11 March 2008

Social Entrepreneurs + Web 2.0 = betterplace.org

What do you get if you combine the functionality of web 2.0 with the objectives of social entrepreneurship? Probably a platform similar than betterplace.org.

I have blogged about social entrepreneurs several times. Using business acumen (economic development) for the public good (social development) is a hybrid I have centered my interest on for years. Imagine you add the outreach potential and functionalities of web 2.0 using the internet as a platform for web-based communities. The outcome might be a social platform to make the world a better place: connecting people who want to help with people who need support.

How does betterplace work?
Signing up is as simple as onto Facebook or match.com, however, at the center of this platform are development projects. On the one side, individuals and organization post projects which they are looking for support, while on the other side, individuals and companies offer their donations or in-kind contribution (see illustration below). A bit like match.com but rather a computer matching you, you are selecting suitable projects yourself and, rather going for a blind date, you can check the projects through a 'web of trust'.

The Web of Trust
How do you know which projects and project carriers are trustworthy? Trying to trust big brand names such as UNICEF has its limitations. Many local projects are directly posted by small organizations from developing countries. Therefore, people you know who have visited the project or have a relationship with the project carriers help to build up a trust relationship with the project. It is a bit like business networking where you would only recommend someone you trust. Below an illustration.

New generation of Social Entrepreneurs
A few months ago I met betterplace' CEO Till Behnke in Berlin and it is great to see a new generation of young social entrepreneurs emerging in a 'conservative' country such as Germany. Till, for example, left his well paid job at DaimlerChrysler Financial Services to set-up betterplace. He uses business skills not just to develop the platform but also to link it to Corporate Social Responsibiliy (CSR) by offering betterplace as a platform to companies allowing them to integrate their employees into the corporation's CSR activities.

Furthermore, recently the co-founders of betterplace visited us in Mali on their travels around the world meeting searchers and featuring projects. Joana Breidenbach is very active on the betterplace.blog and a helping the Mali Initiative a lot to spread the word, especially in Germany where we work on a joint event in May.

What are the benefits of betterplace' approach?

  1. New ways in development are much needed as success stories of the last 60 years are hard to come by. Moreover, the aid system is full of fundamental flaws as I have observed in Mali and blogged about in "How corrupt is the development aid system?"
  2. William Easterly, author of White Man's Burden, states, a platform such as betterplace "would bypass the narrow administrative funnel in the recipient government... it would avoid the strategic manipulation of aid by donor governments and the corruption of recipient governments."
  3. Ultimately, my field observations in Mali and at renowed Ugandan Rural Development and Training Programme (URDT) support the argument that the so-called 'poor people' are key to their own development (rather the patronizing and often dependency-increasing efforts of us 'whities'). As Easterly states "Only the self-reliant efforts of poor people and poor societies themselves can end poverty, borrowing ideas and institutions from the West when is suits them to do so".
  4. Therefore, it is great to see how different social entrepreneurs working together, from the betterplace founders in the heart of Europe to local searchers such as Youchaou Traore, the Mali Initiative's social entrepreneur in Africa.

Read an article about betterplace in Die Zeit (in German).
Check out the Mali Initiative's projects on betterplace.