How to get visibility in Online Communities

As part of a global network for social innovation enthusiasts, we’ve built numerous local ‘hotspots’ where our members engage online and offline to support all kinds of social causes. In Berlin, our facebook group has about 1500 people, and I try to redirect most personal requests to spread the word to support this, join here, or donate there to this group.

This has the benefit that there is instantly more exposure, and this is how we create community. Our community is not based on everyone following a few people, but it exists because people are building a network and talking to each other. We are not limited by a few people as bottlenecks or gatekeepers, but the energy goes where the attention of the members is. Of course, some members might get more attention than others, but it’s because they have invested into building this social capital. The great thing is, anyone can build momentum, but unfortunately few are successful in doing this.

I believe that this is how most communities work today, and that it needs a different mindset than previous approaches that come from hierarchical or built on one-to-many communication perspectives.

I constantly see 3 issues that happen over and over again and prevent people having successful engagements with communities in the digital age.

1) You’re just posting your link, not engaging

You’re in a rush, and you want to spread your message into all kinds of forums and groups, I get it. You’re going for quantity of views and exposure, but you’re missing out on something essential: Quality of engagement. We live in a world where attention is one of the most expensive currencies in the world. Why should someone in the community pay attention to your message when it’s obvious you didn’t spend more than a minute copy & pasting it? Did you contribute in any way before making the ask?

Our philosophy is to pay it forward, to offer something valuable before you ask for something in return. Upload before you download. Nobody likes the person that comes to an open mic session just to play your song and leave. Listen to what others are posting, see if you can help with questions others have posted, or join in a discussion. If you can, join our real-life meetings and get to know the different people there. Invest some time, build some social capital – don’t be a spammer.

2) Your call to action isn’t attractive

Does your message offer the reader/listener any value in return for their attention, and more importantly, does your call to action offer a benefit to the action-taker? Yes, we work in social (or environmental) innovation, and I’m mostly talking about requests from people who are out there to improve the world. But there are opportunity costs to everything, and attention spent on one initiative is attention lost on another.

If your call to action is constantly demanding more than you are offering, I don’t believe you’re striking the right balance. You’ll only be able to engage people in the long-term if you are giving more than you are demanding. It’s not enough to tell someone they are doing something good. We, the social sector should not be content with simply guilting a person into doing something if there is no value to her or him. I’ve worked with volunteers for more than 10 years, and the key to keeping good relationships with people who are doing something without financial compensation is to understand their motivations and what things they value – and make sure they get it.

3) You’re not coming back

I think the most important thing is the follow-up. It’s difficult, because it takes initiative after the fun part is over, when the attention is gone, the adrenaline spent and most people’s thoughts are about getting some rest or preparing the next thing. That’s why a good follow-up makes you stand out from the crowd.

It allows you to thank people, give them credit, and show the community the impact of the engagement between you and the people who participated. It appreciates the effort of those who got engaged, and demonstrates desirability in those who didn’t. You demonstrate an interest in being part of the community and contributing to something, rather than disappearing once you’ve gotten what you needed. It demonstrates loyalty which builds loyalty. A good follow-up sets you up for the next successful engagement with the community.

Pay it forward and create value

In the end, each of these issues is rooted in the question of value. Are you providing value to the community and its individual members, or are you trying to download more than you upload?

Just because you are doing something charitable, social, or environmental doesn’t entitle you to people’s attention or support. In fact, I believe we should be the ones thinking twice as hard about how we create value for everyone involved in what we do.

Europe and the Refugee Question, January 2016

I get to talk to lots of different people when I’m traveling around the world. Many have a great picture of Germany, whether it’s because of renewable energy or the openness to refugees. However, just like the Energiewende has been slowly coming under scrutiny by outside observers, I think it’s time to look at how open we actually are when it comes to welcoming refugees, the mismanagement of the entire issue, the consequences thereof.

Denmark has come under criticism for planning to seize assets from refugees to ‘cover the cost of each asylum seeker.’ What often goes un- or undermentioned is how that the same is happening in Switzerland, and yes, Germany: Possessions above €750 can be and are confiscated by the police. Even the Green MP Beck agrees to the confiscation measures, as long as they ‘don’t create the impression this is done in an authoritarian way.’ Meanwhile, the Left party is the only one to condemn this practice both from a legal reasoning point as well as by principle: ‘A basic human right should not come at a financial burden to the person seeking justice.‘

I’m appalled at the justifications that this is for financial reasons, to help offset the costs and ensure equality between the Hartz-IV recipients. So we are ripping off of one group just so the other ripped-off group feels that they are being treated fairly?

Giving financial support for basic necessities to refugees (or those suffering under Hartz-IV) doesn’t have any real macroeconomic consequences: It doesn’t hurt the economy since the money is actually spent in the local economy. This is much better than money in the accounts of the super-wealthy, which is not circulating and thus not contributing to the economy.

Secondly, proportionality. How much money do you believe you’re going to make from this? Here’s a quick thought experiment: There seems to be no statistical data, so let’s use some very high assumptions: Say as much as 10% of asylum seekers would need to give €2000 of the money they arrived with. Let’s use the widely-circulated yet inflated number of 1M refugees arriving to Germany last year. That would amount to €200 million. (more realistically we’re talking about 0.1% and €1000, leading to a mere €1 million).

Compare this to the €310 billion of the federal budget, or against the ‘financial predictions’ circulating in German media that refugees will cost €20 billion even though it was only €1.5 billion in 2013 (nevermind that this prediction comes from Hans-Werner Sinn, one of the economists in favor of the takeover of Greece, which was communicated as a bailout). And let’s not forget how quick we were to give the banksters a €650 billion bailout that cost the tax payer upwards of €50 billion.

Those banksters would probably call the potential ‘earnings’ peanuts. There are several orders of magnitude between the ‘taking away stuff from refugees’-measure and the real scope of the issue. Taking away a few possessions is not going to make a dent, financially. It’s not in line with German tax policies either, as we tax income and not wealth (I agree with Piketty that we should have a global tax on wealth, just probably not for those with less than €10K in assets.)

Why then do decision-makers condone this practice? Is taking away from the poorest really the measure we want to be taking? Or might this be exactly what those who lead this country want?

If you take a look at the dehumanizing situation e.g. in front of Berlin’s LaGeSo, you start to wonder whether these are just unintended consequences. Today, there were reports of an Syrian Asylum seeker that died after waiting for several days in the cold for his papers [EDIT: this information is still unconfirmed]. I know a lot of refugee initiatives, organizations and even municipalities whose work is obstructed by German regulations and suffer from a lack of funding and resources from the federal and state governments. The friendly and welcoming image of Germany last summer rests on the shoulders of private people who decided to act, while the states and governments provided too few resources. Yes, I am happy that our Chancellor stood up and said ‘wir schaffen das’, but from the official side, it has mostly been words, not action so far. At the same time, this mismanagement led to an enormous surge of right-wing extremists and a rising fear in the general cultural climate. It’s the worst basis for smart decisions, and it’s a real threat to the European continent – so much that even the WEF is concerned.

Everywhere I go, especially in Europe, I hear people calling BS on the narrative that we cannot help refugees or that it is a burden for our continent. They are calling attention to the mismatch between the words and actions of our governments, and that this should not be called a ‘refugee crisis’ but a ‘political failure’, perhaps the largest in the last 50 years.

Europe’s people may be united by culture or a moral guideline, but our political leaders certainly aren’t. It keeps on reminding me of George Carlin’s words, who I miss dearly.

Liberinantes – an Italian Inspiration

Today, I experienced another one of those moments that make me love what I do. It’s not about the glamorous moments speaking to powerful people, but rather the people who are strong in their principles and ideals, make things happen on the ground, and remain humble even while moving mountains.

I had the immense pleasure to meet Alberto Urbinati today. He and 8 friends were huge football fans but could not stand the prevalent racism anymore, and wanted to do something practical about it.

So 8 years ago, they started Liberi Nantes, a football club for refugees. The team consists only of refugees and they are actually playing in the official Italian league. They are pushing for the regulations to allow them to move beyond the lowest league- imagine a refugee Serie A team!

I got to spend some time with Alberto and he even invited me to join lunch with him, the players, and the other involved people. It was a special atmosphere – I could feel much he was revered by the players and other team members while he himself remained entirely down to earth and did not accept any special privileges. I was really moved when he talked about his influences, e.g. an annual tournament without referees where it is all about the love of the game and the community, not about winning. This translated into the spirit of Liberi Nantes, in which every player knows two basic rules: smile and respect people – even in the face of hate speech or racism.

I wish I had all of our conversation on video, however, we only filmed a short version. I’ll have the interview with him online soon, until then check out the excellent guardian video above.

What a climate guy has to do with refugees

“You’re a climate guy – why are you jumping on the refugee bandwagon now?”

“Aren’t you instrumentalizing the refugees for your climate message?”

I was a bit shocked at these types of accusations when I brought up the topic of refugees in the context of climate at a few events recently. Initially, I didn’t think that mentioning this would cause a ruckus, but some people (who didn’t know me) didn’t see the connection and felt it was too far-fetched. I hadn’t realized that the links are not so well-known in the public eye yet.

To me, climate change has always been strongly linked to the displacement of people: In the simplest terms, it’s the people in coastal areas affected through the sea level rise. However, it goes a lot deeper. Climate change will fundamentally change our life on this planet, and with more extreme weather patterns will lead to less inhabitable and farmable land, which will change where on this planet people can live (well).

Back in 2010, when we hosted the German premiere of “The Age of Stupid” in Berlin, we invited Hermann Josef Hack, an artist who visualizes the looming climate refugee crisis if we fail to solve this challenge. I’m not concerned about climate change because of a romantic idea of a healthy planet – I’m pretty sure the planet and nature will survive whatever happens. The question is if we will survive, and how we will. Will we stick to our ideals of human rights when we are tested in tough times?

With so many people fleeing Syria at the moment, many don’t see that even in this case, climate change underlies the tragedy. For more than 4 years, a drought forced more than a million farmers to flee into the city. It has been well documented by the Washington Post in 2013, made easy-to-understand by this comic, and already in 2003 the Pentagon recognized the security and migration implications of climate change.

Once we understand this connection, I think it’s time to ask the question: What the hell is an “economic refugee” anyway?

Why do we choose to only help people fleeing from military conflict (and only if we recognize it as such) and not help people fleeing from extreme poverty or loosing their land? Island states such as the Maldives have been pretty vocal about the question of their future when their islands will disappear. How do we deal with these questions? When the inhabitable parts of the world shift, how do we justify our perceived right to the land we currently live on and our reflex to defend it against ‘intruders’?

I’m passionate about climate change because I believe it is the largest challenge we are facing, and I think it’s the calling of our generation to solve it for future generations. I’m passionate about solving the refugee crisis because it is the most urgent humanitarian crisis we face, and I believe that it is in times of crisis that we have an opportunity to prove that we really do stand by our values. These two causes are linked, and my engagement in both of them comes from caring for humans and the desire to make the most impact I can to leave behind a better world for us, humans.

HUMAN by Yann-Arthus Bertrand

If I got to pack a time capsule for future/distant generations to learn about us, this would be at or near the top of the list.

Amazing portrait of #whatmakesushuman. Have followed Yann-Arthus Betrand for a while now, and this reminded me of his 6 millards d’autres exhibition I saw in Paris, that just absolutely capitavated me. The same happened when I saw this movie – It completely took me out of the daily routine and constant updating, and just let me sit in awe – of the landscapes, the human interactions, the stories, the honesty, the emotions. How does he get people to be so open, so vulnerable, and yet so full of life in front of the lens?

This might be his magnum opus. I watched all three volumes, can highly recommend it! It’s like a spa day for the brain. Must-watch!

Google Impact Challenge – We’re in the finals!

Wow, we are a finalist of the Google Impact Challenge!

4 years of mobilizing more than 20.000 people around the world to solve challenges and help social entrepreneurs in the digital age – and now we’re on the last lap to win the prize from one of the biggest digital players in the world.

It’s not often that I ask my network to vote and ask their friends to do the same. Friends, this time, we need your help. One small click for you, but a huge amplification effect for social entrepreneurs we support all around the world!

Why I support MakeSense? Because nothing has had such a huge impact on my life. Read the story here! If any of my activities have helped or inspired you in some small way, please vote for us and be a part of the biggest mobilization we have ever been part of.

This is the link:


And guess who just sent over his video of support: The Doc himself, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, sends his voting recommendation!! :)

P.S. if you want to find a cool graphic/avatar, look no further!


#COP21 and the Road to Paris

My speech at the Silent Climate Parade focused on COP21 and I promised to post some information for people too lazy to surf the internet. Well, this won’t be a dissertation, but I wanted to collect and point to a few good resources for people to get started with talking about it. Leave more in the comments if you’d like to point my attention towards interesting stuff.

Why does it make sense to solve climate change? If you’re stuck on that question, read the fantastic ‘Story of Energy’ chapter on this waitbutwhy article.

As I said, I think COP21 we need to see it as a chance for our leaders to solve a the issue of climate change, which is so fatally different from other challenges and so far-reaching. Not to say it will solve anything, but it can be a major step in the right direction – the first real one in 23 years since the creation of the UNCCC at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Many people are still frustrated about the failure of Copenhagen’s COP15 in 2009, which was pushed into the public eye as a decisive moment for climate action. The enormous media attention and heads of state in attendance didn’t really get us anywhere. Many on the activist side explored different paths such as the very successful divestment campaign or direct actions, or like myself more towards pushing practical solutions though innovation and entrepreneurship. Follow the #climate tag on this blog for some things I posted about.

With COP21, there’s again a blossoming hope that there can be a global political solution. On the other hand, if talks fail then it is probably the last nail in the coffin to the idea that we’ll come together as a global village and make the rational choice to preserve our habitat. My wish is that we can start talking about it more and bring the urgency of this to the public awareness. I think those that are serious about a sustainable future need to be vocal about their expectations from their political leaders and drive the conversation.

The Guardian is a good place to get an overview of the most basic facts on COP21 in Paris in December as well as this article on ensia. If even a fraction of this information would permeate into our conversations I’d call it an achievement. Even better, if we would could make it understood that solving climate change is an opportunity to build a better world.

In addition to my posts on this blog, for further reading some more articles that deserve attention on COP21 or climate change:

I’ll be adding things here as I come across them. For now I’ll leave you with Leo.

photo above by Jason Krüger at ekvidi

Rede SCP 2015

Es hat Spaß gemacht, aber warum machen wir das?

Ganz klar: Wir müssen niemandem sagen, dass die Lage ernst ist. Jeder weiß, dass die Lage Ernst ist.  Doch
ich glaube auch an eines: Das Vergangene bestimmt nicht unser Schicksal. Wir
haben die Zukunft in der Hand.

Ich glaube an die Kraft der positiven
Kommunikation. Wir haben heute wieder etwas auf die Straße gebracht, dass so
schön war, dass so viel Freude ausstrahlte, dass wir die Menschen die uns sehen
zum Zuhören und Mitmachen inspirieren.

Ihr habt heute bestimmt schon ein paar Klimatipps
bekommen, und ich will hier auch gar nicht anfangen zu predigen. Wir haben
heute viel über die Klimakonferenz in Paris im Dezember gehört. Klimakonferenzen
gibt es ja jedes Jahr, warum ist also 2015 besonders?


Die COP21 in Paris spielt deswegen eine Schlüsselrolle in der internationalen Klimapolitik weil es nach dem Scheitern von Kopenhagen in 2009 die wahrscheinlich letzte Chance ist, dass wir eine weltweite Einigung zu diesem globalen Problem erzielen können. Wenn Paris scheitert, dann beerdigen wir die Hoffnung die 1992 in Rio beim Earth Summit geweckt wurde – und zwar dass wir als Menschheit Umweltprobleme global lösen können. Ich will nicht, dass 23 Jahre an Verhandlungen umsonst waren!

Bei allem Ernst der Lage will ich getreu
unserem Motto versuchen das Positive zu sehen. Einige von Euch wissen
vielleicht, dass ich eigentlich mehr von Machern und Sozialunternehmern halte,
als von der Politik. Aber dieses Jahr hängt so viel Hoffnung an diesem Prozess
und ich sehe eine große Chance. Es ist eine Chance für die Politik. Es ist die Chance, zu zeigen, dass die
Politik noch relevant ist und ihrem Auftrag als Volksvertreter heutzutage noch
gerecht wird.

Denn momentan ist die Politik doch kaum noch
relevant. Selbst in der hochpräsenten Flüchtlingskrise kommt von der Politik
lediglich Reaktion, keine pro-aktiven Lösungen zu den Ursachen der Probleme. Dieses
warme Gefühl das ich zum ersten Mal in Verbindung mit unserem Land empfinde,
kommt nicht von der Politik sondern von den vielen Menschen die ganz
hemdsärmelig mitanpacken, Willkommenskultur zu zeigen. Auch ihnen möchte ich danken.

Ebenso ist es beim Klimaschutz und der
Zukunftsfähigkeit unserer Gesellschaft. Denn der Klimaschutz ist ganz elementar
mit den wirtschaftlichen Aktivitäten unseres Landes verbunden. Doch was ich
sehe, ist dass Unternehmen die Macht haben. Unsere Politik wird mehr von Lobbyisten
gelenkt, als von den gewählten Volksvertretern. Ich wünsche mir, dass die
Politik zeigt, dass sie mehr sind, als das Mittelmanagement der Wirtschaft. Für
den Klimaschutz brauchen wir ein starkes, rechtgültiges und ambitioniertes Abkommen
als Ergebnis der Verhandlungen in Paris. Und dies ist die Chance, liebe

Der Klimawandel ist eine Bedrohung, die
oft schwierig zu fassen ist, weil sie sich – ein wenig wie unsere Parade – oft schleichend
vollzieht. So eine Bedrohung abzuwenden wäre ein historisches Ereignis und in
meinen Augen ein Zeichen dafür, dass wir uns als Menschheit tatsächlich
weiterentwickeln können und kein Problem zu groß für uns ist. Das wäre doch mal
ein politisches Vermächtnis, oder nicht?

Dafür stehe ich heute hier und gebe
meine Meinung kund. Denn auch wenn ich in meinem Privatleben jeden Tag
versuche, nachhaltiger als gestern zu leben, so weiss ich, dass es nicht genug
ist, wenn ich das nur im stillen Kämmerlein mache. Liebe Parade, wenn auch Ihr glaubt,
dass eine nachhaltige Zukunft wichtig ist, und dass die COP21 in Paris eine
Chance für Politiker sein kann, ein historisch bedeutendes Vermächtnis zu
hinterlassen, dann habe ich eine Bitte an Euch: Sprecht darüber.


Sprecht darüber wie wichtig es ist, dass
es in Paris eine Einigung für den Klimaschutz gibt. Sprecht über diese
historische Chance, das Richtige zu tun. Sprecht darüber mit Freunden,
Verwandten, und den Leuten, denen Ihr begegnet. Benutzt Social Media,
unterschreibt Onlinepetitionen, unterstützt andere die darüber sprechen, oder
wenn Ihr ganz mutig seid, schreibt und ruft direkt bei Euren Vertretern an. Lasst
und gemeinsam dafür sorgen, dass uns bewusst wird, dass Paris nicht nur eine
weitere Klimaverhandlung ist, sondern die beste Chance auf eine Nachhaltige
Zukunft die wir haben.

Wenn Ihr dazu mehr Informationen
braucht, und Ihr Euch nicht durch das ganze Internet wühlen wollt oder könnt,
dann findet Ihr in den nächsten Tagen weitere Informationen dazu auf meinem
Blog. Vor allem, sprecht darüber, was Ihr
heute erlebt habt und wozu es Euch inspiriert hat. Dafür danke ich Euch.

Und nur damit das ganz klar ist, dass
heisst nicht, dass wir nicht weiterhin auch den Mund aufmachen gegen die ‚Ich
bin ja kein Nazi aber’ Idioten.

Enden möchte ich mit einem Gedanken aus
Naomi Kleins neuem Film ‚This Changes Everything’: Was, wenn der Klimawandel
nicht nur eine Krise ist? Was, es die beste Chance ist, die wir jemals bekommen
werden, um eine bessere Welt zu bauen?

Humans Need Not Apply

This video is about a year old already, but it perfectly captures thoughts I’ve been having for a while and thinking about intensely as I was reading a lot on AI and machine learning.

Eventually, we’ll all be out of a job. But isn’t that great? I always hated the argument ‘we create jobs’ as if that is something virtuous in itself. I only see virtue if you create jobs that are meaningful and enjoyable – something people want to spend time with. Anyway, as easy as it is for more people today to imagine machines taking away more manual labor jobs, once you see what’s technologically possible today it’s not hard to see your white-collar job being automated in the not-too-distant future.

If this is hard to imagine, take a look at this (year-old!) video.

It’s going to hit virtually everyone. The taxi drivers revolting against Uber will eventually have to realize that they will be fully out of a job when self-driving cars are finally permitted to drive on the streets (they’re already far safer than humans today).

If we are serious about a more just future, we have to start thinking about decoupling a livelihood from working. in a world where we do not do the work, we have to find a different strategy on determining who gets to live how well. To me, this is the unconditional basic income, which more and more cities are already experimenting with. i’m curious though, what’s your take on this?

Germany and the Refugee Question, August 2015

70 years ago, germany only managed to get back on its feet because of the goodwill and $$ of other countries, even after having just cause an atrocious amount of death and destruction. today we are the 3rd largest weapons exporter and actually making $$ from death and destruction in the world.

yet we’re showing none of the goodwill that put us in this comfortable position: we let the victims of our weapons exports drown in the mediterranean to deter others from coming and we remain silent about police violence at our boarders, illegal push-backs, right-wing terrorism against asylum centers, violent racist attacks on people, and burning refugee homes. just the official support structures are kept understaffed, and there’s a very tangible move to the right in the air and on the ground. even in berlin, usually a pretty tolerant place, there’s ugliness: to pick just one example, on saturday two known neonazis threatened and urinated on children in the subway.

our politicians are busy with a weird competition on delivering the most pathetic reaction instead of getting anything done to help. instead of trying to solve the causes of the problem or even just properly helping the victims of their politics, they side with and protect those openly defying international law and the humanitarian values we love to display so proudly. all while demanding crippling austerity from our greek brothers and sisters so that the banks that made foul bets get away unscathed. it gets even more absurd considering that sooner or later, we need migrants to keep our entire social system running and that we have been the biggest profiteers of the european union.

blood on our hands, everywhere we look. is this still not enough to make a generation stand up and say ‘no more’?