When the influx of refugees rocked Europe in 2015, enormous pressures were placed on existing structures and institutions. There was not only a possibility but an urgent need to develop new ways of responding to the challenge of integrating refugees. This was the moment when Anne Kjær Riechert created the Redi School of Digital Integration. Ben Mason talked to her about where the idea came from.
In moments of global challenges, old narratives often are no longer proving to be effective. New approaches complement the adaption of worn-out structures. But how can we innovate or reform our frameworks quickly enough to keep pace and to prevent organizations, or even whole sectors, from being swept away? However, sometimes the best innovations stem from conditions of change and uncertainty: Right in the middle of one of the most significant crises in Europe, Anne co-founded the Redi School of Digital Integration in response to the refugee crisis in 2015.
At the Redi School of Digital Integration, a non-profit organization, asylum seekers and refugees are being offered a vocational training program that teaches them coding, programming, and tech skills. When I meet her at ReDI’s main campus in central Berlin, it is semester break, and the rooms are quiet. But a few weeks earlier I had experienced the same space full of life, and young people from Afghanistan and Syria were standing in front of a group pitching their idea for a new app.
The idea of Redi is an elegant answer to multiple challenges facing German society. On the one hand, the country’s economy – with its long-standing focus on manufacturing and an aging workforce – is under great pressure to adapt to the digital age. According to one estimate, there are over 50,000 unfilled IT jobs nationwide. On the other hand, the refugee movement of 2015–16 saw over a million people, mostly from Syria, many of them young and educated, arrive in Germany. This presented various challenges of how to integrate and include the newcomers. What if some of these new arrivals could be trained as computer programmers? At a stroke, they could transform from a burden to an asset in Germany’s economic transition – and at the same time, not just individuals but refugee families and communities could get a stable financial footing.