SPARK SPEAK - THE LOVE FOUNDATION
In our SPARKSPEAK series we interview Sparks, who are the innovators, front-runners, early adopters and trailblazers. Their vision shows the way forward and we love to talk to them to deepen our trend research.
On a cold November rainy night in Amsterdam, we were on our way to the Love Foundation headquarters. Upon arrival, we got notified that the power would be out in ten minutes, because of an electrical error. We got a very warm welcome from Philippe and while taking us to the office, the lights went out. What followed was a ‘cosy’ interview in the dark for our latest instalment of SPARK SPEAK: Meet Love Foundation co-founder Philippe Birker.
Born in the countryside in Germany, Philippe once dreamed of becoming a sports journalist. However, when his internship at a German media company fell through, he decided to buy a one-way ticket to Australia. His time there inspired him to go to Maastricht and study entrepreneurship. After a confronting exchange to South Africa, he knew he wanted to give back.
So you started the Love Foundation in Maastricht. Could you tell us how it all began?
Well during my exchange in South Africa I got confronted with actual poverty. I mean you know there are problems in the world but you can’t fully comprehend them until you see them with your own eyes. I became aware of how different life concepts or situations can be. While being there I also noticed how much happier people were despite the fact that they had a lot less. This changed my perspective on money and happiness but I also realised the privilege I grew up in. It made me want to give back and I came home with that idea. I met David just after my exchange. He was doing parties, quite successfully and when we met it was like a snowball system. He knew Marius who made the logo and it all came together. It felt like it was serendipity.
So, how did this turn into a ‘social enterprise’?
So yeah, the first thing we ever did was the benefit party for Viva con Agua and create the Love logo, just with my best friends. We made 50 t-shirts with the logo and they sold out, just like the party. Then we did it again and people started asking: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Well, I guess we’re starting our own foundation!’, I thought, so we registered. We did more and more parties and got more people involved. One day, someone didn’t like music but was into art. So we organised two art exhibitions. Then someone wanted to do a football tournament, so we did that. Then someone went to Santa Cruz in California and met people there who also wanted to participate and give back. So they started doing parties over there. That was when we came up with the concept of Love Hubs. Which we now have in Perth, Amsterdam, Maastricht, Dresden, Berlin and today we opened a location in Milan.
Can anyone jus start a Love Hub?
No not really. To start a Love Hub, you have to have had at least six months of experience within an old Hub. Because a Love Foundation party has a certain energy to it, and we believe that in order to fully understand this energy and pass it on you have to be active for half a year. Just to make sure that people know; no matter where I go, if I go to a Love Foundation party, it’s a great party!
How would you describe this specific vibe that is so characterising for an LF party?
Well, we have five pillars. One is access to clean water for everybody. The second is unconditional Love for every human being. The third is community activism, so bring people together. Often people come to party in groups and they go home in the same groups but we want people to mingle. So we have cards, for example with our pillars on it. At the entrance everyone gets one and at the party, you have to find someone with the same card. When you find your match you get a free shot from us. It’s basically a conversation opener and a fun way to connect. The next pillar is ‘Gude Laune’ which is a quote from Sven Väth a famous German techno DJ. It doesn’t have an exact translation but it means something like joyful purpose. It reflects our work because we do it for free and from a place of joy. Our fifth and last one is sustainability. So our shirts are Fairtrade and organic. With everything we do we try to leave a small footprint. Of course, we are not perfect but we at least aim for it.
Would you say that besides raising money for clean water in underdeveloped countries, it is also your goal to connect people?
Of course, yeah actually that relates to one of our main projects next year. We want to open a Hub or do a Love excursion in northern Africa. We have some connections in Tunis. So maybe we’ll go to Tunis, pick up some artists and bring them to our other Hubs so we can do an artist exchange. If you have that, if you start connecting people, you can start helping people.
Do you have a plan where you want to be with the Foundation in around five years?
We want to grow organically but my dream would be 20 Love Hubs in 2020. We want to build up strong Hubs and once they’re strong, an exchange can really be gold. A lot of people want to travel to other cities, but a lot of music collectives are just in one city. But if you can be connected in Paris and then maybe in Lebanon and then in the Czech Republic you get this connection between cultures. And then you have a lot of impact, especially within northern Africa. That could be one of the turning points.
How could other charities be more creative in raising money?
I just think the motivation should always be joyful and that is what we try to do. What we do is not magic. We look at what people like to do anyway and how could they do that for a good cause. For example, everybody likes to go out and party, so we organise parties so you can go out for a good cause. What other charities usually do, is showing a starving child and doing the whole guilt thing. That’s completely wrong! You should never guilt someone into doing something, it should always be pleasurable to do it. But on top of that for a benefit. This is completely different from what I was taught at my university. Universities often pride themselves in high starting salaries for their students. But who gives a shit. That is not why you should go to university. It’s just leading you to commercial companies which usually means, the more money you make, the eviler a company is. And this way you’re not going to change the world. Social companies just can’t pay the same salaries because they usually don’t have the same amount of money. Like right now I work for a social company in Berlin and I make less money than I would at other companies with my qualifications. But I do it because it gives me more happiness and in the end, I believe that would apply to most people. We want to do something rewarding. We want to feel like we’re doing something important. Right now that feeling is being bought with money and we’re told that that is what we should want. That that’s the reward.
Well, thank you Phillipe! We wish you all the best and good luck!