Archive for September, 2008

Funding for projects benefiting children availabe

Yesterday I attended the yearly Jugend Hilft (Youth Helps) celebration by Children for a Better World, a Munich-based NGO. As a sideline to my work at betterplace, I have been running one of their Berlin Children Councils, groups of children and teenagers who themselves receive, discuss and decide applications for funding. In my group are currently 8 teenagers. We meet twice a year and decide on 4-6 projects. The children are allowed to allocate up to 1,500 Euros towards a project, and decide how to manage and use the available budget. 

Its a great idea and the teenagers in my group are eager participants. Still, there remains a suprising problem: how do we get good projects to apply for funding? I would have guessed that by now, in the third year, initiatives, who have received funding from us would have spread the news to others (organisations can only apply once in two years), thus creating a steady stream of applications. But this is not the case and so far I have hand-picked all the projects which have applied.

The application process is as easy as it gets, so this shouldn’t be a barrier. Sure, the money allocated at each session (max. 1.500 Euro per project) is not huge, but can go a long way, especially outside Western Europe and the US.

In yesterdays discussions with other women running children’s councils, I found out that this is a problem we share.

Is the money not needed? Are organisations jealously guarding their sources of funding and thus don’t spread the word about them?

What ever the reasons: Here is another call for fund applications: If you are running a project in Germany or abroad, which aims at improving childrens lives, feel welcome to get in touch with me at and I’ll sent you our childrens council’s application for funding. Our next session will be towards the end of November.

Btw, Children also has a great project on betterplace, which you can support right here.


Which projects do we recommend?

What qualifies projects to appear on one of our featured projects list? A clear project description? A good photo? A full web of trust?

Over the last couple of months we at betterplace have often debated what distinguishes a good project (on betterplace) from a lesser one.

Of course, there is (at least for me) an ultimate success criteria: How effective is a project? Does it achieve its stated aims and are the beneficiaries after the invention (in a sustainable way) better off than before? 

But social progress is hard to measure and its evaluation is a science on its own. As an open plattform betterplace can’t judge projects individually but has to rely on other criteria. What are those?

There are, to start off with, a few formal criteria: has the project manager uploaded a photo of him/herself and the logo of the organisation? Are the needs split up in a sensible way? How often does the project manager write about the projects progress and the allocation of funds in the project blog? Etc.

Then there are of course, many other more qualitative criteria: has the project a clearly stated goal? Are the means to pursue it adequate? Has the project manager provided enough information about him/herself and the organisation as to create trust? And – most important of all – are there people „vouching“ for the project, as advocates or on-site visitors, who can give direct, and unbiased feedback about the project and its effectiveness?

What kind of projects do we recommend?
Our team has developed a catalogue of criteria, which a project needs to satisfy (more or less) in order to get chosen for the featured projects lists. Every fortnight, Reneé Fetcher, one of the first betterplace Volunteers and now part of the project team, selects the projects for the list according to these criteria:

The projects need to have:

– photos from the project, the project manager and (if run by an organisation) the organisations logo.

– differentiated needs (ideally of different sizes)

– plausible project aims

– some bibliographical information about the project manager

– at least 2 members in the Web of Trust who vouch positively fort he project     

– Clear and comprehensive project description

– regular (monthly) blogposts

Rule of thumb: the more transparent and active a project is, the most attractive it is.

Simeltaneously we also aim:

– for a mix of projects which are tax deductible for German donors and others,  which might by tax-deductible in other countries but are not so in Germany.

– projects dealing with current events

– diversity of regions and topics

The idea behind betterplace is to give donors the right kind of information for them to be able to judge a project for themselves. We believe in mature donors, who – given the right kind of information – can decide for themselves which projects to trust and support. The criteria which help us to evaluate quality are constantly revised and we are grateful for our readers ideas, concerning the kind of information they need.

Start sharing!

Polar Bears make great activists

Over the weekend, two different environmental campaigns caught my attention; both involving Polar Bears:

Last Friday,  Action Forward, a Dutch collective, raised this statue in the city of Den Bosch. The statue is made out of tyres and portraits a Polar Bear who throws a oil barrel to the passing cars. The Netherlands counts almost 8 million cars, responsible for more than 20% of the greenhouse gases. That’s why this Polar Bear can’t stand it any longer, he is angry. 


Also, enjoy this subtle video – Polar Bear guerilla – Subway (thanks Moritz for pointing me to it) 

Making development more efficient

Foreign aid, despite its do-good image, is an industry. Every year, governments and charities spend $200 billion on projects in developing countries. Yet contrary to the world of corporations and financial markets the sector is intransparent and lacks information. But this is gradually changing – and the internet plays a decisive role in this transformation. Look for example at Developmentex, a website set up a few years ago by Raj Kumar, than student at the Kennedy School of Government. 

Online information shifts the balance of power

In an article in the Washington Post Sebastian Mallaby writes

Consider the process of procurement. Development projects involve contracts in the millions of dollars for construction, engineering, information technology and so on. If you’re running one of these projects, you can place ads in the newspapers asking for, say, water engineers. But most of your potential suppliers probably won’t notice. As a result, there will be few bids for your tender, and you will pay an unnecessarily high price, just as bond buyers did in the pre-Bloomberg era.

Now comes Kumar’s Web site, which creates a clearinghouse for information on 30,000 development projects. With that much business in one place, suppliers congregate like bees, especially since the site is searchable. By typing in a key word, a water-engineering firm can find 1,675 water-engineering opportunities. Suddenly, buyers of water-engineering services have multiple suppliers to choose from. Costs fall by perhaps one-fifth, judging by experiments in competitive procurement in Brazil and in the Phillipines.

Also, when hiring professionals the website comes in handy: 

… the managers of development projects can advertise for people in the newspapers, but this is a haphazard method: By the nature of their work, the professionals you want are scattered. Kumar’s Web site provides employers with one-stop access to 62,000 aid workers. You want an Arabic-speaking water engineer with a master’s degree and a minimum of three years’ experience? A few clicks will introduce you to 141 of them. You want to avoid overpriced expatriates? For your project in Egypt, the site offers more than a dozen Egyptian water specialists.

Websites such as this contribute to a shift of power. Whereas until now the power, i.e. know how, is with the huge bureaucracies, soon much of this know how will be in online professional networks.