This is Give Something Back to Berlin.
German version

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 joined us to learn from our work 2015-2019:

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
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’ Roundtable 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:

This is our team:

Annamaria Olsson

Founder and CEO



Lucy Thomas

Executive Director



Friedemann Bumblies

Office and Project Manager



Hania Hakiel

Manager GSBTB Open Art Shelter



Tom Young

Manager GSBTB Open Music School

New Zealand


Ricarda Bochat

Manager GSBTB Open Kitchen



Lisa Indlekofer

Finance Manager



Abeera Atif

Communications Assistant



Antonina Stasiuk

Open Art Shelter Intern



Palina Sarokina

Volunteer Coordinator Intern



Kenan Harrouk

Volunteer Coordinator Intern



Antje Rabenalt

Manager Open Job Coaching



GSBTB in the media


The Atlantic: How Berlin’s civil society organisations have risen up to meet the needs of their city’s newest arrivals (features the GSBTB Open English Café)

Deutschlandfunk: Wie ausländische Fachkräfte Berlin verändern (tip!)

Yahoo Japan: Japanese Prime Minister’s wife visits Give Something Back to Berlin

The Culture Trip: The most inspirational women in Berlin

Mit Vergnügen: Volunteering in Berlin: 11 easy ways to help (auf Deutsch)

New York University News: Students spent spring break volunteering with refugees in Berlin

I Heart Berlin: Five alternative language classes in Berlin

The Culture Trip: GSBTB Open Kitchen listed among the best cooking courses in Berlin

The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) Entrepreneur Lab: 7 tips for networking in Berlin


The Guardian: Berliners get an appetite for refugees‘ cuisine

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

Al Jazeera English: What Germany’s refugees think about the elections – Interview with GSBTB Volunteer Coordinator Eli Wael Khleifawi

Financial Times: The new supper club for migrants

Exberliner: The refugees that feed us (tip!)

Enorm Magazin: „Nur Nehmen wollen die wenigsten“ – Interview with GSBTB Executive Director Lucy Thomas (in German)

Migration Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) podcast: Civil society in action

Flux FM: Off the Record – GSBTB

Info Migrants: Finding a place to live: a near impossible endeavour for refugees in Berlin

Der Tagesspiegel: Aus den Fremden werden Freunde – Interview with GSBTB Executive Director Lucy Thomas (in German)

Tele Sur: Migrants in Germany express concern over AfD’s rise (Spanish)

Co-Matter Community Podcast: Building bridges between refugees and other migrants

Open Migration: Integration in Germany after the elections (Italian)

The New Arab: How mental health services are failing refugees across Germany

Mux Mäuschenwild: Get to know our founder, Annamaria Olsson 

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

High Snobiety: How to move to Berlin

Culture Strike: Berlin kitchens open up to refugees

CurrencyFair: Volunteer opportunities for expats


In 2016 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

Washington Square News: New York University students travel to Berlin to volunteer with refugees

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.”