Archive for October, 2007

Interview with Nunni’s belly

The original plan was to interview Nunni on her daily work routine and her role as betterplace Super Woman in charge of organisations and all things that need to be organized. At the agreed time, however, instead of Nunni a huge belly shows up. Which already has gained itself an infamous reputation for its considerable size. Well, neither the belly itself nor the person carrying it let silly jokes spoil their good mood (since they both have a sense of humour that’s undestroyable).

Me: Belly, what do you particularly like about being with us?

Belly: I can’t complain at all. First of all, there can’t be a better place (!) than Nunni, and secondly I consider myself lucky to be sitting in the laughing room. Those geeks in the other room think, the people over here laugh. And I totally love the fresh fruit, a betterplace regular.

Me: Is there something you don’t like?

Belly: Mmh. I spend lots of time infront of the screen – even though I’m so big that Nunni can barely touch the keyboard. Sometimes that’s bit exhausting for both of us. On the other hand I like being a mini project manager – you can’t start early enough, can you? What? Nah, doesn’t have anything to do with child labour.

Me: Okay. And what are you going to be?

Belly: Don’t know. But it sure will have square shaped eyes.

Me: Yeah, but would you prefer pink or blue?

Belly: Neither nor. The CI in the nursery room will be grey/light green strictly. That’s how we like it. Additionally, Nunni and I are big fans of the exploding flower, the betterplace logo, which we can also picture as throwing star. Well, it might turn out to be boy after all. One thing is certain, though: if I meditate and get in touch with my inner self, I know what the first words will be: “upload a picture”, “under the radar”, and “name a need”.

Me: Belly, when can we finally expect the event to take place?

Belly: The new team member is scheduled to join betterplace on January 7. We don’t have any time frames available before that we’re afraid.

Me: Thank you, Belly, for this interview. We wish the best of luck to both of you.




“Democracy is an export article”

betterplace at the ceremony of the CARE Partnership Award and the CARE Millenium Award that go to the Tuareg leader Mano Aghali from Niger and the Premier Minister of Luxemburg Jean-Claude Juncker.

A few impressions.

“It’s a little lame, fair enough, but at least it’s moving forward.”

Development aid or, rather, development collaboration between equal partners (Jean-Claude Juncker stresses in his speech how out of date “development aid” is – as an expression and as a concept) is a quite serious issue. Nonetheless there is a lot to laugh about at the event just by the Brandenburger Tor. The German Minister of Finance, Peer Steinbrück, who is giving the honorific speech for his friend Jean Claude, starts off well but then gets carried away in his attempt of self-promotion.

“Sometimes you have to make two steps back before you can make a step forward,” says the Embassador of Niger.

Juncker receives the Millenium Award for his achievements in the struggle against poverty. It’s the first time that this award is being given to someone, which, for German standards, “can already be considered a tradition.” This man just dares to say it. It is very impressive how to the point he phrases things, and in the most accurate German. He simply addresses clichès, uncomfortable facts and short-comings without beating around the bush at all. He explains complex ideas with images that everyone can understand. And he switches to an equally eloquent French just like that, when he interrupts his speech for a personal dialog with Mano Aghali.

“I’m from the front,” says the retired development worker.

Even if you don’t have a clue – you just know that the Tuareg Aghali is a great fighter and diplomat. Compared to the others his speech is quite condensed. He is happy to receive the award, you can see that, but you can also see that he is thinking about the work that is still lying ahead of him. Which doesn’t mean that this man doesn’t have a sense of humour. When I’m being introduced to him by the buffet I am overwhelmed by his presence (I openly admit that my legs were a bit shaky). Next thing I notice is the fact that Aghali’s eyes are laughing constantly. It might sound strange now but it is the truth.

We are a colourful bunch in every respect: the development worker, the Embassador of Niger, the manager of the famous Charitè Hospital in Berlin, the foundation lady, and myself are enjoying the African food together – as we’re discussing this and that, and a lot of it is triggered by Junckers speach: “Democracy is no democracy, if you have it and keep it to yourself – democracy is an export article” – that’s what stuck to everyone’s mind. Everyone agrees on that.

More: about the award ceremony (in German), about Mano Aghali and his organisation HED-Tamat (also in German, please contact CARE for more information), about Niger and Jean-Claude Juncker.

Opportunity makes the thief

Time and again I realize how “the idea betterplace” comes across as quite peculiar. Wether it’s on one of the numerous events being held on behalf of the Project Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance, like for instance when John Wood presented his great project Room to Read to a broader public here in Berlin. Or wether it is in private when telling friends about one of our projects.

An example: yesterday I introduced betterplace and the projects already uploaded on the platform to a colleague from the Project Humboldt-Viadrina. While we were browsing through the pages she spotted a little “horses for kids project” here in Berlin that she really liked, and she spontaneously declared that she was going to contact the person responsible for the project in order to capture her impressions for other people interested in the project. It had a great live effect to it that I had to share with you all.

So long, take care,


Birgit in Beijing

I just did an e-mail interview with Birgit Eberlein, who is currently building up a local group for betterplace in Beijing

Q: How did you find out about betterplace and what are you doing in Beijing?

Birgit: Last summer I met Joana in a Café in Berlin. She told me about betterplace and I immediatly thought: what a great idea! But I didn’t really know in any detail what it was all about. After having lived in Berlin for 6 years my family planned to go abroad again. My husband works for Chrysler and when we had the opportunity to go to Beijing we, we felt that it would be great chance to witness Chinas transformation.

Q.: How did you get in touch with interesting projects in China?

Birgit: After having heard about betterplace I kept my eyes and ears open. The problem wasn’t so much finding projects – there are sooo many – but a project suitable for betterplace. I was especially interesting in finding a project which didn’t yet have loads of support.

Q.:How did you come across Good Gifted Garden, the Beijing project already posted on betterplace?

Birgit: That was pure chance. A friend of mine from Berlin had given me Chun Hongs telephone number, as they had met a few years ago in Beijing. I was looking for some insider tips for restaurants and thus contacted her. We got on well straight away and she started telling me about her work. She spoke about it with such enthusiasm, that I was fascinated, She really lives for her work with handicapped and autistic children. Very impressive!

Q.: Was it easy to post the project or did you encounter many difficulties?

Birgit: The posting itself was no difficult, as we were one of the first projects and the people in the Berlin betterplace office were very helpful. On the other hand, the communication here in China was a challenge, for example to translate texts into English. Even though Chun Hong speaks English, many terms relating to her work are difficult to understand. After a while I had assembled a small network: my Chinese teacher translates her writing into English, while my Australian friend Mary checks up Chun Hongs “flowery” (as Joana calls it) English. It would be hard to do everything on my own. Simply to find out the name of the bank was a real problem. Even the employees of the Beijing branch couldn’t help and always sent me back with Chinese characters. But in the end we managed to work it out.

Q.: Do you have more projects for betterplace? And what else would you like to do with betterplace?

Birgit: There are a number of good projects, such as the Josephine Charles Foundation. I got to know Josephine a few weeks ago – she is an expat wife who works in the Liangshan area. She builds schools of girls, who are on the lowest social ladder in this part of China. There is another project, See the Stars, in which I am interested. They are looking after Tibetan orphans. The people in that region are suffering from the high UV-radiation and many are blind as there is a lack of sun glasses and medical treatments.

Yet, in order to look after all these projects I need a larger network. My idea is to contact a number of other expat networks to gather support. There is the INN (International Newcommersnetwork) and Beijing Café, an Interent chat platform. I am also going to contact a group in the German Embassy, which is very actively involved in charities. Many people are interested in betterplace. A few days ago I walked my dog with a few other women and they also want to join betterplace. Spontaneously we decided to call our group the Dogpark Community – why not? I would like to built up a local group which meets regulary. I am optimistic, but as the Chinese say: lbuibulei (this is the spoken version!) (step by step). I am glad to be part of betterplace: it is exiting to personally witness all the things which are happening here. As Mark Twain said: in twenty years you will be sorry for all the things you didn’t do, not for the ones you did.

Goodbye Janine

It’s a terrible loss. But we had to let her go.

Janine went back to South Africa. It is hard to understand why she wouldn’t want to experience the infamous Berlin winter. She could have proved how hard she really was! We could have continued to go to the Thai during lunch breaks and smoke too many hand rolled cigarettes in the snow, and the whole betterplace team would have kept her warm until spring time. But why? As Till put it, Janine only does summers. I’m sorry? Summer – what summer? We didn’t have one this year. Janine fooled us!

One way or the other, she is gone. Personally, I will miss her laughing fits, the cheeky smile, and her lucid mind. As for the organisation, it was during her 3 months in Berlin when betterplace made a giant leap forward, and she contributed with the right mix of good vibes and professional advise.

Janine, good luck and all the best to you!

Your betterplace Berlin team

betterplace junior


On Friday we convened the first betterplace junior meeting in our offices.

My own children, Lilian (14) and Vico (12), had been involved in the design of the platform right from the beginning – we had first started to look at local initiatives while we as a family had been travelling around the world. And as so many of their friends had heard about betterplace and wanted to be part of it, it seemed natural to start a section for children and young adults at betterplace right from the start (or even before the official launch!).

The first meeting was attended by eleven children between 8 and 14. We briefly discussed the functions of the platform, after which all those who hadn’t registered yet were able to do so – it will be Lilian’s job to remind everyone to post their photo asap!

The bulk of the meeting consisted of finding a name for the children section of betterplace. Julius came up with betterkids, a nice name, but the “kid”-part somehow has a connotation I am not so happy with. It is so mixed up in consumerism and that is not what betterplace is about. Names with “child” or “children” didn’t work either, as they seem inappropriate for the 14 and 15 year olds in the group. Philip had a number of nice suggestions, including the German “Elfen Helfen” (elfs help), but we discarded that one too after hearing that it was the name of a TV programme. Thus at the end of the day the working title betterplace junior seemed to be not a bad choice after all.

In between muffins and chocolate chip cookies some of the children came up with the idea of asking their idols for testimonials for betterplace once the platform is online. Julius and Piers are already trying to contact their hero Tiger Woods. Good Luck!

What are children and young adults supposed to do on the platform? This group is kind of a pilot group to find out what possibilities there are. One of the first things we are going to organize is a stand on a flee-market in Berlin to do fundraising and donate the money to a project chosen by the children themselves. As many of the children present are bilingual, they will also be able to help with the translation of projects from German into English and vica verca. I can also envision them starting partnerships between their respective schools and classes and others around the world.

Whatever this group decides to do – I am convinced that they’ll come up with ideas which we adults haven’t even envisioned yet.