Hisham Kharma is using an online community-based platform to bring much needed cohesion to a national problem in Egypt: blood donations. Hisham is pioneering the first effort to unify previously scattered and distrusted actors under one umbrella and providing quick and free access to blood for patients in need.
The New Idea
Acting out of a need to solve a national problem, Hisham created the first online trusted community 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 an 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 organizations (COs). 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 Egyptians traditionally 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 diverse segments of the 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.
Hisham is building a community approach to blood donation, capitalizing on post-revolution widespread 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 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’s 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 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.
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. 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 COs 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 to encourage 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 together.
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 mapped where donors were located and coordinated with national blood banks to send vans to those areas 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 by forming partnerships with local COs throughout the country.
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, “If you have a Conscience.” This controversial name got the attention of many who felt compelled to donate blood out of a sense of public duty and media sources picked it up, bringing this national problem to the forefront of public discussion. 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 offers 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 search for a donor. Those in need of blood (i.e. the patient, patient’s family, a hospital, or blood bank) can send their requests by email, fill out an online form, send a message on Twitter or Facebook, or check the online directory of donors. People can also contact COs listed on Hisham’s platform, in addition to links to other portals. When a person agrees to be on the Law Andak Dam list of donors, he/she is agreeing to be available to donate blood when a patient with their matching blood type contacts them via Internet.
To register as a donor, one 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 broadcasts 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. He has explored initial talks with telecommunications companies to analyze the possibility of integrating SMS (short messaging service) to his initiative but decided to postpone this step so as to avoid 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 do outreach to the community. Hisham’s approach encourages people to donate blood regardless of another’s religious or ethnic background. This notion of donating blood to strangers is completely new in Egypt. Within the first year, Hisham’s platform helped 3,000 patient's 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. Kasr El Ainy), COs, 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 to expand his capacity. His team consists of a project/community manager and graphic designer. He also relies heavily on volunteers to help with the development and multimedia, content, social media, and community curation. Using very few resources, Hisham’s primary revenue source is from in-kind donations. However, to make his organization sustainable, he decided to register it as a trademark under Thinkk Inc©, his creative website. Revenue from Thinkk Inc© which mainly comes from advertising sales is fed into Law Andak Dam to provide sustainability for the organization.
Since the launch in 2012, Hisham has collected 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 mass advertising, to again protect the initiative at this stage and ensure it preserves its “by the people for the people” essence. However, he relies heavily on social media including Facebook and Twitter. Using social media allows him to not only reach a wide audience but also to meet requests for blood in a timely fashion. Most requests are met without the donor having to be registered, simply by on the spot volunteers who respond to the posts. The donor directory feature is only part of the process, a huge part of the system relies on broadcasting to 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 Children’s Cancer Hospital and Demerdash Hospital among 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 he works with many COs 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 CO or blood bank. 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. 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, El 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 controversial and sensitive subject.
Hisham’s work has received significant media attention with magazines such as Daily News, Egypt Today, Bright Creations, E7na Magazine, Al-Masry Al-Youm, El Watan, and Ladybird, Ideaneurs (a magazine for entrepreneurs). Today Law Andak Dam has 10,000+ Facebook followers, 2,500,000+ friends of fans, and 4,800+ Twitter followers reaching 5,000,000+ friends of followers. He will next solidify more partnerships on the ground with COs to reach more governorates, lead campaigns to make his platform spread more widely to increase access to blood, and start SMS with advertisements and corporate partners.
Growing up in a musical family and possessing musical talent 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 in Egypt and proved valuable to his school.
After graduating in computer science, Hisham worked as a programmer and was successful. However, he soon felt that programming didn’t allow him to express his creative side nor use his critical thinking skills. Against the wishes of those around him, Hisham left his job to look for something that enabled 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 US and after returning to Egypt, Hisham soon became the Creative Director of a multinational advertising company, working in Egypt, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates. Since the start of his career, Hisham has received 40+ awards and has been recognized internationally—chosen by Nike Egypt as one of their three world ambassadors.
Despite Hisham’s success in the advertising industry, he 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 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. While making countless phone calls to find a blood donor with the right blood type for his uncle and eventually having to pay bribes to receive it, Hisham realized there was 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 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 to bring people together. 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, Hisham’s uncle’s hospital experience, led him to quit his job and start Law Andak Dam. Using his creative and innovative background as well as his expansive network within the creative industry, Hisham created an 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, “Be Crazy, Give Blood to a Stranger” is an effort to counter common practices of giving blood only to family members and close friends. Hisham is continually finding conventional and non-conventional partners to create a network of responsible and concerned citizens and organizations excited about his cause, while working with existing groups to address the blood issue in Egypt.