With a gift card clutched in her hands, she scans through the bookstore aisles. She selects her favorites from the shelves, excited to use the gift card she’s received to dive into her favorite past time – a great book.

She walks over to the counter, and the transaction begins. While her books are being bagged, the cashier says to her: “There’s $4.83 remaining on this card for the next time we see you again.”

There isn’t a book in the store sold for at that amount. But regardless, the card carries the amount, and she keeps the gift card buried in her pocket, and debates whether the card is disposable – or whether she’ll remember to use it again.

This single narrative represents millions just like it. According to research conducted by CEB Global, in 2015, unused gift cards in the United States accounted for $973 million. It has left us at Tinua wondering – “what great work could we accomplish by using these dormant gift cards, totaling nearly $1 billion, to fuel charitable organizations?”

Tinua’s mission is to reallocate these unused gift card amounts to fuel social change – to provide basic human needs and humanitarian relief to those around the world. An isolated, individual gift card cannot provide $973 million in relief, neither can a one gift card carrier. Tinua’s mission is sustained through community. Individually, the unused gift card in the narrative above couldn’t purchase anything, but in a community working toward a common mission, it could provide the gift of life. Humans are chemically compelled to interact and influence a community, as proven through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, according to Psychology Today, is a “five level pyramid, with higher needs coming into focus only once lower, more basic needs are met.” Five levels, from the base to the peak, are physiology, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Within the physiology level, food and water are necessities.

The Water Crisis

Maslow’s hierarchy is clear: one cannot operate without food or water. Human survival is dependent on the sufficient distribution of food and water, abundant enough to cease thirst and starving. According to a recent National Geographic article less than one percent of the planet’s water can “fuel and feed”, and 2.5% of all water in the world is safe for human consumption. Developing countries most impacted by water scarcity use available sources of water as universal pools to clean and drink from. The World Health Organization states “1 billion people per year draw their water from unsafe sources and fall victim to water-borne diseases.” While there are numerous charities specializing in innovative engineering technology to provide safe drinking water for those who don’t have access, funding is required to fuel this innovation. 

How could we use the estimated $975 million in unused gift cards to develop and deploy innovative engineering to purify drinking water? We believe it would result in the reduction of preventable water borne diseases and access to water for more and more people around the world.

The Food Crisis

Likewise, malnutrition is also a concern in areas suffering from water scarcity. The slim stream of available water to fuel and feed doesn’t run smoothly in areas where malnutrition is a threat. According to a 2016 World Bank article, “One-third of all child deaths globally are attributed to under-nutrition. Investment in agriculture and rural development to boost food production and nutrition is a priority.” In order to alleviate malnutrition, innovative techniques in food production and distribution need to be integrated throughout ravaged regions.

Thankfully, the nonprofit sector has stepped up. WorldHunger.org states there was a “42 percent reduction in the prevalence of undernourished people between 1990–1992 and 2012–2014.” Malnutrition has decreased while charities campaign against it, but the campaign isn’t over yet. World Hunger also states, “Despite this progress, about one in eight people, or 13.5 percent of the overall population, remain chronically undernourished in these regions.”

We believe by donating funds from unused gift cards, we can bring food to those in need, a symbol of food security. And when we use money from unused gift cards to support nonprofit organizations, the impact continues the campaign to provide people across the globe with food and water.

Working Together

There’s a popular short story where a man finds starfish on ashore and throws them one by one back into the sea. He’s questioned why he does this because he, being one person, cannot possibly throw them all back or solve the issue of why they’re drying and dying. He answers back with “it made a difference to that one.”

Not all of us are on the front lines working with these charities, as the man was on the beach, but through our gift card donations, we can provide crucial financial support, thus sustaining their missions of providing and spreading humanitarian relief.  What if, instead of one person placing starfish back into the sea, there was a mass crowd standing beside him, working toward the same mission?

In that bookstore, $4.83 wasn’t enough to purchase much, but whencollected with others that make up the$975 million in unused gift card funds, the impact potential is astonishing.