Our history

“To whom it may concern,

You live in Berlin or come here whenever you have an extra dime or some free time. You can’t think of a better place even though you sometimes get the feeling that ‘it was better before’….” 

This was the introduction of the 2012 Facebook post that sparked the community movement, which later became Give Something Back to Berlin (GSBTB). Annamaria Olsson had moved to Berlin from Sweden to study and work as a journalist. As a migrant in Germany, she observed the rise of nationalism, xenophobia, and populist discourse in Europe while being inspired by a handful of positive and solution-oriented grassroots initiatives that addressed various migration challenges. Annamaria thought that migrants and refugees could get actively involved in the process and set for inclusive approaches to integration and diversity.

The 2012 call went viral. It mobilised so many people who wanted to do something for the city and the community they live in. Give Something Back to Berlin grew into a collective brainchild of countless great minds and registered as an association in 2013. Since then, GSBTB has made thousands of newcomers active contributors to Berlin’s social and cultural life, creating strong networks for participation and inclusion.

Our impact

Give Something Back to Berlin quickly evolved into a collective of migrants, refugees, and locals who thought that they have much to learn from each other and offer to the city they live in; Berlin. They believed that migrants and refugees are resourceful and should be given more opportunities to participate in society. At the same time, locals should actively take part in the process of integration.

Today, we have a strong community with diverse backgrounds and experiences. We call it “making worlds meet for a better city”. Since the very beginning, GSBTB has been at the forefront of integration work. We work as a creator, connector, and catalyst for all sorts of grassroots work that makes an impact. We create platforms where we bring together people who otherwise would not easily contact each other. We formed an ecosystem of civic engagements where people work together in various projects ranging from artistic production to city tours, from language learning to gardening. While developing these projects as inclusive initiatives and fighting anti-migrant discourse, we reach 25.000+ people and generate 20.000+ volunteering hours annually.

GSBTB has been involved in organising migrant and refugee projects since its start in 2013, before a broader refugee engagement started in Germany and Europe in the summer of 2015. Unlike the classical approaches in Germany, such as highly politicised humanitarian aid and traditional charity work, GSBTB aimed for introducing new people and fresh energy to the field. We worked directly with self-organised refugee groups to develop innovative solutions. When the “2015 refugee crisis” hit Germany and Europe, we already had a working model that could efficiently address people’s needs, while including volunteers in the process and giving power to refugees. Our working methods have evolved over the years, but these principles remained the same. We work systematically to change narratives about migrants and mobilise our community to engage in local, national and global conversations and participate in decision-making processes about the issues affecting their lives.

Our organisation and exemplary model have been recognised multiple times by local, national and international institutions. We are proud to have received ten different awards until now.

2020 “Active for Democracy and Tolerance” Award of the Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance

2020 “Hatun Sürücü” Award of the Alliance 90/The Greens

2019 “Heroes” Award of the Berliner Zeitung

2017 “The Responsibles” Award of Robert Bosch Foundation

2017 “Listen to Berlin” Award of the Berlin Music Commission

2016 “The Diversity Advantage Challenge” Award of the European Council

2016 Intercultural Innovation Award of the UN and BMW

2015 Blue Bear for Civic Engagement of  the Berlin Senate and the European Commission

2014 “Social Innovation” Award of the Social Impact Lab

2014 “New Neighbor Shift” Award of the Montag Foundation

Moreover, GSBTB has received invitations from renowned people from all around the world and also hosted some of them. The people in the following have honoured us with their visit:

 The King and Queen of Sweden, during their first state visit to Germany in 17 years

– Barack Obama, former US President, during his Town Hall meeting in Berlin

– Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, and a delegation from the American Embassy

 Katarina Barley, German Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (now Member of the European Parliament)

– Akie Abe, First Lady of Japan, and a delegation from the Japanese Embassy

– Ahmed Hussen, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

 Aydan Özoğuz, German Minister for Migration and Integration

– Alice Bah Kunke, Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy

– Åsa Regnér, Swedish Minister for Gender Equality

– Dr Abdullah Al Karam, Educational Minister of Dubai

 Sawsan Chebli, German State Secretary for Federal Affairs

– A delegation from the Office of the Mayor of Seoul, South Korea

– A delegation from Canada’s Leaders’ Round Table on Immigration

 Franziska Giffey, Mayor of Neukölln, (now the German Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth)

– A UNAOC network of young leaders from Middle East and South Asian countries

– A delegation of Polish civil society groups

– A delegation of CDU politicians

– A network of young Ivy League student leaders from the US universities and many, many more…

Here’s a wrap-up video from our Extra Special Election Team-Up, featuring our special guest for the evening – Katarina Barley, German Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth:

Testimonials

Abrar

UX designer

Volunteers with Open Art Shelter

“Other than being a well structured organization offering a wide range of programs and activities to integrate all kinds of newcomers into Berlin, what really stood out for me was that everyone involved with GSBTB shows a tremendous capacity to love and empathise with one another… That’s what’s making this ‘integration’ actually happen, rather than just being an overused word.”

Amjad

Accountant from Syria

Volunteers with the GSBTB Open Kitchen

“Community is very difficult in Berlin. 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.”

Interview with Amjad in Huck magazine

Kurtis

Research Assistant from the USA

Volunteered with the GSBTB Open Art Shelter and Open Kitchen

“GSBTB works with refugees to understand their needs… 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… The organization is open and flexible and learns from its clients. GSBTB then spreads awareness of what it’s learned by educating and involving the community in its goal.”

Kurtis’s opinion piece in our magazine: Moving beyond voluntourism

Wanda

Dance teacher from the UK

Offers dance therapy workshops to GSBTB community

“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. It is important to have a volunteer opportunity for people who don’t speak perfect German.”

Wanda’s interview in our magazine

Aziz

Musician from Senegal

Sings and raps in Wulaba, a band run by GSBTB Open Music School

“When I first arrived I was sleeping on the streets but slowly, through the support of other refugees and local refugee organisations, I found my way. It still took over six months to find a home. Lot of refugees have talent but it’s not easy to reach things without language, money, papers and local connections – you really need support. It’s good to connect with local organisations like Give Something Back To Berlin – they can really help you to find your way.”

Interview with Aziz in our magazine: “We are all looking for our own voice in this world”

Anas

Architect from Syria

Volunteers with the GSBTB Open Kitchen

“My name is Anas Alradi and I’m an architect from Syria – I lived in Oman before coming to Germany. When I first arrived here I wanted to help refugees so I volunteered with some organisations like GSBTB. I started off in the GSBTB Refugee Cooking Group (now the GSBTB Open Kitchen), where I found my passion for cooking Aleppo cuisine. That experience led to me running a stand at the streetfood site Markthalle Neun.”

Anas cooking with a Vegan chef in our magazine

Sinéad

Researcher with a PhD in peace studies from Ireland

Served as the volunteer coordinator for the GSBTB Open Art Shelter’s Frauenzimmer at Tempelhof refugee shelter

“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 and there is no point having this attitude that everything is going to be fine by itself.”

In our magazine:

Interview with Sinéad: “I think it’s important that every woman feels accepted”

Sinéad’s opinion piece on volunteering at the GSBTB Open Art Shelter Frauenzimmer at Tempelhof

Majid

Human rights and political editor from Syria

Volunteered teaching English to refugees

“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.”

Majid’s interview in our magazine

Silke

Fundraising and international affairs manager from Germany

Runs weekly English lessons for refugees

“When I had just arrived in Berlin I wanted to get to know people and commit myself to a social cause. What I like is seeing new friendships develop. I have a small group that I know a little better than others and we also meet outside of the 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.”

Interview with Silke for ImmobilienScout24

Kenan

Arabic literature student from Syria

Volunteers with football project Butkickgut and attends Sprachcafé

“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.”

Interview with Kinan in our magazine: “I’m learning German by writing love poems”

Salar

Expert in Child and Family Protection, Syria

Advertised his skills on the GSBTB website

“Before coming to Germany I worked with the UN Refugee Agency in a Child Protection Unit. Through GSBTB’s team up events I’ve met many people in my field and we’ve been able to exchange experiences about working in the Middle East and here. 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. My involvement with GSBTB has affected my life in a positive way, helping to integrate me into society here and find my place.”