Last year, Niyas Izmaylov raised as much money in two days online as he had amassed over two months soliciting friends. His story—the story of a champion bodybuilder with cerebral palsy who wanted to build a gym—moved thousands of Ukrainians to donate.
Using a crowdfunding website funded by Pact as part of a program to support democracy, donors chipped in small amounts of cash to help the then 25-year-old weightlifter build a gym where physically challenged people could train to lift weights.
“Disability is not limiting,” Niyas said at the gym’s opening. “Disabled people can do more and be stronger with sports.”
Called “Everybody Needs Hope,” Niyas’s crowdfunding campaign raised $1,920; Pact and USAID matched that amount when Pact awarded Niyas a ‘Civic Innovation Fellowship,’ an award given to residents of Crimea to support community development projects.
Since the Fellowship’s inception, Pact has awarded 41 fellowships to Ukrainians to implement 24 community development projects. Last year, four of the recipients, including Niyas, used Spilnokosht, a crowdfunding platform that was developed by a Pact partner organization, to bankroll their projects.
“Pact became a very strong guide,” said Iryna Solovey, Spilnokosht’s co-founder. “They provided these tools and said, ‘To be a good organization, you have to be really disciplined,’ and that made us grow.”
In addition to helping fund Spilnokosht, Pact’s work in the Ukraine has helped local partners change Ukraine’s laws to create a friendlier environment for philanthropy and nongovernmental organizations. As a result, Ukrainian law now allows charitable organizations to use the Internet to collect donations.
Niyas’s crowdfunding campaign gained national attention in Ukraine. He was already known for participating in bodybuilding competitions—in 2011, he won the European Championship in Lithuania and the World Championship in Vienna. He took second place in the Ukrainian arm wrestling championship as well.
“I am not limiting myself,” Niyas said. “I’ve tried many things in my life. I found sport is a way of realizing my potential.”
With money from Pact and Spilnokosht in hand, Niyas built a modest gym in his hometown of Dzhankoy, in northern Ukraine. At the gym, he trains people with disabilities and anyone else who wants to learn to lift weights.
“This is the story you never get tired of telling people,” Solovey said. “This story is always inspiring to other people.”