I finally write about my visit to the first Socialcamp in Germany. There were activists, campaigners, NGOs and many others who shared their work, experiences and visions with an open spirit. Particularly, the mixture of participants from the traditional German nonprofit sector (social welfare), newer NGOs and activists were quite inspiring. This kind of mingle, which makes it very creative, happens all over again after the Socialcamp in England. The hub in Berlin offered their location and both days were filled with sesssions.
It was insightful to see how much is happening and inspiring to see the engagement of people. It showed me once again the value of face to face networking and that most things are happening around Berlin. There were a lot of interesting initiatives presented such as:
- oneaim.org - a global participation feed
- wikiwoods.org (plant a tree)
Also some promising platforms have been established, such as:
- betterplace.org (international peer-to-peer aid)
- helpedia.org (German nonprofit portal, NGO-listing)
- pfandtastisch-helfen.de (using refund for charity)
- weltretter.org (voluntarily work)
- elargio.de (fundraising and charity)
- mensch.coop (social network for social movements)
**The academic view ** There is also a newspaper article in the TAZ where Dieter Rucht, a German professor and expert of social movements, says: “My general opinion is that the means of the Internet to mobilize are greatly overrated. This is not a new form of egalitarian social movement. He sees no qualitative jump though the Internet and just hopes and expectations.” Surely one can easily be enthusiastic – so far a lot of initiatives and experiments have to prove their results, but it says a lot when a German professor still share his degree of skepticism. One reason might be that especially in Germany the potential for transnational networking has not yet been acknowledge nor tested.
**Funding challenge ** One big challenge to most projects is of course funding. There are limited ways to get funding. Funders are the “Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth” (official name!!) or foundations. But there is not such a foundation culture as in the USA, where people are even less willing to invest in web based projects. Another option is company funding, but in here, it is, according to a discussion, not too easy to accept all kinds of corporate money because that might “damage” the reputation within the community. So, some project offers consultancy and advise for corporate social responsibility on the side. The above mentioned TAZ article mentions that 2-3 billion privately donated money in Germany were spent by people older than 60 and those have not yet an interest in such initiatives.
**The openness challenge ** To me it was particularly interesting that NGOs face (almost) the same difficulties to open themselves up as regular companies. Although they are non-profited and should not have something to hide such as valuable patents. But they are moving in a political arena, which often makes them reluctant to go public, for example, with blogs and openness for feedback. “The willingness to engage more openly in networks with members and stakeholders is low”, said many representatives from organizations. Nevertheless, I think that the event showed that openness and cooperation are key to work on pressuring social issues.