Give Something Back To Berlin (GSBTB) is an award-winning project platform and network fostering community integration, intercultural dialogue and participation among Berlin’s diverse migrant populations. We work as a connector, creator and catalyst for all sorts of grassroots driven social impact work. We call it “making worlds meet working together for a better city”.
GSBTB creates tools for community integration bringing more “privileged” migrants, locals and refugees together. Through our extensive grassroots initiatives we create meeting points between groups that normally wouldn’t come in contact with each other, building inclusive networks and countering anti-migrant discourse. Our concrete “think global, act local” work showcases everyone’s capacity to contribute regardless of passport, status, language or time spent in the country. We call ourselves “50 shades of immigrants” and our many active community members come from over 60 countries, like US, Sudan, Poland, Syria, China, Israel and Brasil. We all have 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. In our project we don’t make a difference since we see ourselves as neighbours, in this city and in this world.
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 had, could and maybe should work. Her own migrant experience set against a growth in European nationalist thinking and 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 FB-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 what it is today.
From it’s official launch in 2013 GSBTB’s overall goal has been to make newcomers active contributors in their cities, creating strong networks for participation and inclusion. We empower people to make the most out of their voice, energy and interests, not as some kind of ”last step” in the integration process but as the guiding light in an often challenging process.
Our platform works on three levels; we acts as a connector, creator and catalyst. Through our partnerships with local NGOs, our multicultural community is involved with everything from working in homeless centers, mentorship programs for underprivileged youth, working with the elderly or creative work with children. As a creator GSBTB runs big projects; for instance, art and trauma therapy, music, language learning, cooking and job coaching. Through those projects we are reaching 25 664 people, through 19 151 volunteer hours yearly. All this creates a vibrant community and professional network that itself is acting as a catalyst from where new things can grow. GSBTB has a holistic approach and our vast range of projects and tools is to reach different groups and goals. With some vulnerable groups (for instance women and children) it’s crucial to work on the ground in the refugee shelters to build up trust and empowerment while for other people it’s the other way around, and we not only create access to job markets but to the wider society as a whole. Thus, GSBTB created a whole eco-system of engagements to make it easier to follow people on their journey establishing themselves. We see this as “community driven soft integration”.
GSBTB was involved in organising refugee projects from its start in 2013, long before broader refugee engagement started in Germany and Europe from the summer of 2015. In 2013 there were only a handful of projects in Berlin, often tending 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, media, philanthropists and the “social business scene” was very low. GSBTB’s first goal was to bring in more people, energy and solutions in this field and we started working directly with self-organized refugee groups. Together we developed our methods so when the “refugee crisis” hit 2015 we already had a model in place that could easily feed people in need; refugees as well as volunteers.
Identifying the need for innovation in this field three years before the mainstream did it, riding through the “refugee crisis” by mobilizing thousands of people with almost no funding and then growing in times of backlash surely makes us proud when looking back. Our work was also awarded numerous prizes – the first prize in the Intercultural Innovation Award from UN and BMW in 2016, as well as the Blue Bear for Civic Engagement from the European Commission and the Berlin Senate in 2015, among several others. We don’t believe that all this is just good luck, timing or even only hard work. We believe that GSBTB’s biggest strength is that it’s not only founded, but almost completely driven from people with different types of migrant experiences. Our core team of 12 count 9 nationalities and our hundreds of volunteers and community members consist of over 60 nationalities. We live as we learn and our mixed community is blurring the line between migrants and locals, who is helping who and moving away from a traditional, sometimes disempowering “helper-dynamic”. We also work systematically to change narratives around migrants and are constantly mobilising our community to engage in local, national and global conversations and participate in decision-making about the issues affecting their lives, whether in big or in small ways. We think that to become citizens and believe in democracy people should be treated as citizens from the start.
Migration has always been a big part of our global, national and local history, but at times like these it is more important than ever to come together and create sustainable solutions for living together.
We hope you will join us on this mission and are happy to welcome you into our community!
P.S. Here are some other cool people who we met or who came to visit us to learn from our work during 2015 – 2019:
– The King and Queen of Sweden, during their first state visit to Germany in 17 years
– Former US President Barack Obama during his Town Hall meeting in Berlin
– US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and delegation from the American embassy
– German Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Katarina Barley (now the Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection)
– The first lady of Japan and delegation from the Japanese embassy
– The Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen
– The German state secretary for Migration and Integration, Aydan Özoguz
– 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
– The German state secretary for Federal Affairs, Sawsan Chebli
– A delegation working directly under the Mayor of Seoul in South Korea
– A delegation from Canada’s Leaders’ Round-table on Immigration
– The Mayor of Neukölln, Franziska Giffey (now the Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth)
– 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…
Here’s a wrap-up video from our Extra Special Election Team Up, featuring our special guest for the evening, German Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Katarina Barley: