The Syria Airlift Project was founded on a promise to our Syrian friends: despite all odds, we would try to find a way to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged communities.
Over the past year and a half we brought together an amazing crew of volunteers from all around the world: peacemakers, engineers, law students, business leaders, editors, researchers, humanitarian workers, and military officers. We made serious strides in drone education, changed the policy conversation about UAV use in conflict zones, built and tested a prototype aircraft capable of delivering packages at 50km ranges, and developed the first drone firmware specifically designed with security futures for operating safely and responsibly in conflict zones. At our March 2015 refugee empowerment event, we showed the world a new paradigm for delivering aid: teaching ordinary Syrian and Iraqi families to deliver hope and healing back into their country using drones.
Nothing about this project has been easy. The setbacks came fast and furious: crashes, software bugs, hardware failures, funding shortfalls, legal challenges. Every one of these setbacks was painful, but none were insurmountable. We rebuilt planes, rewrote software, ordered new parts, raised new funds, and plowed headlong through the legal obstacles. In our August letter, we shared some of the more recent setbacks, including a crash and fire and a lack of political support. Still, so long as we saw a viable path ahead, we never gave up.
That is why it is with such deep sadness that we must announce Uplift has finally run into obstacles we cannot surmount. Today we are announcing the dissolution of Uplift Aeronautics and the termination of the Syria Airlift Project.
One of our top concerns is to keep faith with Uplift’s donors, which is why offered to refund money in our August letter. We are still passionate about helping Syrians, and we still have the majority of our crowdfunded money. We will donate the remaining money to four charities that share our passion for Syria: Project Amal ou Salaam, the Syrian American Medical Society, the White Helmets, and Refugee Open Ware.
Jessie Mooberry, previously Vice Director, has stepped into the Executive Director role to oversee the dissolution.
The Insurmountable Obstacle
We founded Uplift Aeronautics to harness emerging and experimental technologies in extremely high-risk environments. Our aim was to reach desperate populations with no ability to offer a return on investment. The high risks and the absence of a profit motive made it almost impossible to find traditional investment. Furthermore, as full-time students and workers, we never had the option of working on the project full-time. Instead we tried a creative alternative: building a volunteer organization modeled after the open-source software community.
We always believed that if our volunteer team made sufficient progress, we could attract better-resourced partners who could develop the paradigm in a more sustainable way. So we made a moonshot. Our volunteer team worked extremely hard, at great personal sacrifice, for more than a year, culminating in our successful refugee empowerment event. We believed that was a turning point, which is why we took the bold chance of a crowdfunding campaign and began seeking help to execute a Turkey plot project.
Unfortunately, although we received great help from some like-minded organizations, we never found those larger partners who could help make our work sustainable. By the end of the summer our volunteer team was badly burned out, and we never fully recovered from the summer’s setbacks. In our August letter we announced our intention to keep working at a reduced pace, but the intervening months have confirmed that the complexity of the project exceeds what a volunteer team can deliver. We still believe this paradigm for delivering aid is sound, but developing it will require greater resources and a sustainable business model.
Innovation is a cumulative enterprise. We are all part of a vibrant human ecosystem, and when one entrepreneur stumbles, another can take up his or her half-finished masterpiece. The day will come when robots deliver humanitarian aid in conflict zones. We have no doubt about that. When the story of that achievement is eventually told, we hope Uplift will have a chapter.
To our supporters: Thank you for believing in us. We can’t tell you how many times we nearly quit, but it was your words of encouragement and your expressions of faith that kept us going.
To our Syrian friends: We tried. We tried with everything we had.
To our volunteers: Each and every one of you is a remarkable human being. We can’t express our gratitude for your hard work and your sacrifice, on top of your busy lives. Always cherish what we accomplished. We hope your involvement with Uplift gives you the confidence and passion to go forth and do your own creative, fulfilling, purposeful work in the world.
We leave with you with Theodore Roosevelt’s immortal “Man in the Arena.”
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
You stood in the arena and held your ground against all odds. We salute you. Thank you for everything. Be proud.
Board of Directors
Jessie Mooberry, President