Archive for the 'joana breidenbach' Category

Many Social Action Platforms

Incredible how many social action platforms have come into existence over the last year or so!


Meeting Skateistan, Changing Stereotypes


Yesterday evening Yvonne from our project team (in the photo on the right) and I met Oliver Percovich (left) and his Kabul house mate and now communication manager Max Henninger  (with cap) in a cafe in Berlin to discuss Skateistans presence on Skateistan has been big news recently, even making it to the front page of the New York Times Sports section. For those of you still unfamiliar with the project, this is what its about in a nutshell:

Skateistan is Afghanistan’s first dedicated co-educational skateboarding school. The school will engage with the growing numbers of urbanised youth in Afghanistan through skateboarding and provide new opportunities in cross-cultural interaction and education. Students will be selected from a range of different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Student capacity will be developed in skateboarding, skateboarding instruction, project management, life skills and English. Our aim is to develop a program that empowers youth to take leadership on issues important to them and build networks that will counter current ethnic barriers. 

Skateboarding in Afghanistan? As soon as Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich, Sharna Nolan and Travis Beard lay down their boards in Kabul, they were surrounded by the eager faces of children of all ages, begging them to teach them how to skate. Stretching the three boards they had, they developed an infant skate school.

Six young Afghan males who were naturals at skateboarding (aged 18-22) shared the three boards and quickly progressed in their newfound sport. Skateboarding was born in Afghanistan. The success with their first students prompted them to think bigger. By bringing more boards back to Kabul and establishing an indoor skateboarding venue they would be able to teach many more youth as well as run separate classes for females. Skateistan is Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school dedicated to teaching both male and female students. We aim to build indoor skateboarding facilities thoughout Afghanistan. We will start in Kabul with a indoor skatepark with indoor and outdoor sections.

In our discussion with Max and Ollie we quickly realized a number of similarities, both between our motivation running betterplace, as well as the kind of projects we get really excited about. Starting with local needs and substantially involving relevant stakeholders as early as possible, following a hands-on approach and aiming at turning existing stereotypes around. Concerning the latter aim, I was struck by the similarities to Cinema Jenin.

Beating Stereotypes

Marcus Vetter started the project of renovating the old closed down cinema in Jenin after hearing over and over again, how dangereous Jenin, a city located in the Westbank, Palestine, was. Not only in Israel did people warn him to travel there, as Jenin is known as the breeding ground for suicide bombers and fundamentalists. Yet, when he actually went to shoot his film, The Heart of Jenin, he encountered wonderful reflective and generally peaceful people.

Similarly, Oliver and Max recounted how life in Kabul is nothing like what the media make it out to be. Their project is out to prove that there exists another Afghanistan than the one know to Western news readers.

And there is another parallel: just as Marcus is shooting a film about Cinema Jenin, so Skateistan is the subject of a documentary by Rene Kock (the one looking into the camera next to Yvonne), with the proceeds going to the project.

We are very happy to offer to make Skateistan realize their goals! 

And yes, for those who know me well, I am already thinking of a trip to Kabul…

follow me on twitter


After following a number of discussions in recents months about the pros and cons of twitter, I finally decided to try it out myself. Fortunately the very day I opened an account I met Sachar Krivoj from Roccatune at Echtzeit Berlin, who offered to teach me the basics.

Thus you can from now on follow me.

A new GoodPurpose study


The 2.nd GoodPurpose study published by Edelman, one of the worlds largest PR firms, comes up with many of the same findings regarding the importance for companies to be seen as good public citizens by supporting social causes, as the Generation Generosity report I wrote about a few days ago:

Around the world, people are becoming more involved in championing social causes and increasingly recognize the need to make a direct impact on a variety of global and local issues, from poverty, hunger and education to the environment, human rights and tolerance. And they are demanding that companies engage with them in “doing something” to make a difference.

Looking at Germany, thus

  • 8 in 10 German consumers (82%) are willing to change their consumption habits to make tomorrow’s world a better place.
  • Over three quarters of German consumers (77%) think it is important to buy from companies that they know are socially responsible.
  • Two-thirds of German consumers (66%) like to buy brands that make a donation to worthy causes.
  • Consumers move from viewers to collaborators and want to be engaged more than ever before.

As an anthropologist I am often rather doubtful when confronted with figures like these. Of course, in interviews people like to present themselves in as progressive and positive a light as possible, but whether their actions actually measure up to their intentions is a completely different story. I remember a consumption study which concluded that only 20% of what consumers had said about their shopping habits was actually true. In the interview situation they for example vastly overstated the amount of organically grown produce they bought. When the anthropologist followed the persons around the supermarket, their decisions looked very different indeed. 

Still, I do believe that we are witnessing a change of consumption towards a more socially responible behaviour. I run my own empirical study group: my children. When travelling with them to London, Paris or San Francisco, they are searching the Gap stores for only one product line: product red.

Shit rules

This post is from Fionn, who works on a betterplace incubator project:

As Joana has already mentioned in ealier posts, Noa Lerner, Holger Schmitz and I are working on a sanitation project for the bottom of the pyramid market segment.It started as part of this WTO-Project on betterplace. We decided to design a squat toilet which requires no H2O and for which, therefore a drainage system is not required.

Our first prototype/ concept enables the residents of slums, who live in cramped  conditions, often in one room, to own their own toilet.  A mechanical syphon will permit the odourless enclosing of faeces and urine in a tank. The tank, when full,  can be transported to a public bio digester. Here the contents will be turned into methane gas.

A nanotechnological finishing surface will facilitate the complete emptying of the tank. The biodigester can be connected, according to need,  to an energy kiosk in which the methane gas can be transformed into electricity. In turn, slum residents will  be able to charge batteries. Small businesses, such as goldsmiths where well-lit work places are needed,  could  operate using the methane gas.

Maybe you remember Joana talking about a little stop and motion film we made from cut out fotos, finaly here it is :


To prove our concept, we recently went to India for two weeks. Here we had the honuer to work together with Dr. Pathak, the founder of Sulab international. His organisation is successfully trying to improve sanitation in India: up to this day, they already installed 1,2 million privat and 7000 public toilets. Together with his engineers , biologists and mathematicians  we work on all the issues which were still open regarding biogas and electricity.

Another part of our field study in India was to talk to the future owners of the toilets. We wanted to find out if they actually would be open for our sanitation concept and how they would like there toilets  to be designed.

Prepared with specialy designed interview tools we went into the living areas, were we not only talked to the inhabitants, but also tried out our first prototype, which we had brought along from Germany.

At the moment we are evaluating the results from our trip to India and prepare our business plan. This we will be presenting at the University of Arts in Berlin in April.

Fionn Dobbin

Generation Generosity



Check out the latest trendreport by Amsterdam based

According to Generation Generosity,  being generous will be one of the most important attributes for the coming year – both for society as a whole as well as for businesses. 

Giving is the new taking, and sharing is the new giving 

With the economic downturn getting worse every day, an increasig number of consumers are even more suspcious of corporations than before-  only 13% of Americans in a recent poll trusted large companies and three-quarters expect them to lie in their advertisments.

These same people experience daily that a very different approach to goods and knowledge is possible: On the internet people are constantly sharing, giving and co-creating, mostly for free. In this sphere people feel valued and trusted and experience that even small contributions can have a huge impact – just witness the so called Obama-Effekt.

And this culture is not a momentary fad, but as Kevin Kelly said already a few years ago: „online culture is the culture“.

Learning from Online

Now, the trendreport has zillions of examples of how corporations can join this culture of generosity. The most relevant for us here at is the first: 


Many corporations such as  Whole Foods (who donate for every customer bringing his/her own bag to the store, to a local charity or the German Pfandtastisch Helfen (customers can opt to donate the money they get back for returning bottles) have invited their consumers to donate and do good together with them. 

Tripadvisers More than Footprints campaign pledged 1 Mio. US$ and let site visitors decide to which pre-selected charities the money shoudl go. TOMS Shoes sells fair-traded slippers, handing one extra pair to a child in need for every pair bought, thus following the famous model set by One Laptop per Child.

To follow Generation G is not only “nice to have”, but – according to the authors of this entertaining report – a necessity: 

if you want to stay relevant in societies that value generosity, sharing and collaboration. Joining obviously entails more than adding a social responsibility or sustainability department; it means adopting a generous mind- set that permeates every interaction with your community, with your employees, with your customers, with, wait for it, your ‘stakeholders’. Nothing more or less than a holistic approach to generosity and business.

Just do it

This is exactly where betterplace can come in: Besides our co-branded sites, where corporations present their social engagemnets in a transparent and activating way, we offer many tools for easy co-donation, for example by employees agreeing to a so-called round-up to their monthly wage check: Who really cares if they earn 2290,56 or 2296,-? By themselves, 56 Cent are not going to make much of a difference. But just imagine, what can be achieved, if you have many employees of a large corporations joining the effort, together supporting a common cause?

Visiting Cinema Jenin

We love people visiting projects posted on betterplace and thus I was thrilled to read the latest visitors account: Dagmar had travelled to Jenin – just a few days before the outbreak of war in Gaza – to take a look at Marcus Vetters Cinema Jenin. And this is what she wrote in the Web of trust:

My friend Johannes and myself, we have been in Jenin in December 2008 to meet the Cinema Jenin team and the local architects and engineers. Johannes is the project architect. I am working on coordination, network, and fundraising. We both are enthusiastic about what we experienced. Everybody in Jenin seems to know the project, is keen to participate – and cannot wait for the opening. We strongly believe that this place will not only be a cultural highlight in this forgotten area, but also a place to show that watering little plants of culture, education and business will carry the fruit of empathy, understanding and freedom. Our dream is to take our Israeli friends there to meet our Palestinian friends at the opening of Cinema Jenin!