Give Something Back to Berlin

Behind GSBTB is Annamaria, my sister from a Swedish mister. It was love at first sight. Annamaria is a super fierce (on the surface) lady but one of the most warm hearted, compassionate people I have met. A true diamond, amazingly witty & sharp and knows the craziest bars in Berlin, starting with the Toilet bar in Charlottenburg. Yes, a place where you can sit on a toilet and drink beers. She blew me away and won my heart that night. She also calls me as if I was Swedish and speaks to me in Swedish, which I find charming. Most of my Swedish friends do the same and then I know that they treat me as if I were a local – equal with them, aka a proper homie.


Annamaria and I figured that if we join forces and put on a united front we’d achieve many greater things than we would if we each worked on our own for our own organizations. If all of us would realize what we’re good at and what we’re weak at filled the gaps with each other’s skill sets, the world would be such a better place for all of us.


No one is perfect and no one can do everything and be great at everything but finding the best people for each and every field I would say is on its own a huge skill.


Annamaria is traveling to Azerbaijan for a UN summit but promised to tell her unique story about how she ended up create GSBTB, an amazing NGO, after once being the No.1 Berghain head.


Below is what it is all about in Annamaria’s words:


Give Something Back To Berlin (GSBTB) is the largest project platform and network that makes social engagement and neighborhood work accessible to the large migrant population of Berlin. Our hundreds of volunteers come from over 60 countries, all with different backgrounds and stories. They can be from US, Sudan, Poland, Syria, Hong Kong, Israel or Brazil. Some are privileged enough to be able to work and travel anywhere they want. Some have refugee background and don’t even know if they can stay in the country. We call ourselves ”50 shades of immigration” but the way we see it we are all neighbors, not only in Berlin, but also on the whole of this single planet. Furthermore, we are for the most part people who want to create change and build positive outcomes to the different challenges of society.

The project began with a spontaneous Facebook-post in 2012. I moved from Sweden to Berlin 2008 to study and work as a journalist. New in the country, I started thinking a lot about how integration and how diverse cities and their communities had, could and maybe should work. My 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 me to write a Facebook post addressing some of the issues with an appeal to ”get involved”.


The FB post became a snowball of things that I couldn’t have imagined and the journey from FB post to a full-blown project platform was rapid (though it did involve tons of hard work and challenges). Becoming the collective brainchild of many great minds brought together, GSBTB grew organically to become a huge on- and offline community of over hundreds of skilled volunteers on over 60 social projects all over the city. It could be anything from homeless centers, mentorship programs for underprivileged youths or working with elderly or creative work with children.


Today GSBTB also runs nine weekly GSBTB refugee programs involving 75 volunteers, reaching out to over 240 refugee participants with its 32 educational hours per week.
With all this, GSBTB created a tool for community integration that brings more “privileged” migrants and German locals together with more vulnerable migrants, such as refugees. In its extensive grassroots work, different migrants meet with their Berlin neighbors. Our intercultural volunteering is positive, lived “think global, act local” work that showcases 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 organizing refugee projects from the start of 2013; long before the broader refugee engagement began in Germany and Europe the last year. At that time there were only a handful of projects that tended to be highly politicized or focused on more traditional charity work that might be necessary, but can sometimes feel rather patronizing if done wrong. Back then the interest from mainstream political institutions or the “social business scene” in engaging with refugees was very low. GSBTB’s first goal was to engage more people in projects and it started working directly with networks organized by refugees themselves, setting up collaborations with and for them. Almost three years later these projects are all still running and have grown into a wide spectrum refugee engagement.


As well as our nine weekly projects, GSBTB acts as a hub and catalyst for diverse projects and innovative collaborations. They are involved in everything from organizing neighborhood welcoming parties, running theater projects and creative workshops with kids, installing internet in refugee homes, visiting isolated shelters in the Brandenburg countryside, doing trauma therapy for kids, supporting mentoring and friendship programs, helping refugees with bureaucratic processes, fundraising for specific causes, teaching refugees how to code, working shifts in emergency shelters and much, MUCH more. Their official collaborations often 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, let alone the synergy effects and spin-offs collaborations that result from these.


Since 2013 GSBTB has become a key player in Berlin’s social, creative and start-up scenes as THE project involving both refugees and “privileged”. By building partnerships, relationships and dialogue between people from the comparatively cosmopolitan art, creative and start-up scene with local NGO’s and projects, we are also creating a new form of sustainable urban integration. They enable disadvantaged local groups to profit more from the globalized creative, tech and start-up industries settling in the city. They 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 to make integration easier: networks, friends and locals. A key focus for GSBTB is, therefore, to create contact points between refugees and non-refugees. Today around one forth of all volunteers have some kind of refugee status and all volunteer teams are mixed nationalities and languages to be inclusive and not only talk about it.


The biggest wave of refugees in world history is putting our European societies and communities to the test – not only organizationally, but also morally and politically as the increase of nationalist ideology and xenophobia has spread across Europe during 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 the goal since GSBTB came up with the idea for the project back in 2012.


We hope you will join us on this mission!


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