What Would a Mutual Aid DAO Look Like?

Pact, a mutual aid subscription service, has already raised $15,000 in ETH for New York City-based community organizing.

AccessTimeIconDec 10, 2021 at 9:03 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 7:02 p.m. UTC
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Though it’s not exactly a new idea, the phrase “mutual aid” 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 – 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 it will give the money 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. It’s selling three batches of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) at different price points, which will offer access to eventual workshops and events, and give buyers an early preview of an online “community platform” that’s still being developed. In about two weeks, Pact has raised 3.81 ETH, or about $15,000, for its handpicked rotation of mutual aid groups.

“Most people, when they think about donating, they can only name two or three ‘mega nonprofits’ like ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) or Planned Parenthood,” Pact founder Marisa Rando said. “We really wanted to connect people – or, people really wanted to be connected – to the organizations in their backyard.”

Rando, a content strategist at the payments company Block (formerly Square), explained that while she’s still skeptical about much of crypto, she’s fascinated by DAOs, or decentralized autonomous organizations – a kind of online community built around tokens. Joining a DAO involves purchasing a certain number 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 don’t actually have to incorporate: Everyone involved has a real stake in what’s been built.

Pact’s Mirror crowdfund will eventually form the basis of PactDAO, a community for people looking to engage with mutual aid in New York City.

“We’re trying to create this collaboration on a massive scale, so that more people in New York can be organizing and contributing funds,” Rando said. “Right now, our current technology stack just doesn’t really allow the kind of democracy and scale that we want to create – the Mirror fund was a way to get that vision out into the world.”

Where most DAOs just give out governance tokens in proportion to what you put in (e.g. 100 tokens for .1 ETH, or 1,000 tokens for 1 ETH), PactDAO plans to assign tokens according to nonfinancial participation, too. Joining in on community events might earn you a greater share of tokens. It’s a kind of cooperative structure; the largest donors won’t automatically get the most say in how the DAO develops, and the most active organizers can be rewarded. “Pact is not like other social clubs,” reads a slogan on the group’s Mirror landing page. “We’ll call it a socialist club.”

Since the current version of Mirror doesn’t allow for this distribution model, contributors to Pact’s crypto crowdfund will still get a certain amount of $PACT tokens according to what they put in. Rando is stressing that these are “just for fun” – there are no plans to establish a liquidity pool for secondary market trading.

And although PactDAO and Pact’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 collected and divvied up the donations herself.

“I created this website for people to fill out this form for where they wanted money to go, and they would give me money,” she said. “I was making donations on their behalf, and putting their name on the receipt and forwarding emails. I was just, like, this really manual middleman.”

That is to say, Rando has done the work. She’s also aware of the challenges: The kinds of left-leaning donors she’s looking to target might be put off by Ethereum’s environmental impact, or its potential to replicate existing capitalistic systems. The Mirror crowdfund is geared toward people looking to give much more, too – the NFTs start at over $400 in ETH, not including fees.

That’s why, despite the buzz around the ETH crowdfund, Pact is still very much taking U.S. dollars. You can still make a $3 monthly donation on the group’s website; crypto is just one part of a broader vision.

“We don’t want to create a silo of tech people determining mutual aid,” Rando said. “That’s definitely the opposite of where we want to be.”


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Will Gottsegen

Will Gottsegen was CoinDesk's media and culture reporter.

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