MD4SG
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MD4SG

Interview with Gesine Reinicke

Gesine Reinicke is a Training Coordinator with SprInt, a further education project that trains unemployed refugees and migrants as language and integration mediators (Sprach- und Integrationsmittlung = SprInt). Our Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) working group, Conversations with Practitioners, had the pleasure of interviewing Gesine in December 2021. In this blog post, we record the main insights from the interview for our audience of researchers.

Integration goes both ways

“We think of it as building bridges between the main society in Germany and the cultures, ideas and values of the people coming here, because of course integration only works when they can bring their own potential to work in the new society. Otherwise, well, none of us would be happy not being able to express ourselves.”

— Gesine Reinicke

A vision of multiplied impact

Each SprInt program cycle includes 10 to 15 participants whose circumstance precluded them from integrating into the German job market. The goal is to improve the participants’ knowledge of the German language and public institutions so they can provide guidance to refugees and immigrants in three main sectors: education, social services, and health. Participants often find work in the public sector, where they work as facilitators — interpreting between teachers and parents, assisting people dependent on or applying to welfare services, interpreting pre-treatment consultations in hospitals or medical practices, and advising relatives of patients.

While success is commonly measured by the high percentage of program graduates who become employed in stable jobs, Gesine sees the impact of the program as having a much wider reach. She often hears from former students who are working in positions, such as job counselors, where they can help others find their way.

“I tell them that they are the multipliers.”

Gesine envisions the impact extending even further; in an ideal world, she would like the program to include non-immigrants as well. She believes the skills and experiences that come from this training are becoming more and more applicable.

“I always say to people: it doesn’t look like it now, maybe, but this is a job for the future. Because if we go on like this, with the climate, then there are so many more people who will have to leave their homes and there will be so many more migrants in every respect, coping with living in societies where everybody comes together, whether they want it or not.”

More than one measure of success

Multiplied impact in a social world is difficult to measure, though Gesine would love to be able to have better ways to measure it. SprInt uses informal measures such as word of mouth and reputation to track this impact.

Gesine proudly cites several examples of the impact of SprInt. One is the ‘informal’ work that is done during the training period to increase cultural understanding and solidarity among the different migrant groups present in the training cohort, who come from a diverse set of backgrounds. Another example is the very high rates of vaccination among recent cohorts, much higher than the German population as a whole, she says, where issues of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation have been a factor in vaccination rates. She attributes this, in part, to the trusting relationship that had already been developed between the cohort and the people who taught the medical modules of the program.

Challenges in the non-profit sector are often financial

The SprInt program is run by a few staff members, who take on many roles.

“It’s a squeeze at all ends, as probably everybody who has been employed in a non-commercial institution of further education knows. In the public sector, it’s the same.”

Administrative tasks, while not her top priority, are demanding, and impact interactions with participants and project partners due to the need for extensive documentation, reporting, and recertification — all of which are required to keep the program running. Each participant is referred to SprInt by a government employment agency. When a participant is accepted in the project, the employment agency grants a monthly rate to the project. Given that SprInt is financially dependent on public funding, it can be hard to offer attractive compensation to the various specialized teachers they need to employ in order to cover all relevant fields of knowledge. Most teachers are not in salaried positions, as their part in the curriculum is limited to a certain phase of the course schedule. Given such financial hurdles, it becomes difficult to balance the need for a sufficient number of participants, effective learning conditions for people with a diverse set of backgrounds, and financial sustainability of the project.

Additionally, the financing structure can lead to unexpected, and even counterintuitive, outcomes. If a student gains employment during the program, SprInt loses funding for that student, even though the cost of running the course for the cohort does not decrease. While the project team may request compensation in those specific cases, the example illustrates the precarious relationship between funding, administrative overhead and participant coaching, and the practical and educational professionalization goals of the project.

The precious knowledge that comes with practice

As a practitioner, Gesine is concerned that there is too little research that draws on practical experience.

“I tend to wonder where all the knowledge that comes with practice goes. No one has time to write an elaborate article.”

Her advice for researchers is to do an internship with an organization that tackles the problems the researchers want to study. Not only would it help researchers understand everyday problems that cannot be easily theorized, it would also give them an idea of the complexity of the things they want to model.

“Working in such a system would help a lot to do research that will be informed by the practical reality.”

Gesine recognizes that a researcher entering an environment like her organization may not be immediately accepted and may even be treated with some suspicion of their intentions and doubts about their ability to contribute. She stressed the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding.

Finally, Gesine adds a few thoughts about her own experiences working with researchers: she notes that mutually helpful exchanges are not always about starting with a concretely defined goal, but instead about the unexpected value and experiences that emerge from the interactions themselves. This can include fostering a greater understanding of the complexity of the work involved in achieving greater equality and more sustainable dynamics in a globally interdependent population.

“…I’ll be very curious about what brews.”

We thank Gesine for her insightful and inspiring conversation with our Conversations with Practitioners working group.

This interview with Gesine was led by Kristen Scott.

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MD4SG is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary initiative working to improve access to opportunity for under-served and disadvantaged communities. md4sg.com