Wuppertal , Germany

Ankommen in Deutschland: Cities of Arrival

Bertelsmann Stiftung

February 4, 2019

A multi-stakeholder community planning approach to refugee integration helps develop shared goals and a common understanding of the situation facing both refugees and cities themselves

Having the right people at the table is essential to build an integration and labour market strategy to effectively address an influx of refugees.

In 2015, German cities were overwhelmed with the sudden influx of refugees. The Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation wondered how they could help. A future-focused operational foundation, its programs range across a number of activities from education to employment to social cohesion. Focused on strengthening society’s ability to help individuals reach their full potential, Bertelsmann Stiftung develops the resources needed to achieve those goals.

With the challenges posed to receiving cities and a lack of preexisting coordination and organization to address these challenges, Bertelsmann Stiftung recognized it had a role to play and previous experience to leverage to support cities.

Coordinating cities and city networks, a role to play

Labour market integration of refugees was the common key focus, but cities also faced challenges in education integration, language acquisition, social participation and housing the refugees. Bertelsmann Stiftung started a pilot project with thirteen cities, later expanding into ten more (see video story from Wuppertal, below).

According to Claudia Walther, Bertelsmann Stiftung Senior Project Manager, a multi-stakeholder approach was crucial to develop goals and objectives, and a common understanding of the situation facing both refugees and the cities themselves. Bertelsmann Stiftung saw their role as a convenor and moderator of a strategic process undertaken within each city.

Identifying and engaging the right mix of local stakeholders was important. The refugees arriving had a range of needs. A wide net was cast to involve labour market organizations, chambers of commerce, migrant-serving groups, civil society groups, municipal staff and politicians, economists and others interested in refugee integration efforts. For labour market efforts, it was essential to have employers at the table.

Each group brought their own expertise, but also challenges. Walther says that Bertelsmann Stiftung initially sought to have direct refugee representation on local steering groups, but it proved more difficult than they had envisioned. Similarly, involving migrant-serving groups proved more effective when they were brought in and consulted at specific points in time. A core steering group was created and participation was expanded, bringing in additional organizations and refugees themselves to provide input when necessary.

The projects brought to the forefront the myriad challenges that stakeholders faced at the city level. The sheer number of refugees, along with a lack of adequate data and data sharing about refugees meant that cities sometimes didn’t know how many refugees were arriving.

Asylum policies (such as restricted work permits for asylum seekers) and decision backlogs created additional challenges for cities trying to identify who was eligible for which services. For example, Walther says that many German companies were initially motivated to employee refugees, but came up against an impenetrable bureaucratic landscape and found it too hard to hire them.

In many cities, the sheer number of service providers created a fragmented service landscape, which in turn, impacted a  coordinated approach to serving the refugees.  These complexities added even more weight to a collaborative approach to find solutions.

The model

Bertelsmann Stiftung worked with a local Steering Committee in each city to create a vision, analyzing their local situation (taking the time to ensure they had the data for an effective and accurate analysis), identifying key stakeholders and refugee numbers, establishing a clear structure, defining responsibilities, goals, objectives and measures, and building in an evaluation and learning cycle.

Developing a common vision and mission was crucial to focus the group. With data challenges, it was important that cities conducted a proper analysis to fully understand the refugees and what their needs were. The strategy developed needed to have clear objectives, measures and a road map that all stakeholders understood and accepted.

Bertelsmann Stiftung created a structured model and process to support each city. Initially they envisioned a four-month process to get the city organized and initiatives up and running. In reality, it took at least nine months in most cities to coordinate, build a strategy and start collaborating effectively with the diverse mix of stakeholders.

Growing success

With growing success in their pilot cities, the foundation built on what they had learned, building partnerships to inform and strengthen the core model. A partnership with the JP Morgan Chase Foundation created an opportunity to work with ten additional cities in the states of Hessen and North Westphalia on a focused strategy to address refugee integration in the labour market.

Walther says a key goal for Bertelsmann was for the cities to continue the work when the foundation left; to have sustainable and self-sufficient strategies and initiatives. Each city they worked with was better organized, had support networks in place and was bringing employers on board when the Bertelsmann pilots ended.

Work is a key to integrating refugees into our society. The good practice example from Wuppertal shows how this can succeed successfully. Close cooperation between the various partner organizations and the individual support of refugees enabled almost half of the project participants to be placed in work. 

Sharing and knowledge exchange

Learning from other cities was a key part of the model Bertelsmann Stiftung developed. Cities were at different stages of newcomer integration. Some were further ahead, and already had city integration plans and some policies. Others were starting from scratch, pushed along by the arrival of refugees. By connecting cities working on refugee integration, the foundation sought to create a process for knowledge sharing and exchange among city leaders and peers.

Bertelsmann created an online bank of good practices to share what cities are doing, and a guidebook to share their experiences and best practices with the broader public. German cities still struggling with how best to integrate refugees benefit from this knowledge sharing.

Walther says that city actors are very eager to share and learn from each other. She has seen deep exchanges, sharing and learning in city network meetings. As cities connect and share best practices in the knowledge exchange model Bertelsmann Stiftung helped establish through projects like Wegweiser Kommune, the landscape for ideas and innovation starts to catalyze community change. Access to promising practices means cities don’t have to reinvent, but can learn from each other.

Changemakers like Bertelsmann Stiftung will continue to contribute to and drive the dialogue.

Making it Work for You:

  • Build structure, anticipate flexibility. Bertelsmann created a structured, highly collaborative process to work with in cities. It also required a high level of flexibility, to address local conditions, political and bureaucratic challenges, and information gaps.
  • Share externally. What works in one city can influence ideas and efforts in another. Sharing progress, challenges, initiatives, learnings and outcomes is key for integration actors to learn, have their work acknowledged and bring new ideas into a community.
  • Acknowledge the local political climate. Ultimately, all city residents are part of the target audience that will make integration initiatives successful. Crafting a positive narrative for and with them around refugees both anticipates potential negative and toxic messages, and helps support the need for integration, for all in the community.

For this Good Idea contact:

Claudia Walther, Ankommen in Deutschland, Bertelsmann Stiftung
Gütersloh , Germany,

Recent Good Ideas

Leamington, Canada
From Survival Jobs to Rich Harvest
Highline Mushrooms  

Brandon, Canada
Industry Leaders Connect to Recruit Newcomers
Maple Leaf Foods  

Halifax, Canada
Welcomed in Halifax
Halifax Regional Municipality  

Toronto, Canada
Eliminating Barriers for Displaced Individuals
WES Gateway Program  

Kuopio, Finland
Encouraging Cities to Bring Locals and Immigrants Together
City of Kuopio  

View all