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Give Something Back to Berlin

July 25, 2014
tags:#Berlin, #Give Something Back to Berlin, #refugees, #social entrepreneurship
by:Vanessa Ellingham
In the same way a company might plant trees to offset their carbon footprint, a social entrepreneurship project in Berlin provides the opportunity for expats to counter the effect of gentrification by offering their skills to community projects. With improving the lives of Berlin's refugees as a particular focus, the initiative aims to include Berliners from all walks of life.

Over the past few years gentrification, Berlin’s dirty word, has cast expats in a bad light. Rising property prices are driving out long-time residents who had anchored themselves to affordable housing, forcing many to move outside the city limits, away from their communities.

Give Something Back to Berlin began with the idea of making it easier for newcomers to access volunteer projects, providing a way for them to become embedded in the community rather than being held at arm’s length. The aim is to strengthen social cohesion, generating a positive outcome beyond the expats’ enjoyment of the “broke but sexy” city.

Shirking the expat stereotype, those who are interested now have an online hub that profiles projects looking for help, allowing them to match their interests and skills with community projects, crossing the boundaries between different sections of Berlin’s diverse society – old and new, German and foreign, residents and refugees.

Give Something Back to Berlin celebrated its one-year anniversary last month, and there was much to be celebrated. In the first year its founders Annamaria Olsson and Anders Ivarsson won a prize for creating one of Germany’s most innovative ideas for urban integration, as well as the SAP Social Impact Lab scholarship for social innovation.

The first year’s activities included mentoring at a youth club for girls in the multicultural neighbourhood of Neukölln, building a sensory wall at a retirement home, weekly help-out sessions at a homeless shelter and cooking and art workshops for kids after school and in the holidays.

Currently on their list of projects searching for participants is Gut Gelaufen (or ‘good running’), where participants gather together for a group run of three to five kilometres, stopping halfway for 30 minutes to get a community job done, like tidying up a park or some urban gardening. Another project is organising people to repair a café that will become a community meeting point, while other advertisements ask for mentors for teens, after school activity leaders and Facebook and email newsletter coaching for community group leaders. And the list goes on.

People can also lend their services, like the photographer who is willing to take CV photos for unemployed people.

A big part of the group’s work has come to be about supporting Berlin’s refugees – particularly those who wait in limbo, sometimes for years at a time, to hear the result of their asylum applications, an issue we've reported on previously.

At two highly publicised Berlin locations where refugees have camped in protest of their waiting conditions  – Oranienplatz, which has since been cleared, and the Gerhart Hauptmann School which became the centre of protests and a massive standoff between police and the refugees last month – volunteers from Give Something Back to Berlin have aligned themselves with the refugees and their cause.

A visit to the occupied school was all it took to find out that what the refugees were most interested in was sharing culture through food and music, and learning English to upskill themselves.

A group of dedicated volunteers have since been running a weekly cooking group where refugees and volunteers share dishes from their homes, working off donations and cooking in the school where some of the refugees live.

Weekly English classes have enabled refugees to develop new skills for life in Berlin, while social activities like a springtime barbecue and band workshops in a community music space have provided the opportunity for Berliners from two very different lives to get to know each other better.

In just one year, Give Something Back to Berlin has made significant steps in traversing the rift between old and new Berliners with a bilingual, multicultural platform big enough for everyone who wants to take part.

Check out their website for more information.

Article written by:
Vanessa Ellingham
Give something back to Berlin project group
Give something back to Berlin project group
Give something back to Berlin project group
Give something back to Berlin project group
Give something back to Berlin project group
Give something back to Berlin project group
Refugee Camp Oranienplatz Berlin
Refugee Camp Oranienplatz Berlin