Archive for October, 2008

Movies for a better world

As already  announced, the International Social Action Film Festival took place in Berlin on October 11th.  In spite of the gorgeous weather and a huge rally advocating stronger data protection that came marching along Wilhelmstrasse right at the festival venue, a small but highly committed group of spectators came to see the many movies on human rights and social entrepreneurship and to discuss with the representatives of organizations, directors and journalists.

Berlin as a pilot project

The (short) films shown in the Social Entrepreneurship section, some of which had been financed and selected for the festival by the Skoll Foundation, will also be shown all over the world on February 9th, 2009.  The Berlin festival was a sort of pilot project for this first event, which will take place simultaneously at different venues in different cities of the world.  All movies focus on the work done by selected social entrepreneurs – people who have identified a social, ecological or cultural emergency and who are trying to remedy it using whatever means they have available.  The film festival intends to showcase the impressive work they do, and often very effectively.

Fantastic organizations!

Of the eleven shorts shown in the Social Entrepreneurship section, I was particularly impressed by the movie on Youthbuild. This is a US organization that works with young people and drop-outs living in ghettos in renovating vacant, derelict buildings in their neighborhood.  But the young people build much more: their self-esteem, for one thing, and they learn specific, practical and organizational skills in various crafts. The organization International Bridges to Justice founded by Karen Tse impressed me no end (recently, the American Bar Association recognized her work by the International Human Rights Award).  Strengthening legal structures in autocratic countries (and not only there) is one of the very important fields for social change in these nations, in addition to education.

“Too much mousse au chocolat”

The initiatives and their backers that were presented in the short movies we saw are extremely impressive.  I could go on and on, about CIDA from South Africa and the Renascer Child Health Organisation, whose work with mothers in children in the terribly poor North-Eastern part of Brazil reminded me of one of the most moving books I have ever read (Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping).  But after eleven of these movies, I understood what Renate sitting next to me was saying with her comment, “I have the same feeling now that I get after too much of a good mousse au chocolat”.

True, the movies showed committed, effective organizations that could be a role model for all of us.  But if I want to truly believe in a project, the movie presenting it has got to be more than just an image campaign. Eleven films and not a single rough edge anywhere, social change as one long triumphal procession of success.  Yes, I know, it’s important to show people that something has worked well.  But I would have appreciated insights into the obstacles, the setbacks and the contradictions that I know inevitably come with this type of work.

Sponsorship of the unglamorous kind

The chaos of real life was the focus of the two movies by Petra Dilthey and Uli Schwarz.  In their film “3 Kinder, 2 Paten und ein Baby” (Three children, two sponsors and a baby” (which can be found here, as can many other films by UP-Productions), the directors from Munich documented their experience as the sponsors of three Indian children living in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh), a project that is promoted and organized by the sponsorship organization Care&Share. Sponsorships are one of the most popular forms of developmental aid by private citizens – we at betterplace assist a number of functioning, small and larger organizations such as the Azioni “Niños Felices” in the Dominican Republic.  In the first half year alone, Germany saw € 100 million transferred to sponsorship organizations (source: GfK Charity Scope).  After my children were born, I also became a sponsor for two children with Plan International, if only to introduce my kids to the circumstances in which children in other cultures grow up.

For three years, Petra Dilthey and Uli Schwarz have been visiting the children they sponsor; in their film, they provide us with differentiated and credible insights into the “help” they give.  Thus, one of the children receiving their support seems to have moved out since quite a long time.  The boy does show up when they come to visit and is given great support by his sponsors for his schooling.  But at their return the following year, they see that they have been disappointed in their expectations: the boy is to be found on the soccer field much more frequently than in school.

What is the conclusion drawn by this carefully researched and self-reflective study?  In spite of their expectations having been disappointed, and notwithstanding individual cases of mismanagement, the sponsors / directors support the organization and in fact have founded a German association in the summer of 2008 to promote Care&Share, so that the organization has an even stronger support base. Because even if help is characterized, like any other intervention, by contradictions and obstacles, the positive aspects govern for all concerned: extremely disadvantaged children are given schooling, a stable environment and thus, a new sense of self-esteem.

In closing, one final sentence about War/Dance, the movie about child soldiers in the North of Uganda, which closed the festival: go see it or watch it at home.  It is a fantastic movie and will be available on DVD next month.


Fundraising wisdom

Take in a Saturday matinee or put in a shift at the soup kitchen? Buy a louder sound system or donate a bigger chunk to charity? Inhale a box of Fruity Pebbles or fletcherize a bowl of bran? The ancient struggle between what we want to do and what we should do besets our species at every turn. And in the clinch, virtue often loses to desire.

The fall issue of the Standford Social Innovation review has a nice piece of research, useful to fundraisers (but unfortunately only available to subscribers):

Don’t make them act now, but later

Researchers Todd Rogers and Max H. Bazerman have discovered a way to help people choose their shoulds and not their wants. Its actually quite simple: don’t make them act now, but later. 

When you give people the opportunity to make binding choices that will go into effect in the future … they are much more likeley to do what they think they should do, rather than what they want to do. 

We all know from our own experience, that thinking about the future is different from thinking about the present. Tomorrow morning, I’ll go jogging. Next week, I’ll drink less. Well, but do you???

When considering the future “people think about high level goals: What is this action good for?, explains Rogers, who conducted the research at Harvard Business School. “But in the present, they think about concrete outcomes: what are the immediate consequences of this action for me?”

The researchers explored a range of scenarios with over 900 participants, from plans that would make automatic retirement account contributions (a should), while reducing take-home pay (an undesirable) to policies that would reduce overfishing (a should), while increasing the prize of fish (an undesirable).

Ask for future donations

Rogers points out that non-profits can easily apply this principle to fundraising. When appealing to donors one should emphazise that their contributions will be implemented in the future. This recommendation is confirmed by another research which found out that donors to a Danish non-profit upped their regular donations when asked to do so in the future, rather than in the present. 

People struggle to make the choices they know they should make and, at a profound level, wish that they did make, says Rogers. By designing appeals and policies that emphasize the future rather than the present, non-profits … can help the should beat out the wants.

Projects for Blog Action Day

Campaign from Columbus Coalition for the Homeless (via Osocio)

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. Aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion. This year it is all about poverty. 

Instead of writing and reading about poverty, let’s do something about the issue straight away: 

Why don’t you support the womens initiative on Tumbatu – an off coast island near Tanzania. In order to become independent from the middlemen broker of their fish selling,  they want to trade their fish directly on the mainland or at the marketplace on Zanzibar Island. Therefore they need a boat. 8 women cooperatives, lead by the biggest one Acheni, joint together for this to better their living conditions.

Or enable poor farmers in Ecuador to buy additional equipment and seeds to increase their harvest, thus escaping poverty with dignity and by their own efforts.

Use your coins to support real change!

Stanford Diaries: the “Smile Revolution”

The conference of Online Giving Markets held at Stanford University came to a close on Wednesday, after 4 very intense days of discussions, “unconference” meetings – where the debates evolved around issues raised by the group – and inspiring talks.

The aim of the conference was to share best practice, grow our network – but most importantly – try to find common ground that can help grow each of our online giving marketplaces and explore ways of cooperating.

In many ways these goals were achieved.

We take home with us to Berlin inspiring ways of growing and scaling the platform, with the aim of giving our users a stimulating and “addictive” user experience.

We have built friendships and found ways of cooperating with existing platforms in other markets, thereby expanding our global reach.

However, of the many great lessons learned – it was a very simple, yet powerful lesson that I take home with me: changing the world starts with a single act of kindness.

We were not only showed generous acts of kindness by complete strangers though out our trip (like Hitesh and Pooja who generously invited us into their home), the conference kicked off with a “Smile Revolution challenge”:

We were each given a “smile card” – and with this card encouraged to show an anonymous act of kindness to a stranger. So after giving flowers to a romantic couple, leaving money for the next person at the phone booth, and buying a stranger a cup of coffee – we realized that even on the campus of one of the worlds most elite universities – there is nothing as contagious as a smile.

This trip was an initiation into the “Smile Revolution” – find out more on:

Doing good together – teams support projects on betterplace

Can you change the world with one single euro?

Obviously not. But by teaming up with friends, colleagues from work, mates from university or your sports club or other people with whom you feel a connection, many single euros quickly turn into a sum that can make a difference. You have been able to donate for social projects via betterplace for quite some time now – BUT now, however, groups get a space of their own where they can dedicate themselves together and on a long term basis for one or several charitable projects. Finally!!!

This can be your local pub, as well as the bingo ladies, the alumni from University, or the stamp collectors.

The team “surfers from Munich” (yes, you can actually surf in Bavaria) are a great example: Together they support a project in Bali, an orphanage which was founded by their fellow surfer Brad and his Balinese wife Siska. Some of them could see by themselves in Bali that it wasn’t dedication that was missing for the orphanage to grow and offer more space to more kids – but money. It’s a pleasure to have the surfers from Munich, our first group, on!

You can bring your own project to the site, like the surfers did, but you don’t have to: There are over 300 projects from all around the world on the platform to choose from.

Why wait? Register your team now and invite your friends!

Stanford Diaries: Where to from here?

Online Global Markets - betterplace

Online Global Markets - betterplace

As each day passes, the gathering of online global markets becomes more intense and discussions dig deeper into the who we are, how do we grow and scale our market places, and how can we continue to expand and inspire our users base and sponsors? However one core issue remains to be answered: can and will our coordinated effort as global giving markets, have a larger impact on bringing about social change – and if so – how do we go about it?

These are questions that in principle we can all agree, but in practice the next steps remain unclear. Each of the 14 platforms represented, have pitched their best “business” practice – models aimed to inspire and possibly be replicated by other platforms.

Today guest speakers will be coming to share their experiences, open the discussion on the challenges to next stage of development, and hopefully, try to answer some key questions – primarily – where, as a group, do we take it from here?

International Social Action Film Festival


We are very proud to present you the First International Social Action Film Festival in Berlin – 11th of October at Humboldt Viadrina School of Governance, Wilhelmstraße 67.

Brought to you by the SocialDesignSite, Project Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance and betterplace in collaboration with ISAFF.

The International Social Action Film Festival Day is a powerful combination of the talent of filmmakers to tell a compelling story and the crucial work of social action organizations and individuals around the world solving pressing social problems.

A key to the sustainability of any successful social action organization is its ability to communicate its story to the largest possible audience.

The International Social Action Film Festival will provide that access.

From an illegal game of volleyball to the Grameen Bank
The movies presented ranged from the world’s most illegal game of volleyball, to the use of forced labour in Burma and to the most positive social change such as microcredits and the Grameen Bank. 

This Festival is a compilation of international short movies mainly held in English, including 2 German movies “Drei Kinder, 2 Paten und 1 Baby” and “Wie Jothi dem Teufelskreis aus Armut und Prostitution entkommt” proudly presented by Petra Dilthey and Uli Schwarz from Care & Share. 

The day will be divided in three sessions, starting with a selection of short movies – aiming at creating awareness on the topics of human rights and displaced people. The next session focuses on social entrepreuneurship, offering alternatives for improving society in all areas of life through businesses, banking, health…

At the end of each screenings, you will be invited to discuss the topics with invited experts and film makers.

The day will end with the feature length movie WAR/DANCE (Oscar nominated, 15 winning awards, including the Sundance Film Festival best documentary 2007); telling the story of ex-children soldiers in Uganda and their way out through dance and music.

We want to focus on social actions, exploring possibilities and solutions. The festival aims at illustrating the capability for each and every individual to take any action for social change. We invite you to be part of the change and make this festival a successful event we will hopefully see growning in the future.

Tickets (6 Euros, Day ticket: 15 Euros) are available for purchase here.

Go here for more information.