Let’s integrate! is a new Berlin-based project that provides an online platform that allows refugees and locals to meet and get to know one another. UNITED caught up with co-founder Lasse Landt to talk about how the project got started, how it works and what the team’s plans are for the future.
UNITED: In a few words, what exactly is “Let’s integrate!”?
Lasse Landt: It’s a project started by a bunch of friends because we realised that, even though there is so much going on in the media related to migrants and refugees, and everyone sees it on TV every day, it is actually really difficult to meet a refugee if you are a local – or to meet a local if you are a refugee. So the approach was to do a lean startup that uses a basic, minimal way to bring people together and do that first step of integration in the most efficient way.
How did the project get started?
In October, I realised I had never met a refugee. This was after things had turned bad here in Germany: in the summer people were still very enthusiastic – but in October the public discourse had turned to “we are overburdened – we’ve taken too many”. I asked my friends: “Have you ever met a refugee? Have you talked to one?” and 80% said no – and I thought, if open-minded, liberal people in Berlin have not met a refugee, what is the situation in the rest of Germany? It seemed to me that the reason the discourse had shifted so radically was that the issue is always in the media, but people don’t have their own experience that gives them a solid ground to stand on. And as the media shifts, politics and public opinion shifts with it.
The first thing I did was to go and meet some refugees myself. I went to the ReDi school, which is a school that teaches refugees how to code. I didn’t know how to code myself, I just went there to see who I would meet. I met Khaled, now a good friend and one of the co-founders. I was still working at an IT startup then, and discussed with my colleagues, and Paul, one of the programmers, said “I’ve also been thinking about it and I haven’t met a refugee yet either.” His sister Cindy is a student of Arabic, and she also got involved and brought along two Syrian tandem partners, so that was the founding six. The big process at the beginning was to get everyone behind the same idea, to have one joint vision of where things can go. The idea we came up with is a platform to bring people together face-to-face without making a long-term commitment: just to allow people to meet each other – then they can see if they like each other and want to do something more.
How exactly does the project work? How do participants get involved?
The philosophy is that it is the simplest way for you to meet someone. We have tried to make it completely free of barriers. We have a website in three different languages (German, English and Arabic). As a local you can go say “I want to meet someone I have time at these times”, and you can choose a number of pre-selected meeting spots. They are pre-selected so we can translate them also on the programme into Arabic and give that as an offer to the refugees. Then, as a refugee, you can see the offers of times and places of where you can meet someone, so for the refugee it is easy to meet up.
On purpose we decided not to do any interest matches – firstly because it makes it more difficult, and secondly because we just wanted to bring people together. It is not a dating platform, it is really just to bring two sides together and see from there. The person you meet doesn’t have to be the person you are looking for, but if things go well, you will do something and create a network. This is something that local people have: if you’ve lived somewhere for a while, you have a lot of people in your network even if they are not same age with the same interests. This project is about giving recently-arrived refugees the ability to develop these networks, and creating networks that are more diverse.
How have you funded the project so far?
So far it’s completely bootstrapped: we basically try not to spend money. A few hundred Euros so far in real money that has come from our own pockets. Otherwise we all have regular jobs and do this on the side. So far we’re not really thinking about the funding part because we want to see if it works first. If it does work then we will come to a point where we have to think about that.
What kind of reaction have you received?
Generally the reception has been great. I’ve had emails from people in other countries asking if they can replicate it in their countries and good responses from people who have participated so far. One problem is that we have many more refugees on our site than locals. Mostly they are very positive: people are asking us when we are coming to different towns, so we can see there is a big need, but we also see some refugees are frustrated because we don’t have appointments on the websites all the time. It is not so easy to go and find an appointment. Balancing out the supply and demand is a difficult part. It hardly ever happened that we have an offer that stays on there for a day – so often we have no offers on the website, which can be frustrating.
At the moment the project is only based in Berlin. Do you have plans to expand to other cities and countries?
We’ve done this all with a lean startup approach, and built it from the beginning as a scalable project. We want to prove the concept here in Berlin and make sure it is working, if not perfectly, then really well in every sense, and once we have achieved that we can roll it out very easily throughout Europe. That was our concept from the beginning – not something that should be confined to one town.
For more information on Let’s integrate! visit their website or Facebook page. Are you based in Berlin and willing to spend time getting to know newly-arrived refugees? Get involved with Let’s integrate! in a few simple steps.