Meet the organisations committed to empowering refugees in Germany
By Fiona Koch
“People on the move are not a threat, they are an opportunity. People on the move are a hope for a new world.” This was how Kilian Kleinschmidt welcomed the audience at the Hello Festival on refugee integration, which took place from the 18th to the 20th of March in Berlin. As the former Camp Manager for the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Kleinschmidt is well acquainted with the challenges facing refugees and their host countries, and his positive message set the stage for the conference’s focus of refugee empowerment. “We have seen amazing initiatives, platforms and ideas thrive over the last few years, provoked by what we think is a crisis but what is a reality and an opportunity.”
Bringing such initiatives, platforms and ideas to Germany was the main goal of the three-day festival, a culmination of months of collaboration between main sponsor Ashoka Germany and key local partners, including foundations, German aid organisations and the online commerce company Zalando, which sponsored the events. The guest list of over 400 included key influencers from the social, business, government and media sectors.
Thirteen proven solutions were at the centre of the conference’s platform for integration practices: An architecture firm transforming refugee camp sites into dignified spaces (More Than Shelters), a volunteer force connecting elderly retirees with asylum seekers through English classes (Failte Isteach), and a tuition-free online university empowering refugees to further their education from anywhere (The University of the People) are just three examples. Hailing from across Africa, Europe and the Americas, all thirteen organisations have been successfully operating in their respective home countries, and were hand selected to present their approaches to a German audience for the first time.
Echoing Kilian Kleinschmidt’s message, many of the founders highlighted the mutually beneficial opportunities that successful integration can provide. “In the media, one hears a lot about refugees: about how they are causing social unrest, how they can create crime… The debate is often very negative,” explained Nathanael Molle, founder of the venture incubator SINGA. “This narrative has a profound impact on their ability to integrate in our societies, and it cuts us and them from a whole world of opportunities.” In France, SINGA has been working on changing the perspective of a population that mainly views refugees as a problem, and Molle used this methodology to lead a workshop, ‘Promoting Entrepreneurship and Talent,’ providing tools and ideas for the German audience at Hello Festival.
Nicole Cicerani, founder of the immigrant talent consultancy Upwardly Global, cited a “moral obligation” to promote the economic opportunity that refugees can offer their host countries, as the driving force behind her work. “Our organisation trains refugees and migrants in how to conduct a professional job search, and we also train corporate employees in how to support them in that process in a structured way.” Cicerani hoped to connect with forward-thinking German companies who are ready to tap into the talent pool of skilled and educated refugees.
Some leaders highlighted the importance of creating a culture of acceptance in host countries, and praised Germany for being open to support from grassroots movements. “Germany is at a crossroads right now,” observed David Lubell, founder of the social enterprise Welcoming America, a US-based nonprofit that trains and equips teams of welcoming committees in small communities. “It has the potential to be the model for the world, of an historic place that chose to welcome refugees and succeeded in doing it.” Lubell praised the festival as a much-needed networking opportunity to stage crucial conversations on bringing his organisation to local governments across the country.
Following an intensive day of pitching and open sessions that allowed the founders to connect with collaborators, teams had access to expert-led sessions on ‘Financing for social businesses,’ ‘Enabling changemakers through design thinking’ and ‘Scaling: What is it, and am I ready for it?’ hosted in the Bosch Stiftung (Foundation) headquarters. The public programme also featured a TEDxBerlin talk titled, ‘Migration. Chances. Challenges,’ with eleven speakers and an audience of over 1,500 that broke the record for an independently organised TEDx event.
German media outlets praised the conference for its focus on concrete action: One immediate outcome of the festival was the establishment of an ‘Innovation Fund,’ which raised over €220,000 to help finance the launch of the thirteen models in Germany. Plans are already in the works to replicate the knowledge-sharing festival in other European countries affected by the refugee crisis, with representatives from Ashoka offices in Turkey and Greece hoping to launch similar events in the coming months.
Fiona Koch is Communications Manager for Ashoka Ireland. You can follow her on Twitter here. All individuals mentioned in this article are either Ashoka Fellows or members of our network on Changemakers.com.
This site is running a series of posts about the empowerment of refugees. Follow the hashtag #HelloFestival on Twitter for more news from the summit. To find out more and contribute to the Innovation Fund, click here.