Archive for the 'team news' Category

Happy New Year

betterplace.org wants to wish all of you – readers, co-competitors, supporters, project managers and donors – a very happy New Year. We are thankful for your support, feedback and encouragement, and the great work many of you are doing to make this world a, yes, better place.

2009 will see a continuation of much of what we have started in 2008. In the blogsphere, we’ll be introducing a number of changes. Finally, both the German and  the English blog will be properly incorporated into betterplace.org. We will also seek for a greater variety of topics and let you more fully participate in our work as a team: we are having so many inspiring and interesting encounters with new supporters and collaborators from all realms of life and business, which we would like to share with our readers. Thus, for example, last week here in the US, Stephan and I met Bill Barmeier,  vice president for eBay’s global citizenship team, to discuss possible cooperations between the eBay Foundation and betterplace. 

The last – and our first – year, has been a great one for betterplace. Over 7500 users have financed  120 projects. 60 companies are actively using betterplace.org to improve their social reputation, making it more transparent and participatory. We also feel priviledged to have the support of an increasing number of highly powered supporters and enthusiastic volunteers, not to forget the wonderful betterplace juniors, who with their x-mas activities alone collected over 3.000 Euros for 5 different projects on betterplace.org. Over the past month, the German media coverage has also finally taken up the betterplace idea and spread it around the country. 

Let me thank all of you. Have a Happy New Year and let’s make 2009 another year to remember.

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Ashoka Fellow Till Behnke

 

We at betterplace have known for a long time that Till is great – but now it’s official! Till has qualified as an Ashoka Fellow over the course of a nearly one-year, multi-phased selection process in Germany and internationally with approximately three hundred competitors. Congratulations Till!

Ashoka gives the new Fellows financial support, advises them and connects them to the worlds of business and academia so that they can spread their ideas throughout Germany and the world.

Here is what Ashoka liked about Till and betterplace:

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Till Behnke is setting up an online philanthropic marketplace that is entirely new and that is revolutionizing the relationship between donors and recipients. His internet platform betterplace.org enables small social organizations to present their projects such they can persuade users of the quality of their work – regardless of their size. On the other hand, it allows donors to give their limited funds strategically. The website combines rating systems with social networks and ensures radical transparency. Social organizations can insert their profiles and users rate the organizations. What’s great about it is that every user can see the relation that the rater has to the organization, for example as a scientific experts, recipients or donors, for example. The user can also see whether the rater has contact to his or her own network. On the basis of this information, the user can decide whether they trust the opinion of that particular rater and whether they want to additionally support the organization by making a donation of their own. In this way, betterplace provides for well-informed, transparent donations – even on a small scale. At the same time, organizations have the opportunity and the responsibility to actively solicit support. Founded in late 2007, Till Behnke is expanding betterplace step by step, earning an international reputation. In the meantime, betterplace also offers companies professional opportunities to get employees involved.

Network and Hierarchy

I am particularly pleased about the fact that the jury has recognized the novelty of our network structure and the Web of Trust. We are an open platform and, as such, we are not only able to offer large aid organizations a platform but also the “long tail of charity”. In parallel, the Web of Trust expands the hierarchical mechanisms of trust and control that have dominated thus far by network mechanisms.

What do I mean by that?

Some people trust projects backed by large, well-known institutions, be this UNICEF or Greenpeace. They trust in these institutions, for example those that are accountable to the German Tax and Revenue Authority as concerns their balance sheets, use the money in a legal manner. Other people have lost faith in hierarchical stakeholders and they prefer to support organizations or individuals that solicit their support with their networks.

Here is an example. I like to donate to projects backed by someone who knows the project and is committed to it. I was in Bhutan, for instance, and spent several days at the Choki Traditional Arts School. I have been watching the work of the person responsible for the project, Sonam Choki, from afar for three years. She reports to me about her work. I meet other people who have been supporting the project for a long time, have visited the project in Bhutan and whoe inform others about the progress it is making on the betterplace website. Then I tell my girlfriends about the project and if my girlfriends trust me, they will then also trust Sonam Choki and in turn donate to her project. Ideally this trust would spread like wildfire.

But the one form of trust does not exclude the other – ideally they would complement each other. A professional organization like Weg der Mitte in Berlin solicits support based on its good reputation – in the region –and the fact that it is recognized by the German Tax and Revenue Authority as a non-profit foundation. In addition, it encourages its supporters and people who are familiar with it to bear witness to the work it does to support of young mothers on the betterplace website. In this way, mechanisms of trust come together from the worlds of hierarchies and of networks.

In the past months we have been attacked time and again on exactly this point: “What! You don’t control which projects are inserted on the betterplace website and which aren’t? That’s just welcoming lies and deception with open arms!” Ashoka, THE network for social entrepreneurship, has now certified that mechanisms based on social networks and radical transparency may be superior to the established hierarchical ones or at least complement them meaningfully.

Welcome Linus Behnke!

From one moment to the other he went completely pale.

Till and Annika were on their way to a business date in Hamburg. They had just boarded the ICE train in Berlin and had been travelling for barely 15 minutes. When Till’s phone rang.

It was Svenja speaking. She explained to her man that their baby decided to arrive early – now, to be precise.

Did he first scream, race up and down the aisle, and then get pale? Or the other way round? Even though Annika was there to witness this impressive scene it will forever stay one of those “you had to be there moments”.

Annika found the conductor in the train kitchen. “This train needs to be stopped.” “I’m afraid we can only do that in the case of a medical emergency”, said the conductor. “Well, I’m afraid we have a medical emergency”, she replied, “My colleague’s getting a baby.”

Within no time (what, to Till, must have seemed an eternity) they had the ICE train stop at some random provincial station of a town called Ludwigslust. Then, they had a second ICE train, this one going back to Berlin, stop there as well to pick Till up.

This act of extraordinary customer support is, to say the least, quite uncommon for the Deutsche Bahn. Germans (and other regular DB customers) know about their infamous reputation.

Anyway. The guy in charge of coordinating the departures and arrvials of the trains (a.k.a. the hero) told the conductor to tell Till all he wanted is a crate of beer for this favour. The future dad, in the meantime gone stoical and on auto pilot, asked Annika to write down this guy’s email address… noboby will ever know if Till envisioned the crate of beer as email attachment.

23 hours – and four midwives’ shifts – later Linus Behnke is born. In the morning of Thursday June 5th of 2008.

Welcome Linus! And congratulations to the proud parents! The betterplace Team is very happy for all of you.

It’s been a while – quick news from betterplace

Lately, we’ve posted more in the German blog. We didn’t mean to neglect our English-speaking readers! Here’s a quick update on the most important news at betterplace:

+++ Over 20.000 Euro within a few days for surviving victims of cyclone Nargis in Burma. German/Swedish energy group Vattenfall will match every Euro donated by an employee. The money is used to buy survival packs, containing a plastic cover, clothes, kitchen and hygiene articles, a blanket and a petrol canister, for 35 Euro each. CARE have been present in Burma for over 20 years with mainly local staff, the packs get distributed directly to the victims of Nargis. +++ Why can’t we do the same to help the victims of the earthquake in China? Big discussions here in the team. We don’t have a partner organisation with that amount of experience on location, and that we know to be trustworthy, like the case with CARE in Burma. That’s the problem. +++ Toilet collabo kick-off: past Tuesday we welcomed Jack Sim, founder of World Toilet Organisation (with the great acronym WTO) from Singapore, German designer Werner Aisslinger, and a group of design students from Berlin’s Universität der Künste (UdK) and Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Karlsruhe. Assisted by their professors Aisslinger and Axel Kufus, the students will design the toilet for “the other 90 %” of humanity – those 2.6 Billion people without access to sanitary facilities at the bottom of the pyramid and mostly neglected as potential customers. +++ It’s everybody’s business – we got covered by Germany’s reputable newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The smart article by Johannes Boie was both published on jetzt.de, and as printed version in the newpaper’s “young” supplement. +++ to be continued…

Boie interviewing Behnke at the toilet workshop

The Skoll Forum: Looking back – moving forward

The Skoll World Forum 2008 has drawn to a close – I feel energized, stimulated, encouraged, inspired – and utterly exhausted.

How many times in the last few days have I repeated the words:
/betterplace – an internet platform for philanthropy. /
/We link those who want to give to those in need of receiving.
We are German.
We are European.
We are expanding.
We seek partners. We seek projects. We seek users.
It was also a pleasure meeting you.
Here’s my business card.
We will be in touch./

The event was well organised. The delegates were enthusiastic. The speakers profound.
From Jimmy Carter, Jody Williams and Karen Tse, to Paul Farmer, Ashraf Ghani and Al Gore – these were but a few of the great speakers at the forum that guided the discussion on the responsibility of social entrepreneurs to overcome the challenges in today’s world.

And although the words of these powerful individuals have sunk deep into my mind, leaving me to process and digest their message for long after this Forum is passed – it is not these voices that have left the deepest impact – but rather a small “community” of individuals that share a similar vision and understanding of how the internet can be used as a lever to make real change.

In the very beginning of the Skoll Forum, at the Opening Plenary Karen Tse spoke of how individuals can be connected through shared ideas that often transcend traditional cultural borders.
It is this sense of “connectedness” that has left the greatest impact. Connected because, as delegates, we share the unique experience of the Skoll Forum. Connected because we share a common vision for overcoming the many social challenges of our times. And connected because betterplace, like other internet based organisations, provides a solution to linking people, ideas and support across the globe.

“We are here” – The Skoll World Forum 2008 in Oxford

The start of Skoll World Forum 2008 has been as unpredictable and refreshing as the (much discussed) weather in Oxford.

The rain was drizzling down on the front door steps of the Said Business School as newly arrived delegates gathered to complete their registration and begin the first of a 3 day forum on Social Entrepreneurship. The drizzle continued as delegates were seen mingling, shaking hands, chatting in gentle murmurs, and sipping cups of organic tea in the lobby. A sense of anticipation simmered through the crowd as more and more people arrived, together with the occasional shaft of sunshine the sound of enthusiastic voices of friends and acquaintances greeting one another broke through the crowd.

The theme of this years Skoll Forum is culture. Asking the question: if social entrepreneurship is truly about changing the world, then what are the cultural and contextual barriers that social entrepreneurs need to overcome to create sustainable change in the areas where they work?

Amongst the speakers at the opening plenary, was an impressive panel of women, each telling their story about how they have had to having to overcome challenging cultural barriers to be successful, and thereby having a profound global impact.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jody Williams spoke of communication being the key to success. That everyone needs the same information to be empowered.

Karen Tse, Founder and CEO of Bridges of Justice told a story of warriors before a battle to illustrate what was needed to overcome cultural barriers. The warriors were told that were 2 things that must be remembered throughout if they were to be successful: compassion and interconnectedness. Both of which remain important in our growing global village.

As we left the prestigious Sheldonian Theatre the rain thundered down – as if in confirmation of Jeff Skoll‘s opening remarks of the forum “We are here”.
We are here, as social entrepreneurs, to cross cultural barriers and make a significant and lasting impact on the discourse of social change and development.

The Skoll World Forum can be followed online.

Line Hadsbjerg

betterplace – moving from the governmental district to artsy kreuzberg

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It was never boring. Outside, there was always something going on – police, the street being blocked due to some VIP (very important politician) visiting, sirenes, blue light. There were so many convois of big black cars with tinted windows. Of course there were also loads and loads of tourists, sitting in double decker busses, or sightseeing by foot, and school classes, either on their way to Bahnhof Friedrichstraße or to the Reichstag with its famous glass cupola. So on our way to lunch, if the flags sitting on the corners of the German Parliament were at half-mast, we always knew how the official mood was like. As for our eating habits, we mostly ended up at the Thai on Luisenstraße – there weren’t too many options. Some of us developed a dangerous addiction to Butter Lindner products (delicious yet close to affordable deli pastries). It was only in our last days in the Wilhelmstraße that we discovered the City Casino. No, it’s not what you think, we didn’t play blackjack or anything like that – it is more of a police staff canteen.

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The Humboldt Viadrina School of Governance which used to be our home for 7 1/2 months, was a bit of a stage itself. There, Peter Eigen of Transparency International and Gesine Schwan host a number of illustrious people, like Kofi Annan (who we, unfortunately, missed) or Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan. The Prince came round for a spontaneous visit together with Princess Sarvath, who is as interested, studied and involved as His Royal Highness himself (plus she has a black belt in Taekwondo), his entourage and security. Having no other solution at hand I was asked if I was willing to be the officially accredited “house photographer” to capture this important visit to the School. I was willing – and honoured. What a unique experience!

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Now Kreuzberg. betterplace has moved closer to the scene. If I get up just a little from my seat I can overlook the Spree river with the huge sculpture of the three metal men, the canal, the sluice, the Badeschiff swimming pool, and a huge construction site right opposite our building – there is so much happening and moving around this zone between Schlesisches Tor, Oberbaumbrücke and the Arena. Our new office mainly consists of one beautiful room so big that it could easily accomodate a skate ramp. Since we are based on the fifth floor and the elevator has to be ordered (AND paid for) we don’t have to worry about exercising too little any more. Also, you don’t have to feel guilty about eating a huge plate of penne ai quattro formaggi at Heinz Minki, and topping it off with a brownie or other sweet sins.

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In spite of the interesting times at the School (especially Marion Schulze, Cosima, Jutta, and caretaker Holger & Co supported betterplace a great deal) – it’s so wonderful that we can be here now. Above all, it’s a big motivation booster!