Archive for the 'projects' Category

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…


betterplace Workshop in Mali

Youchaou’s school in Mali, Westafrika, is one of my favourites (well, I also have a few others, but this one is really good). And this, not only because my family and I visited the project last January and spent a great day and evening with Youchaou, Jürgen and the street children he supports with a daily meal in his courtyard. My enthusiasm has more to do with the approach itself – a local initiative strategically supported by outsiders in a respectful and cooperative way. Imagine my reaction when I received this photo:


It shows participants of a workshop in Bamako, Malis capital, learning how to use betterplace, so that the stakeholders of the project can blog about it directly. This is the idea of the Web of Trust: give as many people as possible a voice in order to increase – or shatter – trust for a social initiative.

I hope many people will support the scholarships for needy children.

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!

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!

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!

Small Inputs Can Lead to Large Outcomes

The other day I first came across the so-called Beatrice Theorem: Small Inputs Can Lead to Large Outcomes.

Nicholas Kristofs tale starts in Uganda, were Beatrice Biira grew up as the child of poor farmers unable to sent their education-hungry daughter to school. At the same time a church community in Connecticut decided to donate a few animals through Heifer International to poor African farmers.

One of the cows, which cost 120 US$ in the Heifer catalogue, was given to Beatrice parents. It soon had twins, thus supplying the family with nutritious milk. The milk was also sold and with soon the family had enough cash to sent their daughter to school. An American, visiting the school, recorded the story and published it in 2000 as „Beatrice Goat“, which became a best-selling children book. As an outstanding student Beatrice was not only awarded scholarships, she was also admitted to a prep school in Massachusetts and then to Connecticut College. A group of 20 donors to Heifer financed the girls living expenses.

It was Jeffrey Sachs, who, when hearing of Beatrice story, called it jokingly the „Beatrice Theorem“: small inputs can lead to large outcomes.

Of course, a lot ould have gone wrong. As Nicholas Kristof quotes Beatrice herself:

‚Corruption is high in Uganda.’ A crooked local official might have distributed the goats by demanding that girls sleep with him in exchange. Or beatrice goat might have died or been stolen. Or unpasturized milk might have sickened or killed Beatrice.

Yes, many things could have gone wrong. But then there is a good model in place, they often go right. Beatrice for her part wants to get a Masters Degree at the Clinton School of Public Service and return to Africa to work for an aid agency.

As Kristof correctly puts it:

the challenges of global poverty are vast and complex, far beyond anyone’s power to resolve, and byung a farm animal for a poor family won’t solve them. But Beatrice’s giddy happiness is still a reminder that each of us does have the power to make a difference – to transform a girl’s life with something as simple and cheap as a little goat.

As our friend and betterplace fan Rischi, founder of Gorilla Bio Fast Foods likes to say:

Now that exists, people don’t really have any excuses left. I want to say to all these people, who fatalistically state: ‚There is nothing I can do about global poverty’: Now you can make a difference: concrete, direct and easy.

You can, for example, buy a fishing boat for women in Tanzania who want to be financially independent of their husbands or buy books for disadvantaged children in Thailand.

The WTO Project powered by betterplace

Noa, Fionn and Holger in the Berlin WTO-project headquarters at UdK, Berlin

Just before I left for my summer vacation I met Noa and Fionn, the two design students of Axel Kufus, who are going to devote their final design thesis to our WTO sanitation project.

Also present were Prof. Axel Kufus, Christian Zöllner, his assistent, and Holger Schmitz, a branding and marketing expert turned betterplace volunteer, who is researching possible business models. Noa and Fionn presented the first draft of their concept, which revolves around the idea of a mobile toilet production unit, which travels from location to location, offering a modular kit of toilet designs, some of which are standardized, globally produced parts, while others are locally produced. The kit should be modular, i.e. starting with very basic parts and ending with very aspirational additions.

In mid July, just before the end of the summer term, the Berlin students are going to meet the Karlsruhe students to exchange ideas and concepts, as some have started to look more into technology, while others have focused on possible sales and distribution mechanisms etc.

The young designers are now in the process of connecting to a local “Southern” NGO/organisation to jointly develop ideas, enriching and localising their conceptual ideas. Thus we have been turning to Jack Sim for advice.

Later this summer the design group is going to connect with Sören Rüd (from the Gtz ecosan team) to discuss technological questions, majorly effecting the design process. Meanwhile Holger wants to get in touch with local santiation entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia to find out which approaches work and which don’t. 

I find it extremely stimulating to witness the project from the sideline, here and there adding my 2 cents worth of wisdom. The first results should be in by early autumn and I will keep you posted.