Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators

A social enterprise creating job opportunities for migrants and disadvantaged persons in Berlin

"Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators" is a series of interviews with leaders of cooperatives and social and solidarity economy enterprises (SSEEs) from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives and SSEEs. For this issue ILO interviewed Ms Heike Birkhölzer, a founding member and the Chief Executive Officer of the Graefewirtschaft established in 2009 in Berlin, Germany.

Article | 9 février 2017

Q. What is Graefewirtschaft?

Ms Heike Birkhölzer, a founding member and the Chief Executive Officer of the Graefewirtschaft
A. Graefewirtschaft is a social enterprise creating jobs for disadvantaged persons in Berlin. It runs a range of businesses from catering for schools, canteens, kinder gardens and day care centres, to household services. Today, Grafewirtschaft, as a limited company, provides school meals for eight schools and up to 12 kindergartens, producing more than 2,400 meals per day. It employs up to 50 people, most of whom have migrant backgrounds or are other disadvantaged persons.

Graefewirtschaft was founded in 2009 by long-term unemployed migrants and Germans. The migrants, who now work for the enterprise, were unemployed for years and were placed in different intermediate labour market schemes. They faced difficulties with the recognition of the qualifications they acquired abroad or lack of clarity in their residence statuses in Germany. Thus they were not able to integrate into the German systems of vocation and career in a conventional manner.

Employees of Graefewirtschaft
This is the where Graefewirtschaft comes in. It helps empower migrants by securing jobs, in which they can bring in and develop their competences. Services are developed based on needs and skills, while reflecting the culturally diverse nature of the communities.

Graefewirtschaft started with a restaurant “Weltküche” (World Kitchen) where migrants cooked the recipes of their grandmothers. After the restaurant, it expanded into a catering service. At the culinary food events, members cook traditional dishes from Sri Lankan, Ecuadorian, Creole, Arab, and Turkish cuisines among others, thus promoting exchange of cultures with the locals.

Q. How does Graefewirtschaft work?

A. All the profits from Graefewirtschaft are re-invested into the social programmes of the enterprise, including promoting occupational and social integration of people from disadvantaged communities.

Graefewirtschaft received technical support from the Berlin Development Agency for social enterprises and neighbourhood economy (BEST) on developing its business management practices, including feasibility studies and business strategies, with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.

Throughout this management review and development process, a wide range of issues were reviewed including legal form of organizations, assessment of staff recruitment and capacity building issues. The local government, a job centre, foundations and local residents have been involved in this process and supported generating business know-how, accessing start-up capital and helping sustain the business during its inception.


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Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The responsibility for opinions expressed in this interview rests solely with the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.