Archive for August, 2008

Cinema Jenin

For the past few days we had Marcus Vetter, an award-winning documentary film director, staying with us and visiting betterplace. It’s been a great time, with little sleep and much talk, many meetings resulting in a number of creative ideas.

What is a film director doing on betterplace?
Well, Marcus latest film, Heart of Jenin, took him to the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Here he documented the true story of Ismael Khatib, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp. In 2005 Ismaels 12 years old son Achmed was shot dead by Israeli soldiers. Still grieving, his father agreed to donate Ahmed’s heart, liver, lungs and kidneys to save the lives of Israeli children.

The film documents not only the dramatic days after Achmed’s death, but follows Ismaels journey two years later to three of the Jewish families whose children owe their lives to the organ donations.

The New York Times writes:
Offering a startling vision of hope while laying bare the deep divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, “The Heart of Jenin,” a new German-Israeli documentary film, recounts the story of Ahmed, his father, and three of the five people who received the donated organs.

“It’s not about politics, about Jews or Arabs, it’s about human beings,” said Ismail Khatib, Ahmed’s father, in an interview after the film’s premiere in Jerusalem.

“I see my son in these children.”

The encounter with the protagonists of the story, as well as the political and humanitarian catastrophy defining the Palestinian Territories, moved Marcus to go beyond his usual task of documentation. Together with Ismael, who had started a child center in the Jenin refugee camp in order to keep children off the dangerous streets, he decided upon a new social project: the renovation of the old cinema in the city center.

You can read more about the project here

Marcus came in touch with betterplace when presenting his project (alongside our CEO Till) at the Hasso Plattner Institute, devoted to Social Entrepreneurship, last month (thanks Dagmar Quentin for making the match and for Jörg Rheinboldt to pass it on to me!).

Since, Marcus and I have met at the film festival in Locarno, where Heart of Jenin was enthusiastically greeted, and where I had the chance to meet Ismael himself. Now in Berlin we sat together with Moritz (responsible for marketing at betterplace), Hannelore (projects), Aishah (press) and Hans-Jürgen (project incubator) to devise effective fundraising strategies for Cinema Jenin. Today we also spent a constructive hour in the offices of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, leaving with the prospect of systematically gathering support from important German cultural institutions abroad.

Supporting a project like Cinema Jenin is no only intellectually and emotionally exciting, it also teaches a lot about project work. We are in direct contact with a project manager or social entrepreneur, who gives us valuable feedback about the functioning of betterplace as a fundraising and networking platform. Thus by engaging deeply with one project, we are hopefully able to develop solutions which will benefit all users of the plattform.


Trends in giving

Today I once again visited Philanthropy UK, “the leading resource for free and impartial advice to aspiring philanthropists who want to give effectively.”

Here are their 10 trends in (British) philanthropy:

1. Private wealth is increasing

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of wealthy individuals as well as a shift in source of wealth in Britain: 15 years ago, 75% of the Sunday Times Rich List had inherited their wealth and 25% were self-made. Today that ratio is reversed. Meanwhile, the number of billionaires in the Rich List grew by 25% to 68 in 2007, while the country’s richest 1,000 increased their fortunes by 20% to almost £350 billion.

2. A new type of donor is emerging, altering the giving landscape

Changes in amount and source of wealth are giving rise to a new type of donor – one who is younger, typically (but not necessarily) self-made and socially conscious. The new philanthropists want to be engaged in their giving, using their business experience and expertise to support the charity more closely. They also are willing to invest a significant amount of capital – including funding core costs – and take significant risks to test innovative ideas. Importantly, because they are private individuals, they are able to take risks that government and many foundations, who are accountable to other stakeholders, simply cannot.

3. More people are giving during their lifetime

More people are choosing to give during their lifetime, rather than through a one-off legacy bequest. They want to experience the joy of giving and of the relationships they develop – with charity staff, beneficiaries and other donors. More people are talking publicly about their giving, providing role models to new givers.

4. Views on the amount of wealth parents should pass on to their children is changing

Especially among the self-made, more individuals are choosing to give much of their wealth ‘back to society’, through either legacies or lifetime giving. They will provide for their children, but charity is also important. A 2000 Lloyds TSB survey revealed that over half of people with liquid assets of £250,000 or more would prefer to either spend their money or give it to charity rather than to their children.

5. Givers increasingly want to see the impact of their donations

As they become more sophisticated and strategic in their giving, donors increasingly want to see the impact of their support. This goes beyond outputs, such as the number of people helped, to address the longer-term outcomes and impacts on beneficiaries, such as improved health or self-esteem. Donors are also demanding increased accountability and transparency from charities. They want to be confident that their money is being used both effectively and efficiently.

6. More donors are giving together

More donors are joining together to leverage their funding and to share learning. These include ‘giving circles’ such as The Funding Network, as well as funding vehicles such as ARK and the Private Equity Foundation. See The Philanthropy Directory for a full list.

7. Innovation in charity financing is growing

Philanthropists are embracing new ways of giving, such as venture philanthropy. They also are utilising new types of charity financing – including loans and equity – to support charities and social enterprises, filling a gap in the funding market. Meanwhile, charitable banks have been established, enabling social investors to help disadvantaged communities to achieve sustainable economic growth. See The Philanthropy Directory for a full list of new funding and financing vehicles.

8. There is a growing range of charitable services that help donors to give effectively

There is a growing infrastructure of charities and professional service firms to support and promote effective giving, and to help new and existing donors to take a more informed and strategic approach to giving. Meanwhile, private banks are expanding philanthropy services to their high net-worth clients. See The Philanthropy Directory for a full list of donor support services.

9. Information flows are improving

Publicly available information on charities generally has been wanting. However, this is changing with improved quantity and quality of information flows in the sector. These include online resources, such as the Charity Commission’s Register of Charities, GuideStar UK and Intelligent Giving, as well as research into different areas of charitable activity and tailored advisory services for donors from NPC and Geneva Global.

10. Individual giving is becoming increasingly important to third sector organisations

The recent growth in the number of newly wealthy individuals represents a new and potentially significant income source. Importantly, private individuals provide charities with unrestricted, sustainable and predictable income. They also play a critical role in maintaining the independence of the voluntary sector, especially as more charities are delivering public services on behalf of government.

Looking into the philanthropic “scene” in the UK and the US always strikes me as a bit of a travel in time. It’s not nice to say it but us Germans are a little behind. Much of it, and this thought came to me just now, is probably owed to the fact that giving is about money, and talking about money is largely considered a taboo. If you are wealthy and you give money to charity you get the “champagne sipping charity lady” label. If you’re involved in social change or belong to some environmental activist group you get the “poor student wearing a Che Guevara shirt” label. Either you have power or you have street credibility, can’t have them both… The times, they are actually changing. Black or white labels don’t work and won’t get us anywhere. I think us Germans think too much.

Back to betterplace. Of course the whole concept is an experiment. We are non-profit but with an underlying sustainable business model. That way, we can pass on 100 % of all individual donations to the intended project. In Germany, the public opinion is still “either you’re making profit OR you’re doing good”. The question is, though, can you do both? Is the only challenge to, patiently and through a constant dialog, change the public opinion? Or is it an impossible mission? Some days ago, Joana argued the pros and cons of companies being present on – and the dilemma of corporate social responsibility. Like all of us, she asks herself (and others): How can we all join forces to bring about social change in this world?

Bingo Night!

Playing online bingo is like stepping into the world of Narnia – a cyber world of chance and unusual acquaintances. Users go by names such as “Cherry” and “Brightstar”, they speak in code and simultaneously by tickets, play bingo, chat and “share the love” each time they donate their winnings to charity! have a weekly charity night, and this week 12 August betterplace was featured for the second time as the chosen charity. The way it works is that the community of “roomies” playing bingo, can choose to “share the love” and thereby donate a portion of their winnings to charity, and a proceed from every bingo ticket sold also gets pooled.

This time, all the money donated went to a chosen project in Mali, where there is a great need for schools, classrooms, and infrastructure. The project is run by the Mali Initiative, and brought the project a step closer to fulfilling their needs!

Featured project:

Thanks to all the “roomies” for your support! Until next time – 9 September – keep sharing the love!

CSR at – electronical greenwashing or useful strengthening of social engagements?

A discussion which arises in our  team from time to time again, is about which corporations we should be working together with at betterplace. User also join in the discussion: this a few weeks ago we had one woman, responsible for a project on betterplace asking us to remove it, as she refused to share the same internet space with energy supplier Vattenfall, who had raised money on betterplace for a CARE International project.

Our businessmodell is based on the cooperation with companies …
In our businessmodell companies play a significant part: in order to run a sustainable platform and pass 100% of the donations on to the projects, we are offering companies the service to present their CSR „the betterplace-way“, i.e. highly transparent and in such a way that employees as well as customers can be easily activated to add their support to the social projects.

 An increasing number of companies have come to understand CSR as an opportunity to position themselves as „good corporate citizens“. Thus BSR, the company responsible for keeping Berlin clean, is supporting the development and recruitment of young non-ethnic Germans or Swedish energy giant Vattenfall is asking its employees to support emergency relief operations in Burma.

… do we help them with their greenwashing?
I assume nobody in the team would have a problem with presenting the CSR of self-reflexive sustainable companies such as Hess natur, a German fashion house, using organic materials only or a healthy fast food chain such as Berlin-based Gorilla.

But what about a automobile company, activly lobbying for higher CO2 emissions for new cars? Energy suppliers building nuclear power stations? Or banks handing out credit to corrupt regimes? When Wall Mart in China actively works against the unionization of its Chinese subsidaries and at the same time boasts on its website about its outstanding social engagement in China – paying cleft palate operations for babies and supporting leisure activities for toothless grannies – the discrepancy, or hypocracy?, becomes apparent.

Aren’t many companies engaged in a massive publicity scam, drawing the publics attention away from their problematic main business to a few benevolent social actions? And aren’t we helping these companies with their greenwashing?

In his impressive book Creating A World Without Poverty Mohammad Yunus speaks out in favour for a strict separation between companies aiming for economic and social return, as both goals all to often conflict with one another. In his view, „mixed models“, which try to combine economic and social goals, are problematic, as financial profit is the established benchmark and is much easier to measure than social progress, thus almost inevitably gaining the upper hand. Thus his call for the establishment of social enterprises, whose only aim is progressive social change (the companies have to be run according to a business logic to be sustainable, but all profit above the initial investment is supposed to go to the social end).

I suppose, the chances that we will see the establishment of a really significant number of social corporations in the near future are limited. What are we then to do with the majority of companies who first and foremost want to earn money, but who also want to contribute to the social good?

Do we accept every company as a paying customer on betterplace? Are there specific industries and firms (besides the obvious no-nos such as weapons, women and drugs) who we are excluding? What about companies close to Scientology? Or any other fundamentalistic ideology, be it Christian, Islamic or Hinduistic? And another question: On the basis of what kind of information can we make our judgements?

betterplace designers in Monocle

Part of my summer reading is the summer edition of Monocle, Tyler Brulés latest magazine.

It wasn’t exactly that I had expected to come across anything betterplace, but there it was: In an article featuring Berlin (sorry, for subscription only) as the global cultural capital, I saw a photo of Noa Lerner, „an Israeli student at Berlin’s Universität der Künste in Charlottenburg“, who created the

Music Drop, a small silicone earpiece that can store data equal to one CD. … Companies are lining up to turn her Music Drip into a merchandizing instrument.

Noas next project has a very strong betterplace connection, as she is one of the design students devoting her time to our WTO project, even devoting her diploma to it.

The next paragraph also had a betterplace connection, featuring Hanna Wiesner and Magdalena Kohler from Trikoton, who are

creating unique textiles by generating patterns from their customers voice frequencies and started a fashion label.

As those of you who attended our highly successful x-mas stalls last year will remember, Hanna and Magdalena created for betterplace a beautiful scarf as well as fingerless gloves, the profit of which went fully into selected betterplace projects. For this years x-mas we are planning yet another betterplace product together with the two. 

A big thanks to our friends Axel and Sybille Kufus, who introduced us to the three designers, who are part of Axels Design Reactor