BERLIN • An advertising billboard stands in Times Square showing New Yorkers what they can get for 50 US cents (about 70 Singapore cents): 90 seconds of a sightseeing tour, for example, or 1.8 seconds with the street performer, the "Naked Cowboy".
Or they could provide a malnourished child with meals for a day.
The advertisement introduces New Yorkers to "ShareTheMeal", a smartphone app from a Berlin start-up that is an initiative of the United Nations World Food Programme.
ShareTheMeal founder Sebastian Stricker asked himself a simple question: In a world where there are more smartphones than hungry people, why not fight hunger with a click on an app? Whenever a smartphone user is having his breakfast, lunch or dinner, he has the opportunity to share 40 euro cents with someone in need - thus the name ShareTheMeal.
Since the app was launched last year, the user numbers have mushroomed. "Some 5.4 million meals were distributed by about 500,000 donors up to the end of April," says the ShareTheMeal founder. "That means we are feeding between 10,000 and 15,000 children every day."
In Lesotho, after about a third of malnourished children were provided for via ShareTheMeal for a year, private initiatives stepped in and carried on the aid work. Now ShareTheMeal aims to provide for all Syrian refugee children in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
The underlying idea is to prove that the aid put in place, thanks to donations from the app, is working, so that other initiatives can take over.
Some foreign aid critics argue that the countries concerned might become dependent on it in the long run. Mr Stricker disagrees, saying: "If you constantly remain below this minimum, you will remain ill, will have few opportunities and will pass this on to your children as well."
In the future, smartphone users might even be able to see who they have shared their meal with. Mr Stricker is carrying out initial experiments with virtual reality in Lebanon.
"This is really touching," he says. "The children are holding up their food to the camera with big smiles."