150 Profiles: Michael Alberg-Seberich

As a way to mark the 150th anniversary of confederation, The Philanthropist profiled Canadians from across the non-profit sector and put a face to 150 individuals who work or volunteer in Canada’s social sector. As 2017 drew to a close, we published our final profile of 2017 — reaching our target of speaking with 150 people! The Philanthropist recognizes that Canada’s history did not begin 150 years ago. And it will continue beyond 150 years. In this spirit, we will continue to profile people in the non-profit sector throughout 2018.

Name: Michael Alberg-Seberich

Current role in the sector: Managing Director of Beyond Philanthropy, Berlin, Germany; partner at the charity Active Philanthropy, Berlin, Germany and CKX & Mercator Fellow at Foundation House in Toronto for six months in 2017.

Years working and/or volunteering in the non-profit sector: 38 years volunteering, 21 years working

Michael Alberg-Seberich profile picture

What was your first job in the sector or a defining moment?
In 1997 I joined the German Youth For Understanding Committee (YFU), an international youth exchange organization in Hamburg, as an intercultural counsellor and trainer. I had been a volunteer for this non-profit for years before I turned volunteering into my profession. This switch was not an easy one because suddenly my life was only YFU and the many friends that I had gotten to know there as a volunteer. Defining a professional role in the sector has been a long process of practice and reflection. It has become the basis for my work in philanthropy today.

Describe your desk/workspace.
Our office is in the heart of Berlin. We are based in a typical 19th century office and apartment building that was renovated after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We love Café 93 in the basement of our office building.

The office itself is set up as a co-working space. This flexible office model reflects the fact that many members of our team are on the road a lot or work part-time. My actual workspace is right now is a small IKEA desk. It is placed in a room that we also use for team meetings.

What are you reading or following that has expanded your understanding of the non-profit sector?
Reading is a passion of mine and that is why I still enjoy reading books about the sector. I regularly read the blog and magazine Alliance because of its global perspective of the sector. I also often browse the blogs and publications of The Center For Effective Philanthropy, Stanford Social Innovation Review and Foundation Center. In Germany, I am a regular reader of the newsletters of the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Association of German Foundations), the Maecenata Institute and UPJ, a network Corporate Social Responsibility. It is always worthwhile to browse through the magazines Stiftung & Sponsoring and enorm.

What do you think our sector needs to be thinking about?
Two topics that are crucial for philanthropy are equity and digitization of the sector. Philanthropy, even though it may appear as a paradox, has to become a more outspoken advocate for equity. For causes like social justice, education and climate change, donors need to find innovative measures to overcome the equity gap locally, nationally, and globally.

Digitization, even though many people talk about it, is still something we do not really understand. Still, there is a sense that it could be an important lever for positive social change. It also could be a threat to the sector. Therefore we need to learn about the potential of big data and advocate for the right way to use these tools in an open, democratic society.

Do you know someone we should profile as part of this series? Email us at philanthropistprofiles@gmail.com

Michael Alberg-Seberich was in Canada for six months in 2017 as a CKX and Mercator Fellow at Foundation House in Toronto. He is a Managing Director of Beyond Philanthropy and a Partner of the charity Active Philanthropy, both based in Berlin, Germany.