Give Something Back To Berlin is the largest project platform and network that makes social engagement and neighbourhood work accessible to the large migrant population of Berlin. Our hundreds of volunteers come from over 60 countries, including the US, Sudan, Poland, Syria, Hong Kong, Israel and Brasil, with all different backgrounds and stories. Some are privileged enough to be able to work and travel anywhere they want. Others have refugee status and don’t even know if they can stay in the country. We call ourselves “50 shades of immigrants”, but the way we see it we are all neighbours, both in Berlin, and on this one planet. First and foremost, we are all people who want create change and positive outcomes on different societal challenges. For this work we have won numerous prizes – for instance the first prize in the Intercultural Innovation Award from UNAOC and BMW 2016, as well as the Blue Bear for Civic Engagement from the European Co-mmission and the Berlin Senate in 2015.
The project started with a spontaneous Facebook post in 2012. GSBTB’s founder Annamaria had moved from Sweden to Berlin 2008 to study and work as a journalist. New in the country, she started thinking a lot about integration and how diverse cities and communities did, could and maybe should work. Her own migrant experience, the growing European xenophobia, as well as what felt like few positive and modern and solution-based ways of dealing with different types of migration, sparked her to write a Facebook-post addressing some of the issues with the appeal for newcomers to “get involved”.
The Facebook post became a snowball of things we couldn’t have imagined and the journey from that post to a full blown project platform was rapid (although it has included tons of hard work and challenges). Becoming the collective brainchild of many great minds coming together, GSBTB grew organically into a huge community, both on and offline, comprised of hundreds of skilled volunteers in over 60 social projects all over the city. The projects can be anything from homeless centres, mentorship programs for underprivileged youth, working with the elderly or creative work with children. Today GSBTB also runs six of its own refugee programs reaching 14 474 participants annually, creating 14 064 volunteer opportunities through 19 980 volunteer hours. (These hours do not include any kind of administration work hours, or the times when peo- ple take a chance to get to know each other and just hang out as friends…)
With all this, GSBTB has created a tool for community integration that brings together more “privileged” migrants, German locals and more vulnerable migrants such as refugees. In our ex- tensive grassroots work, different migrants and their Berlin neighbours meet. Our intercultural volunteering is positive, lively “think global, act local” work, proving that everyone has something to share with others regardless of their passport, status, language skills or how long they may have been in the country.
GSBTB was involved in organising refugee projects from its start in 2013, long before the broader refugee engagement started in Germany and Europe from the summer of 2015. At that time there were only a handful of projects, that often tended to be highly politicized or focused on more traditional charity work that might be necessary sometimes but, if done wrong, can feel rather patronizing. Back then the interest in the refugee cause from mainstream political institutions or the “social business scene” was very low. GSBTB’s first goal was to engage more people in projects and we started working directly with networks organised by refugees themselves to set up collaborations with and for them.
Four years later these projects are all still running and have grown into a broad spectrum of refugee engagement. Aside from our nine weekly projects, GSBTB works as a hub and a catalyst for diverse projects and innovative collaborations. We are involved in everything from organizing neighbourhood welcoming parties, running theatre projects and creative workshops with kids, installing internet in refugee homes and visiting isolated shelters in the Brandenburg countryside, doing trauma therapy for kids, supporting mentoring and friendship programs, helping refugees with the bureaucratic process, fundraising for specific causes, teaching refugees how to code, working shifts in emergency shelters and much MUCH more. Our official collaborations tend to offer a frame in which new projects can informally grow. It is hard to keep track of the thousands of connections being made between different groups and people all over the city thanks to our work, let alone the synergy effects and spin-off collaborations that result from these.
Since 2013 we have become a key player in Berlin’s social, creative, start-up scenes as THE pro- ject involving both refugees and “privileged” migrants. By building partnerships, relationships and dialogues between people from the comparatively cosmopolitan art, creative and start-up scene with local NGOs and projects, we are also creating a new form of sustainable urban integration. We enable disadvantaged local groups to profit more from the globalized creative, tech and start- up industries settling in the city. We call it “making worlds meet working together for a better city!”
Many of the volunteers involved in GBSTB are migrants themselves and know what’s most important when you settle in a foreign country: networks, friends and locals to make integration easier. Therefore a key focus for GSBTB is to create contact points between refugees and non- refugees. Today around a quarter of all our volunteer have some kind of refugee status and all of our volunteer teams are mixed nationalities and languages in order to actually be inclusive and not just talk about it.
The biggest wave of refugees since World War Two is putting our European societies and communities to the test, not only organizationally but morally and politically, as the increase of nationalist ideology and xenophobia has spread across Europe over the last decade. Migration has always been a big part of our global, national and local history, but at a time like this, it is important to come together and create different positive solutions for living together. Contributing to that has been our goal since we came up with the idea for this project back in 2012. We hope you will join us on this mission and are happy to welcome you into our community! Here are some other cool people who joined us to learn from our work 2015-2017:
– The King and Queen of Sweden during their first state visit to Germany in 17 years
– US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and delegation from the American embassy
– The first lady of Japan and delegation from the Japanese embassy
– The German state secretary for Migration and Integration, Aydan Özoguz
– The Mayor of Neukölln, Franzisca Giffey
– The Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kunke
– The Swedish Minister for Gender Equality, Åsa Regnér
– The Educational Minister of Dubai, Dr Abdullah Al Karam
– A delegation working directly under the Mayor of Seoul in South Korea
– A delegation visiting from Canada’s Leaders’ Roundtable on Immigration
– A UNAOC network of young leaders from MESA (Middle East and South Asian) countries
– A delegation of Polish civil society groups
– A delegation of CDU politicians from all over Berlin
– A network of young Ivy League student leaders from the US
and many, many more…