypt’s revolution to give people a chance to digitally leave their mark on history like a virtual “Million Man March.” This idea received considerable feedback and media coverage during the revolution.

The combination of his job dissatisfaction, the violent clashes during the revolution, and most importantly his uncle’s experience in the hospital led Hisham to quit his job in and start Law Andak Dam. He knew that the problems with giving and receiving blood were a national issue that needed to be addressed. Using his creative and innovative background as well as his expansive network within the creative industry, Hisham created the online blood donation mapping platform in 2011.

Hisham has built a strong foundation for his organization and is using all his skills to scale up in a simple and appealing way to gather public support. A recent campaign he developed was titled, “Be Crazy, Give Blood to a Stranger” in an effort to counter common practices of giving blood only to family members and close friends. He is continually finding conventional and non-conventional partners to create a network of responsible and concerned citizens and organizations who are excited about his cause, while working in unison with other existing groups who are addressing the blood issue in Egypt.