© BMZ / Catalina Somolinos

    Cultural anthropologist Joana Breidenbach is passionate about globalisation and international understanding. Once just an internet user, she has become one of the best known social entrepreneurs of Germany’s digital sphere today. She sees this as a logical progression rather than a leap.

    In 2006 Joana, her husband and their two kids packed their bags for a five-month time out to travel the world. Along the way, Joana encountered many small initiatives dedicated to changing local conditions. The trip intended to expand her horizons also signalled the start of a whole new life.

    Joana began to think about how she could mobilise support for these initiatives and about ways small projects could draw attention to themselves without spending a lot on advertising. She imagined an online platform where social projects could present their ideas, a space for direct communication between donors and recipients. Once back home, she brought computer scientist Till Behnke on board and was born, the first and today the largest online donation platform in Germany.

    Since then the pace and rhythm of her workdays has changed. The capacity to implement and adapt ideas quickly is what sets the digital apart from the analogue, the entrepreneurial from the academic world. The team jumped straight in, both feet first, learning as they went along, experimenting, readjusting their expectations, and in the end it was not as complicated as it had seemed at the outset. Now it is easy for anyone in Germany to donate money directly to any of the small initiatives Joana met along her travels.

    Joana’s experience with inspired her, and she began to wonder if global technology could be the antidote to the egocentricity and ethnophobia that seemed to be overtaking the world. At Betterplace.lab, a think-and-do tank, she looks for ways to use technology for the public good. “I want us to see the full depth and breadth of digitalisation. In Germany alone there are so many platforms dedicated to making the world a better place. We can’t just focus on ‘evil’ giants like Facebook and the like when we talk about digitalisation; we have to explore all the other options too.”

    Joana has never felt restricted by gender discrimination, but she knows that’s not the case for lots of other women. Working on filled her with euphoria, with joy in her way of life, in starting a business with all the risks and challenges but also the freedoms that went along with it. This joy is clearly contagious: “My daughter is 25 and just founded a digital start-up in Berlin. She knows it won’t always be smooth going, but she is willing to take the risk and really doing well so far.”


    “Follow up on your ideas, even if they are not perfect.”


    This article has originally been published as part of the publication "Women in Tech: Inspiration, no fairytales" by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). You can download the publication or order a print edition of the book on the #eSkills4Girls website

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