Archive for December, 2007

Project of the Week: Relief Equipment for Casualties of “Sidr”

morsheda_kailsen-01_profile.jpgWhen on November 17 cyclone Sidr reached the Southeast coast of Bangaldesh, the massive waves not only destroyed coastal villages, but the ensuing winds devastated whole areas further inland as well. Around 2400 dead were to be mourned (the Bangladesh Daily Star even speaks about unofficial estimates of 10.-15.thousand), over 3 million people were affected directly, not to mention the consequences for the whole of the national economy, especially the annual harvest. 

In this situation CARE Germany-Luxemburg reacted immediately and called, among others,  for donations on With the help of project sponsor Daimler Financial Services AG and 135 donors on betterplace, CARE was able to distribute 70 water pumps (each providing 15 families with clean water), as well as hundreds of survival packages, plastic sheets and food parcels.  

Astrid Marxen, for CARE responsible for the emergency relief on betterplace, wrote about the organisations efforts, while from Bangladesh another CARE worker blogged about the situation on the ground.

The remaining costs of the project will be covered by Daimer Financial Services AG, while CARE will start the New Year with a long-term recovery project for the afflicted areas.

A short note at the end: The cyclone also had devastating effects on a singular ecosystem, the mangrove-swamps of the Sundarbans. A beautiful introduction into the area and its inhabitants is Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide.

Here is the project on betterplace


betterplace junior donates

What an unexpected success betterplace junior has been! Yesterday those of the group who spent the holidays in Berlin met to donate the earnings of the two christmas stalls to the five projects chosen before (not yet under the name of “betterplace junior” as the website will only support such groups technically sometime early next year) . Together with the betterplace gift vouchers the kids made over 4.000 Euro – the proceeds of which go 100% to the projects (we did subtract the production costs of most goods – some products though, such as the chocolates, were donated to us (thanks, Renée) and we are able to pass on the whole of the selling price). Thus yesterday they donated 294,50 Euro to CRO in Uganda, 286,50 Euro to the Choki Art School in Bhutan, 338 Euro to South Coast Hospice in South Africa, 240 Euro to Akinda, Berlin and 304,5 Euro to Room to Read in Cambodia.

Especially the Trikoton scarves and arm-cuffs were a huge success and we are practically sold out (all that remains are a few scarves). A friend of mine from Bavaria called after receiving a pair of cuffs for christmas and ordered 3 more for her friends, another friend wore the scarf at his university and immediately six of his colleagues bought some, while Billy, a betterplace volunteer-to-be got asked at Gallerie Lafayette thrice where she had bought those great cuffs. And so it went on and on. 2008 will see more of betterplace junior!

Send a cow! – charities’ ethical gifts

What do I give for Christmas?

There are different ways of making people happy. Like sending a cow. Charities are becoming more and more innovative in promoting gifts with a sense (and a twist) to them.

We at like the concept of giving someone the chance to give. That’s why we came up with the gift voucher. It makes sense to enable people to enable people – that’s what betterplace is all about.

Buy voucher now!

And then read on what other charities come up with (find the whole article on Reuters’ AlertNet):

Forget goats. If you want to help poor people in developing countries this Christmas, a fly-proof latrine or an elephant-repelling chilli hedge could be just the present to set your mind at rest. From bicycles for midwives and clearing unexploded mines to beehives and donkey-drawn libraries, charities are offering an ever greater range of novel “ethical presents”. “The need to innovate is greater than ever, particularly when you’re competing with big brands – and I’m talking about big charity brands as well as big consumer brands,” said Carole Monoyios, head of marketing and communications at aid agency CARE International.

We wish everyone a better christmas!

betterplace junior’s christmas stall

betterplacejunior-stand07-039.jpgYesterday betterplace junior organised their christmas stall on Kollwitzplatz in Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg. It was a huge success.

Not only did the juniors – Anton, Jakob and Philipp, Lotta, Albert, Lilian and Vico, Juli, Daniela and Rebecca and Julius – catch the attention of the visitors (amongst others by walking around and distributing free clementines with the betterplace logo and singing “better place” songs), they also competently answered questions about betterplace and the projects the proceeds will be donated to. They sold so many betterplace t-shirts, scarves, gloves, cards, chocolates, usb-sticks and vouchers that by the end of a long and cold but cheerful day they had earned over 1400 Euros for the 5 chosen projects. Our stall was by far one of the liveliest (even discounting the many friends that came by and did their christmas shopping) and the spirit was so good that not only did the market organisers invite us to their next market, but the children themselves were eager to organize another one. 

 Another great development was the spontaneous foundation of  betterplace bambini by Tibi and Lucca, 2 younger friends who sold their crafts next to ours and donated all of their earnings to 2 betterplace projects! 69,70 Euro will go to South Coast Hospice, 51,30 to Akinda in Berlin.

 Thanks to all of you – its a great pleasure to know you all!  And its also wonderful to have friends and supporters such as Sibylle and Renée without whose ideas and skills the wonderful first set of betterplace merchandize wouldn’t exist.


The Graffiti of the Philanthropy Class


The new home of the Shakespeare Theater Company in  Washington D.C. tells the tale of a new class of pilanthropists. As  The New York Times in an amusing article writes:

You enter through the Arlene and Robert Kogod Lobby. From there you may choose to ascend to the orchestra level by taking either the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation Grand Staircase West or the Philip L. Graham Fund Grand Staircase East. (One wonders: Do the friends of the Cafritz family feel disloyal if they enter on the east side, running late, and choose to head up Phil’s stairs?)

Should you arrive with time for a drink before the curtain, you can linger near the James and Esthy Adler Orchestra Terrace West, or the less personal-sounding American Airlines Orchestra Terrace East. And don’t forget to check your bulky outerwear at the Cassidy & Associates Coat Room, before entering the Landon and Carol Butler Theater Stage to watch the performance.

Two long lists of names of benefactors also cascade down the front of the terra-cotta-colored facade. More are etched into the glass balustrades on the upper level.

Indeed, from top to bottom the new theater is all but covered in this graffiti of the philanthropic class. Attending a performance can be like leafing through somebody else’s high school yearbook. Who are all these people? Should I know? Should I care? How much would I have to give to get my name on, say, a drinking fountain? And would a urinal be cheaper?

Why is Africa underdeveloped?

There are many theories trying to explain why the African continent is the global basket case. While the per capita income of the rest of the world in 2000 was US$ 8800, in Africa it was US$ 1800, nowhere else is life expectancy so low and illiteracy rates so high. And that although since the early 1950s $US 568 billion in aid has been poured into the continent.

In a new article (via 3 quarks daily – one of my favourite general interest blogs), the economist Nathan Nunn argues, that slavery is the main culprit. “Without the slave trades, 72% of Africa’s income gap with the rest of the world would not exist today.” Slavery affected those regions most developed between 1400 and 1900, which are today the poorest in Africa. Slavery, not only the transatlantic variety but also the earlier inter-African one, lead to political instability, weakened states, political and ethnic fragmentation and a deterioration of legal institutions.

Now, „One Big Thing“ theories are always suspicious. So let me throw in another (of the many) explanations. Many anthropologists will point to socio-cultural factors as being of great importance for African underdevelopment. One of the most important seems to be the egalitarian ethos of many traditional African societies. Jackson, a young South African man I got to know in Johannesburg earlier this year, had wanted to upgrade his family house back in the village by replacing the mud floor with concrete. But even this minimal attempt at differentiating his household from the others had spurred so much envy and suspicion that he eventually gave up on the project. Private wealth accumulation is seen as antisocial behaviour threatening to undermine the dense reciprocal relationships between villagers, who help each other out in times of need. The fear is that once some villagers are wealthy enough to do without these insurance networks, they might refuse to help needy others and thus destroy the fundamental sense of security in the community.

Successful people are constantly pressured to share their wealth with family and friends. If they don’t, they easily are branded as witches or have other envious people bewitching them. If you want to know more about this subject (and understand German!) read my old brand eins column or this article about witchcraft and the Swiss anthropologist David Signer (via antropologi). For a highly informative account of the role of witchcraft in Cameroon read Peter Geschieres The Modernity of Witchcraft.

See you soon, Nunni

For the first time I heard of Nunni a couple of years ago. Stephan was drowning in his work and our friend Nico said: “I know the perfect relief for you. You need Nunni.” In the same breath, however, she added: “Unfortunately you won’t get her, though, since she’s working for me.” There she was, the structured, organised, always friendly secret weapon for workaholics – but she was unreachable.

It has been a year now since we heard that Nunni was looking for a new job. The timing was perfect because at the time we were looking for a project coordinator for “Die Plattform” – the platform that later should become “betterplace”.

In the months that followed Nunni and Samir would sit opposite each other in our one-room-office in the Wilhemstrasse and, together, layed the foundation for our concept. Nunni created folders and lists, juggled deadlines and drew big mind maps. Together with Samir and under the guidance of Friedhelm and Stephan, she also developed our huge concept wall, that illustrates all processes, rolls and functions on the platform.

After having become betterplace Nunni took on the office coordination of the operation that had grown so quickly from one moment to the other. She took care of NGOs, and she helped them and the persons responsible for grassroots projects to upload profiles and projects. She maintained a steady flow of communication between us, and whenever we didn’t know where a document was saved, a phone number was to be found, or how the status of one of our many construction sites was – a short talk with Nunni resulted in all the answers we had been searching for.

Since last week Nunni (and her big belly) is on maternity leave. We miss her already. And we are looking forward to her visits, her baby and especially to her return.