This is Give Something Back to Berlin. Our past, present and future:

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…


This is our team:

Annamaria Olsson

Founder and CEO



Lucy Thomas

Executive Director



Max Hossfeld

Project & Volunteer Manager



Hania Hakiel

Manager GSBTB Open Art Shelter



Vanessa Ellingham

Communications & Magazine Editor

New Zealand


Melissa Probst

Business Development



Antje Rabenalt

Manager Open Job Coaching



Tom Young

Manager GSBTB Open Music School

New Zealand


Ricarda Bochat

Manager GSBTB Open Kitchen



Luter Filho

Marketing consultant



GSBTB in the media


The Guardian: Berliners get an appetite for refugees’ cuisine

Ich selbständig: Interview with GSBTB founder Annamaria Olsson on women in entrepreneurship (tip!)

Exberliner: The refugees that feed us (tip!)

Hereyouare Berlin: Breaking borders, breaking bread: Berlin’s culinary exchange

CurrencyFair: Volunteer opportunities for expats


We won the top prize at the Intercultural Innovation Awards from UNAOC and BMW Group and were paid a visit by the King and Queen of Sweden. Our expertise was sought on community building, social innovation and global conflict.

New York Times: Berlin Dinner Parties That Celebrate Refugees and Their Food

United Nations News Centre: German community integration project wins UN intercultural innovation award

Berliner Morgenpost: Schwedisches Königspaar besucht Berliner Geflüchtetenprojekt (video)

Deutschlandradio Kultur: Initiative “Give Something Back to Berlin” ausgezeichnet

New Statesman: Terror will not break Berlin’s open and tolerant spirit

rbb-online: Initiative für soziales Miteinander ausgezeichnet

Huck: Refugees and young Berliners are finding community through food (tip!)

The Changer: Working Together for a Better City – and World (tip!)

ImmobilienScout24: Hauptstadtengagement: Englischunterricht für geflüchtete

Sveriges Radio Konflikt: Merkel och flyktingarna

Capital magazine, New Zealand: An Afghan Adrift

Alle Helfen Jetzt: Auf ins vierte Jahr: Team-Up bei Give Something Back to Berlin

The Local: Brexit: ‘It won’t be romantic. But I need an EU passport’

BZ: East Side Music Days Berlin

Fräulein Magazine: Talent: Annamaria Olsson

i-D: Das Sharehouse Refugio ist ein einzigartiges Projekt für Flüchtlinge und Kreative

Aidpreneur Podcast: Innovation for Social Impact (everything you ever wanted to know about how GSBTB was developed!)

Comfort Zone Cookbook: Annamaria Olsson

Mit Vergnügen: 11 tolle Berliner Initiativen und Vereine, die wir unterstützen sollten

Berlin Loves You: Imagine Spending Christmas in An Airport, GSBTB Christmas Fundraising

Almost Locals: Ser Voluntário em Berlim

Berliner Morgenpost: Berliner CDU gründet Netzwerk zum interkulturellen Dialog


The GSBTB Refugee Cooking Group’s famous Sudanese stew made it into the Guardian, we discussed how Berlin’s creative community mucks in and let our community know we’d be sticking around long after the hype of the ‘refugee crisis’.

The Guardian: Refugee tours tell a different Berlin story

i-D: How Berlin’s creative community are responding to the refugee crisis

Der Tagesspiegel: Neukölln: Wir geben Berlin etwas zurück

Berliner Morgenpost: Wie sich kreative Neuberliner für die Hauptstadt engagieren

ALEX TV: Interview with Give Something Back to Berlin (tip!)

The Changer: Social Startup Guide

I Heart Berlin: The Berlin Experts: Give Something Back to Berlin

Stil in Berlin: FuGeeLa: Refugees in Berlin

Focus: Neukölln stellt Flüchtlingsprojekte europäischen Experten vor

Exberliner: Refugee special: Want to help? Then get offline! Diese Initiativen helfen Geflüchteten effektiv

The Local: Five ways you can help refugees in Germany

Ecoera: Cidadania: Conheça a platform Give Something Back to Berlin

Huck: Meet the Berliners resisting the rise of the far right in Germany

The Local: Arsonists hit pro-refugee art project Flüchtlinge in Berlin – Wie geht es weiter? Internationale Neuberliner betreiben soziale Initiativen

Exberliner: Helping out refugees


News of GSBTB’s involvement with the refugee rights movement made it all the way to Sweden and even New Zealand.

Neuen Zürcher Zeitung: Additions in Berlin: Who owns the city?

Sveriges Radio: Flyktingar i skolockupation kräver fler rättigheter

Deutsche Welle: Sehnsuchtsort Berlin: zwei Gesichter einer Einwanderungsstadt

The Changer: Striking Back Against Gentrification

Berlin Loves You: Interview with Give Something Back to Berlin

Fairplanet: Including Berliners from all walks of life

Hack & Craft: Connecting collaborators – Not as easy as it looks

New Zealand Herald: Rejected asylum-seekers in stand-off with police

Taku – Finland’s Arts and Culture Trade Union: Anna Hyvän Kiertää

Bitte Gerne: Blogpost in Italian


Our official launch was covered in media from local blogs to international press.

Berliner Zeitung: Expats in Berlin: Raus aus der Blase

Deutschlandfunk: Das Dankeschön der Kreativen

Public Radio International: German Hipsters Not Winning Friends in Berlin

24trentedeux: Allowing new Berliners to be fully involved

Überlin: Interview: Give Something Back to Berlin

Finding Berlin: To Do: Summer in Berlin

Don’t Panic: Gentrification is a worn out buzzword

Überlin: Give Something Back to Berlin: The Official Launch!

Hilker Berlin: Hilfe von Zugezogenen Vad är Give Something Back to Berlin?

Art Berlin: Tausche Kreativität gegen soziales Engagement

Expats Village: Strengthening expats’ reputation amongst local Berliners

Good Impact: Forderung zweier Schweden: Berlin statt Bier

VDI: Teilen ist für Berliner Start-ups eine Tugend

Neues Deutschland: Zurückgeben leichtgemacht


Abrar, India

“Other than being a well structured organization offering a wide range of programs and activities to integrate all kinds of newcomers into Berlin, everyone involved with GSBTB shows a tremendous capacity to love and empathise with one another."


Amjad, Syria

“It’s so difficult here to find culture, to find friends. This organisation helps you to find that. If you find a friend at the cooking group they can help you with a lot of things. Finding a flat, somewhere to live – maybe even work.”


Kurtis, US

“Not only does GSBTB listen to the needs of the refugees, but they also give them the power to organize volunteers to find positive solutions to those needs … GSBTB then spreads awareness of what it’s learned by educating and involving the community in its goal.”


Wanda, UK

“It is really important to be engaged within your community, even more so for expats. GSBTB brings people together and helps them not only see what is going on in their surroundings, but helps them to get involved.”


Aziz, Senegal

“When I first arrived I was sleeping on the streets ... It’s good to connect with local organisations like Give Something Back To Berlin – they can really help you to find your way.”


Anas, Syria

"When I first arrived here I wanted to help refugees so I volunteered with some organisations like GSBTB. That experience with the Refugee Cooking Group led to me running a stand at the streetfood site Markthalle Neun.”


Sinéad, Ireland

“I am really proud of what we have done as a team and the strong bond that we have made with these people despite the terrible situation that they are living in… Everybody needs community, everybody needs support.”


Majid, Syria

“I always find time to support GSBTB because I think they are really one of the most reliable and sustainable organizations in town and they need to be supported and expanded.”


Silke, Germany

“I have a small group that I know a little better than others and we also meet outside of the English lessons. As a result, I might be invited to birthday parties or Syrian meals. By this I have gathered new friends and experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise.”


Kinan, Syria

“They help me with my German at the language café. But more importantly for me Give Something Back to Berlin is about all the kind and interesting people I meet anytime I go there.”


Salar, Syria

"I posted a listing on the GSBTB website offering my expertise in child and family protection, and from there an organisation invited me to try working for them for two months, doing translation, therapy and psychosocial support for a refugee family."


Ricarda, Germany

“GSBTB is an example of how big and beautiful a simple idea can become.”