Hannover, Germany

MIMI-With Migrants, For Migrants: Intercultural Health in Germany

Ethno-Medizinisches Zentrum - EMZ

April 15, 2009

Promoting immigrant health by making migrants experts in their own causes.

Ramazan Sulman was six when he left Istanbul and moved with his family to Hannover, a major city centre in northern Germany. Since Ramazan was able to learn German much faster than his parents, he soon began acting as the family interpreter. Years later, these experiences were what inspired him to develop the idea of an intercultural service network to help bridge the gap that newly arrived immigrants, like his family often experience as they settle into their new homes.

Today, Ramazan Salman is the Executive Managing Director and co-founder of the Ethno-Medical Centre (Ethno-Medizinisches Zentrum – EMZ), the organisation that developed the award winning “MiMi – With Migrants for Migrants” programme (Mit Migranten für Migranten – MiMi).

The MiMi programme recruits, trains and supports individuals from within immigrant communities to become cultural mediators who can help navigate new and different ways of dealing with traditions of health and illness and the body. The goal of the program is to make the German health system more accessible to immigrants, increase their health literacy while simultaneously empowering immigrant communities by prompting their direct participation in the process.

This two way dynamic is one of the unique aspects of MiMi. The programme targets socially integrated immigrants as candidates for intercultural mediator training and then recruits recent immigrants to participate in the community group sessions that are led by MiMi mediators drawn from their own community.

The MiMi approach is based on the belief that migrants are experts in their own causes and that as a community, they have experiences and resources that need to be better leveraged.

“Our Project sees immigrants as an important human resource for the future development of our society. Not only do most of them integrate quite well, but they also provide financial, cultural and social benefits for German society. MiMi promotes both integration and the building of bridges between cultures,” says Ramazan Salman.

Candidates for the mediator training are recruited from local immigrant communities and then provided with over 50 hours of training. Once they are certified, they can begin to plan and conduct information sessions. These sessions are tailored to be culturally sensitive for the particular community and are held in their preferred language. The discussion ranges from understanding and navigating the German health system to community specific health issues.

In co-operation with 80 other health related organisations, MiMi also regularly produces and updates a Health Guide that is available in over 16 languages. This guide provides information on targeted health topics and insight into understanding and navigating the German health system. The goal is to help immigrant communities increase their use of available resources – particularly around preventative care and early check-ups. MiMi regularly monitors and tracks the success of these publications as well as their other program in order to revise components or specific modules as needed. The result is that the content is always being updated and continues to reflect the needs of target communities.

Developed by the Ethno-Medical Centre, the MiMi programme was launched in 2003 in cooperation with BKK Bundesverband (Federal Association of Company Health Insurance Funds) as a pilot in four cities of the federal states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. It has expanded to 38 cities in Lower Saxony, Hessen, North-Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria, Hamburg, Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein.

An unexpected success of the program has been the ability of MiMi to engage with immigrant women and to help them assume leadership roles in their communities. The majority of the intercultural mediators are women and evaluations of the program show their strong support for the training.

For his innovative and entrepreneurial work in creating MiMi, in 2006, Ramazan Sulman was awarded with the Ashoka Fellowship as Social Entrepreneur of the Year. In December of 2008, he was named Germany’s “Social Entrepreneur” in a competition organized by the Schwab Foundation (specifically Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum in Davos), The Boston Consulting Group and under the patronage of the German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel.

[Update November 2015: The prestigious European Health Award has been given to the Ethno-Medical Centre Germany Association in Hannover for its award winning “MiMi – Health with Migrants for Migrants.” Read an excerpt from Executive Managing Director and co-founder Ramazan Salman’s acceptance speech]

This Good Idea was identified by the Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe project as a good practice promoting inclusion, social cohesion and nondiscrimination. For more on this practice and the At Home in Europe project, read Living Together: Projects Promoting Inclusion in 11 EU Cities (OSF, 2011)

Making it Work for You:

  • Migrants are experts in their own causes; as a community, they have experiences and resources that can be leveraged to improve services and service delivery.
  • Health promotion to ethno-cultural, linguistic and religious minorities requires intercultural training for all parties -from medical staff through to community members and leaders.
  • Look for unanticipated outcomes and community impact: the focus of the MiMi program is increased health literacy, but their community-based approach has also resulted in increased community leadership and participation, especially for immigrant women.