Posts Tagged 'Ashoka'

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:


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 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.


The Age of the Social Entrepreneur

Along with many others, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof spent the week in Davos. What impressed him most? The gathered social entrepreneurs. Not only because they were half as old as the other participants, the statesmen, entrepreneurs and celebrities, but also because don’t wait for others to change the world, but do the job themselves.  

“In the ‘60s, perhaps the most remarkable Americans were the civil rights workers and antiwar protesters who started movements that transformed the country, In the 1980s, the most fascinating people were entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who started companies and ended up revolutionizing the way we use technology. Today the most remarkable young people are the social entrepreneurs.”   

Ashoka, the leading organisation for the new breed of activists, defines social entrepreneurs as individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change. Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

I share this enthusiasm; for people like 28 year old Sonam Choki, who established the first non-profit traditional art school in Bhutan, where poor children from rural areas get a sound training in the traditional painting and woodcarving techniques. At the same time the school aims to contribute to the survival of the Buddhist cultural heritage of the small kingdom in the Himalayan. Sonam grew up close the art – her father was a leading figure in the national art scene, endorsed by king Jigme Dorje Wangchuck. Her brother runs an artisan shops in Thimphu. When we visited the school in 2006 only boys were able to attend. Now Sonam wants to build a girls hostel as well, and has many other exciting plans such as the construction of a basketball court. 

Another low-key social revolutionary is Youchaou in Mali, initiator of the Mali Initiative, an organisation aiming to break the poverty cycle of the West African country, which ranks as the forth poorest country in the world and were 4 out of 5 people can’t read or write. Youchaou started life as a street child himself, but then got the chance to attend a school he loved. He worked his way up to become a successful interpreter, before building a school from scratch in Bamako in 2004, where poor children can get a quality education through scholarships. The school is deemed to be one of the best in the country, teaching children from a healthy mix of social backgrounds. 

Social entrepreneurs are demonstrating a lot of self-initiative – thereby breaking the cycle of dependency which all too often accompanies Western aid. Yet they also need active support from others: Sonam Choki was lucky enough to meet David Bidwell of the Himalaya Youth Foundation, which supports her with advice and financially. In Bamako, Youchaou joined forces with Australian youth worker Elise Klein und German Jürgen Nagler in order to realize the large vision of reforming the national education system. 

At betterplace we want to enable initiatives like these to take off. As Kristof writes at the end of his column: „There is no limit to the number of social entrepreneurs who can make this planet a better place.“