Archive for April, 2008

The Web of Trust

This past week I was asked by a friend: “How’s it going with the ability to verify the authenticity of the charitable organizations, their admin to donation ratio’s etc? Obviously serious concerns for potential donors or am I missing something…?”

The answer: Yes, authenticity of projects is a serious concern.

Our solution: The “Web of Trust”.

betterplace welcomes not only projects from registered NGO’s, but also grassroots projects. These are projects that are not affiliated to a registered organisation, but are uploaded on betterplace by individuals from all over the world who have a specific need, or represents the needs of someone that they know.

Each project on betterplace is surrounded and supported by a network. The more feedback, comment and activity a project receives, the more likely people will trust its authenticity.

The Web of Trust is best explained through an example:

Simon, a middle-aged Mozambican lives and works as a gardener in Johannesburg. He has worked for the same family for many years. Each year he travels home with food, possessions and money to support his family and educate his children. His employer, the “Project Responsible” uploads his story as a project on betterplace, and sends out an email to all his friends asking for their support. Immediatly friends respond, not only because of their personal friendship to the employer, but because they have met Simon, and some register as an “Advocate” for the project – vouching for its authenticity. A few months later, another family friend is traveling by car up to Maputo, and promises to transport some goods to Simon’s family, and meets the children. He returns and registers as a “Visitor” of this grassroots project on betterplace.

And so the web of trust spreads and grows, gathering support and momentum.

We believe that the connection between people – the users of betterplace – is the best credibility filter that any project can go through. Thereby establishing a new quality methodology for evaluating grassroots projects.

Paul Resnick coined the term SocioTechnical Capital in a paper called “Beyond Bowling Together: SocioTechnical Capital”, and speaks of the importance of building social capital with social resources such as Trust, thereby making it easier for people to work and play together.

His views support the theory behind the betterplace Web of Trust: “A network of people who have developed communication patterns and trust can accomplish much more than a bunch of strangers, even if the two sets of people have similar human, physical, and financial capital available. The productive capacity can be used to benefit individuals, the network as a whole, or society at large.”

For those who feel more comfortable with formal structures – they also have the choice of donating to projects that are run by registered NGO’s on betterplace. And furthermore, if you as a user do not trust the authenticity of a project, we encourage you to flag it to our attention, and in the future, with more advanced technology, we will be able to pick up “patterns” of fraud for example in the repetition of text etc.

People believe their friends before any form of advertising or marketing campaigns. It is this core human quality of trust that we depend on to make a better place!

P.S from Joana: Today I saw a very relevant post on Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing blog on Trust is a triangle – why and how to get it


If you care about hunger, eat less meat

Over the last 3 years the cost of basic food has risen by an average of 83% worldwide. This dramatic increase is partly related to agricultural plots being used for the supply of the booming bio fuels energy market. Rising costs os staples such as rice and wheat have led to unrest and violent protests in some 37 countries, from Egypt and Ethiopia to the Philippines and Indonesia. In Haiti, thousands of demonstrators erected street barricades, demolished shops and forced the prime minister to resign. At least 5 people were killed, as were 24 in riots in Camerooon.


Following Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Director of the International Monetary Fund and Robert Zoellick from the World Bank, Pascal Lamy, Director General of WTO also issued a stark warning and called for a reorientation of development policies towards a focussed support of local agriculture.


Concerning the larger picture of the crisis I found an interesting article by Guardian columnist and author George Monbiot (via culturematters). Quoting the World Bank he points out that “the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol … could feed one person for a year”. Read against the background of new environmental energy policies, such as Britains Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, which obliges sellers of transport fuels to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops, it becomes obvious what a highly sensitive balance needs to be found between environmental, energy and food strategies.


But Monbiot also points to another cause of the current food crisis: While this year 100 million tonnes of foodstuff will feed cars, 760 (!!!) million tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals. With more and more of the world population developing a craving for meat, Monbiot reaches the conclusion that: “If you care about hunger, eat less meat.”

The power of friends telling friends telling…

It’s about more than about giving money — it’s about creating connections. By encouraging individual participation and involvement, we will create international communities of common interest. This is the essence of social networking.

This is exactly what is about. It’s good to know we are in good company. Thanks to my colleague Hannelore for pointing me to this interesting article!

Tom Hadfield had sold for 40 million US dollars at the age of 17. Eight years and a trip to Zambia later he’s now taking on the fight against malaria. With the “web guru” (as he’s labeled in the Reuters article by John Joseph) aims to support local researchers working on ways to treat or prevent malaria – and who are facing a terrible lack of resources. The fact “that thousands of people are dying every day from a preventable disease” prompted Hadfield to start MalariaEngage. By joining forces with Peter A. Singer and Abdallah S. Daar, both health professors at the University of Toronto, the social entrepreneur’s initiative has surely gathered momentum. In the article, Singer is quoted as saying: “We feel young African scientists have very good ideas that end up in the dustbin. This is about helping committed young researchers with good ideas to help themselves create a better future.”

This is a great approach to make the world a better place. We share Hadfield’s hope that social networking will be used by more and more people to get engaged in social change.

Like him, we believe in the positive power of the internet – and “in the power of friends telling friends telling friends.” Good luck, Tom!

betterplace and social design

What is social design?

We cannot not change the world – the socialdesignsite shows design ideas and initiatives for the other 90 %. Design is not just about beautiful products, or architecture, it’s about creating culture and space for a better living. It’s about the “social implications”. Take the hippo water roler, for example:

The Hippo Water Roller is a barrel-shaped container designed to transport 90 liters (20 gallons) of water. It was designed for communities, particularly in Africa, where providing a household with water requires walking up to two-three hours to the nearest source and back every day. Traditionally the women and children of the communities carry out the task of getting the water. They are able to carry as much as 20 liters (5 gallons) in tanks on their heads.

We at betterplace are known to be fans of the World Toilet Organisation, another great (design) initiative with a real social impact.

betterplace is proud to be featured in the socialdesignsite’s introductory movie to social design. It was shown on the PRaDSA workshop Designing for the 21st Century: Using Web 2.0 Technologies (and Social Networking Tools) for Social Action in London. Right now Suk-Han, Joana, and their team, are on their way to conferences in New York and Torino, Italy. Thank you for taking us along.

Watch the movie here and understand why we cannot not change the world!

Philanthropic Travel

Over the last decades, tourism has exploded into a booming industry. Families and individuals across the world often measure their quality of life in relation to their time spent on holiday. Hard-earned savings are spent on the days or few weeks spent in “exotic” places, enjoying the natural and cultural resources of the area.

As travelers and holidaymakers, how often have we stopped to ask ourselves what lasting footprints do we leave behind in the places we visit?

Tourism is largely considered a boost to the host country economy. Tourists bring foreign currency into the country, businesses are boosted and tourism can help motivate preservation and conservation of unique cultural, natural, and historic resources.

However, when badly managed, tourism can also destroy environmental and cultural distinctiveness, perpetuate great disparities in wealth, and limit education.

Geotourism” is the new buzz-word in the tourism industry. The term was coined by National Geographic senior editor Jonathan Tourtellot and his wife Sally Bensusen, in response to requests for a term and concept more encompassing than ecotourism and sustainable tourism.

Geotourism is defined as: tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place-its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

Taking it a step further, National Geographic in collaboration with Ashoka Changemakers, have set up The GeoTourism Challenge.

The goal of the Geotourism Challenge is to identify and showcase innovators – individuals and organizations – that support geotourism and present remarkable examples of innovation that demonstrate ways for tourism to do the most good and the least harm.

Deadline for entry was 16 April. The so far 210 applications will be shortlisted by a panel of judges, and on 28 May, the public is invited to vote and comment on the finalists.

Travel philanthropy offers a truly meaningful element to travel and a valuable culture exchange that ultimately deepens global social consciousness.

They say a change is as good as a holiday – perhaps it’s time for your holiday to make a change!?

Paul Farmers Call for Inclusive Social Entrepreneurship

Being an anthropologist concerned with poverty alleviation myself, the name Paul Farmer, has a forceful ring. Farmer, a medical doctor and anthropologist, author of books such as Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor (2005), is also the co-founder of Partners in Health. Since its first hospital in Haiti, which provides free treatment to poor patients suffering from tuberculosis and AIDS, PiH has developed into a worldwide health organization.


I heard Farmer speak at a conference of the American Anthropological Association in Chicago a few years ago and was very impressed with his uncompromising views on poverty and human dignity. Thus, when Social Edge featured Dr. Farmer’s closing speech at this years Skoll Forum, I read it immediately.


In it Farmer pointed to a blind spot in the enthusiasm about social entrepreneurship, when he critiqued the preoccupation (even fetishization) of the movement with scale.


After seeing earlier waves of development practice fail, social entrepreneurs – many of whom are financed by a new breed of ex-entrepreneurs immersed in the culture of capitalism – apply business thinking to poverty reduction. Foundations and funds such as Ashoka and Acumen Fund are interested to support initiatives, which are transferable from one place to the other and are scalable. And they are doing admirable work.


Yet, as Paul Farmer reminds us, scaling and business solutions might only work for a certain number of issues and people. But what about those poor people, who are not cost-effective customers? Will they be left unserved by the new social entrepreneur movement? When the poor are re-cast as customers, will we loose sight of the fact, that certain goods and services should be rights, not commodities?


Farmer asks: “Does anyone really believe that a mother loves her newborn more if she had to pay for some sort of user fee for prenatal or obstetrics care?” and calls for us to include the poor people in the social entrepreneur movement and allow them to be social entrepreneurs.


He has a very valid point: its great to be able to scale services and commodities and thus reach out to a large number of poop people, but we should equally support small-scale initiatives, closely in touch with local communities, who might not be potential customers, but who nevertheless have the right to a dignified life.


As Mike Lee comments: “Farmer … was asking us not to forget that all acts of compassion (even the smallest), and all efforts to alleviate suffering (even those difficult to scale) are worthwhile and valuable, even sacred.”

re:publica 08 – vom vergessen und erinnern

Die 3 Top Themen der re:publica 08 waren laut Organisator Markus Beckedahl (hier gibt’s das Interview mit ihm und anderen von Bloggerin Schnutinger): 1) Datenschutz, gepaart mit mehr Medienkompetenz 2) Soziale Medien in ihrer ganzen Vielfalt und 3) Die Frage, was öffentlich-rechtlich ist im digitalen Zeitalter.

Um das Ende mal vorweg zu nehmen: Es waren sehr lehrreiche und, wie Annika am Freitag bereits schrieb, inspirierende Tage. Ich kann nur von mir sprechen, aber viel davon war Entmystifizierung. Nach einem furiosen Auftakt von Harvard-Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, der ein Plädoyer für die Notwendigkeit des Vergessens hielt und sich im Zuge dessen für ein digitales Haltbarkeitsdatum ausspricht, ging es steil bergab. ‘Die Zukunft der Social Networks’ ist finster, wenn man das erste Panel der Konferenz als Omen für die Zukunft von StudiVZ, MySpace & Co sehen will. Der Untertitel der Veranstaltung ‘Geschlossene Türen oder offene Fenster’ war ja vielleicht ironisch gemeint, denn da saßen die üblichen Verdächtigen in ihrem eigenen Mief und diskutierten über alte Hüte. “Nein, also das machen wir natürlich nicht, da kämen wir ja mit dem Gesetz in Konflikt.” Ich hätte mir alle Anwesenden in Mayer-Schönbergers Vortrag über Erinnern und Vergessen im digitalen Zeitalter gewünscht und, anstatt sich anhören zu müssen, wie sich Schuld gegenseitig zu-, und dann entschieden von sich gewiesen wird, lieber die Verantwortlichen der einschlägigen Social Networks zum Thema Infomationsökologie gehört.

Die Qualitätsdebatte. Journalisten vs. Blogger. Hmpf. Gut, aber Johnny Häusler von Spreeblick, der als Moderator des Panels mutig in die Bresche gesprungen war, hatte schon recht, als er meinte, das (leidige) Thema dürfe nicht fehlen. Schade nur, dass von der Journalistenfront zwar einige geladen, aber keiner gekommen war. Journalist und Blogger Thomas Knüwer (in No Porno Please! vom Samstag, dem Day After der Konferenz also, lässt er tief blicken), Bild-Blogger und Journalist Stefan Niggemeier und Mercedes Bunz (derzeit Chefredakteurin bei Tagesspiegel Online), die dann auf dem Panel saßen, sind ja sozusagen Zwitterwesen. Haben sich aber redlich um einen Diskurs bemüht. Inhaltlich kam nicht viel Neues bei rum, aber der Unterhaltungswert war hoch und die Panelteilnehmer fast schon zu sympathisch. Jetzt mal unter uns: Mercedes hat nebenbei den Sex-Appeal der Konferenz dramatisch nach oben gerissen und den Jungs gezeigt, was ein verbaler Haken ist.

Fazzen oder bloggen – mehr zur Qualitätsdebatte gibt’s zum Beispiel auf Robert Basics Blog.

Zur Diskussion ‘Geld verdienen mit Blogs reloaded’ möchte ich nur eins sagen: die “Größen” Robert Basic, Sascha Lobo und Remo Uherek (der sich schweizerisch diplomatisch im Hintergrund gehalten hat, schade eigentlich!) scheinen sich gegenseitig zu neutralisieren. Viel war nicht geboten, außer Kraftmeierei und einer merkwürdigen Realness-Debatte. Das Thema sehe ich definitiv nochmal auf der Agenda der re:publica 09. Reloaded.

Nun zu den beiden Veranstaltungen, die für uns als betterplacianer besonders interessant waren: ‘Kampagnen und NGOs im Netz’ und der Workshop ‘Greenpeace Internetstrategie’. Womit wir wieder beim Entmystifizieren wären. Vielleicht habe ich eine verschobene Wahrnehmung, aber auch hier kam für mich zu wenig rüber (außer der Erkenntnis, dass wir alle nur mit Wasser kochen). Wenn der PR-Chef und Campaigning-Mann von Greenpeace, Volker Gassner, davon spricht, mittels der neuen Internetstrategie weg vom Monolog zu wollen, hin zu einer dialogischen Kommunikation, dann, naja, ist mir das ein bischen mager. Aber was soll das Meckern! Es geht, egal ob bei Gigant Greenpeace oder Baby betterplace, darum, einfach mal anzufangen, anstatt sich um den Verstand zu konzipieren. Dieses Fazit aus Gassners Vortrag habe ich mitgenommen. hat Gassner am Rande der Konferenz zur geplanten “Netzattacke” befragt.

Hard Bloggin’ Scientist Benedikt Köhler, der mit auf dem NGO-Panel saß, ging das Gerede von wegen “Wir haben ganz viele geile Kampagnen gemacht” sichtlich auf die Nerven. Ist ja klar, dass hier zwei Welten aufeinander prallen – Benedikt & Co, die mit der Free Burma Blogaktion 2007 Massen bewegt und nebenbei bewiesen haben, dass es keinen direkten Zusammenhang zwischen offline und online Engagement gibt. Und auf der anderen Seite traditionelle NGOs, die ihre ganze Struktur erstmal mühevoll umwuchten müssen, um sich – für teures Geld – via Web 2.0 eine neue Möglichkeit der Aktivierung zu erschließen. In der Zwischenzeit sind in der Online-Welt die Grenzen zwischen reinem Aktivist und demjenigen, “der sich nur beteiligt”, längst verschwommen, wie Benedikt anmerkte.

Für eine ausführliche Besprechung und kritische Hinterfragung der beiden “Web 2.0 in an NGO world”-Veranstaltungen unbedingt Andreas Post auf Alles was gerecht ist lesen!

Markus Beckedahl und Johnny Häusler: Vielen Dank für den gigantischen Denkanstoß, den Ihr uns mit der re:publica verpasst habt!

Wir sehen uns auf der re:publica 09. reloaded.