Though itâ€™s not exactly a new idea, the phrase â€œmutual aidâ€ first came to prominence last year, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It tends to connote small, loosely organized collectives working to support communities from within â€“ the kinds of local support systems that can be crucial during tough times.
Pact is a New York-based organization looking to facilitate these systems with a subscription-based curatorial framework. Make a recurring donation to Pact, and theyâ€™ll give it to a different mutual aid group each month. It started up last year as a response to the pandemic, and was officially incorporated this summer.
Now, Pact is trying to bolster those donations with a fundraiser on the crypto-backed publishing platform Mirror. Itâ€™s selling three batches of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) at different price points, which will offer access to eventual workshops and events, as well as an early preview of an online â€œcommunity platformâ€ thatâ€™s still being developed. In about two weeks, Pact has raised 3.81 ETH, or ~$15,000, for its handpicked rotation of mutual aid groups.
â€œMost people, when they think about donating, they can only name two or three â€˜mega nonprofitsâ€™ like ACLU or Planned Parenthood,â€ said Pact founder Marisa Rando. â€œWe really wanted to connect people â€“ or, people really wanted to be connected â€“ to the organizations in their backyard.â€
Rando, a content strategist at the payments company Block (formerly Square), explained that while sheâ€™s still skeptical about much of crypto, sheâ€™s fascinated by DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations â€“ a kind of online community built around tokens. Joining a DAO involves purchasing a certain amount of tokens, which work like voting shares in a company; at least until regulators decide to handle things differently, DAOs are like online companies you donâ€™t actually have to incorporate: everyone involved has a real stake in whatâ€™s been built.
Pactâ€™s Mirror crowdfund will eventually form the basis of PactDAO, a community for people looking to engage with mutual aid in NYC.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to create this collaboration on a massive scale, so that more people in New York can be organizing and contributing funds,â€ said Rando. â€œRight now, our current technology stack just doesnâ€™t really allow the kind of democracy and scale that we want to create â€“ the Mirror fund was a way to get that vision out into the world.â€
Where most DAOs just give out governance tokens in proportion to what you put in (e.g. 100 tokens for .1 ETH, or 1000 tokens for 1 ETH), PactDAO plans to assign tokens according to non-financial participation, too. Joining in on community events might earn you a greater share of tokens. Itâ€™s a kind of cooperative structure; the largest donors wonâ€™t automatically get the most say in how the DAO develops, and the most active organizers can be rewarded. â€œPact is not like other social clubs,â€ reads a slogan on the groupâ€™s Mirror landing page. â€œWeâ€™ll call it a socialist club.â€
Since the current version of Mirror doesnâ€™t allow for this distribution model, contributors to Pactâ€™s crypto crowdfund will still get a certain amount of $PACT tokens according to what they put in. Rando is stressing that these are â€œjust for funâ€ â€“ there are no plans to establish a liquidity pool for secondary market trades.
And while PactDAO and Pactâ€™s accompanying tech platform are still being built, the organization already has a track record of funneling money to grassroots organizations that need it most. In the early days of the pandemic, when Rando was experimenting with potential fundraising models for Pact, she would just collect and divvy up the donations herself.
â€œI created this website for people to fill out this form for where they wanted money to go, and they would give me money,â€ she said. â€œI was making donations on their behalf, and putting their name on the receipt and forwarding emails. I was just like, this really manual middleman.â€
That is to say, Rando has done the work. Sheâ€™s also aware of the challenges: the kinds of left-leaning donors sheâ€™s looking to target might be put off by Ethereumâ€™s environmental impact, or its potential to replicate existing capitalistic systems. The Mirror crowdfund is geared toward people looking to give much more, too â€“ the NFTs start at over $400 ETH, not including fees.
Thatâ€™s why, despite the buzz around the ETH crowdfund, Pact is still very much taking US dollars. You can still make a $3 monthly donation on the groupâ€™s website; crypto is just one part of a broader vision.
â€œWe donâ€™t want to create a silo of tech people determining mutual aid,â€ Rando assured me. â€œThatâ€™s definitely the opposite of where we want to be.â€