Digital services for immigrants

New Links into Society

How do newly immigrated women find their place in German society? Where do they look for information and advice? And what role do digital channels play in this process? These questions are being investigated by the Digital Active Women project. What makes the project special is that newly immigrated women advise municipalities and counseling centers on how to better tailor their digital offerings to the needs of newcomers. Here’s an interim report.

Text
Mia Raben
Pictures
Getty Images, Ruthe, private

Tamara Puerto has arrived in Germany several times. The first time, everything was quite easy. She came from Colombia to Germany in 2017, to study in Göttingen. 

"I had a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service: as a student, I was helped everywhere, with my apartment, my visa, my health insurance." 

After graduation, she left the university world and got to know Germany all over again. 

"When I went looking for a job and an apartment, a very difficult phase began. There is a lot of information on all kinds of topics, but it is often very general and written in a very complicated language. I never found a suitable solution for me." 

Tamara Puerto

She came to Germany from Colombia in 2017. Puerto, 33, works as a student trainee for the association Gemeinsam für Afrika e. V. (Together for Africa), studies social work on the side, and volunteers as a co-researcher for the Digital Active Women project.

Today, Tamara Puerto is 33 years old and wants to help women who are newly arrived in Germany to be spared these difficulties. That's why she, together with some three dozen other newly immigrated women from a wide range of EU and third countries, is volunteering with Digital Active Women (DAW), a citizen science project carried out by Minor – Project Office for Education and Research and funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The so-called co-researchers developed an online study asking more than 600 newly immigrated women about their experiences with existing digital information and counseling services – and the difficulties they encountered.

“Public administration is changing”

Municipal administrations are aware that the needs of newly immigrated people are not always optimally met.

"Administrative services are often focused on their own concerns. I can very well imagine that some people do not feel addressed. We are aware of the problems. We have to move towards a service mindset. It's important for government agencies to integrate other perspectives. Public administration is changing." 
– Derya Yarici, employee at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Integration Office

Derya Yarici

She is an employee at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Integration Office and a Berliner with a family migration background.

The researchers know just how important it is to reach out to the target group of female immigrants: Migrated women often assume responsibility in the integration process not only for themselves, but also for their children, partners, and other family members. At the same time, they are more marginalized than men when it comes to access to work, education and health. In the Digital Active Women project, the newly immigrated women are the experts. Their experiences make them competent advisors when it comes to improving digital services for immigrants, ultimately making it easier for them to arrive in their new environment.

Social media instead of social services

"How do you look for information about living and working in Germany?" the co-researchers asked women in their respective online communities. The result: 73.4 percent said they did so "via social media," 66.7 percent "via personal contacts." Fewer than 20 percent named job centers, resource centers or government agencies as important sources of information. Social media and social contacts are obviously more important than institutions when it comes to orientation.  

At a glance

Where do newcomers look for information about life in Germany?

As part of the Digital Active Women project, 511 newly arrived women were asked how they orientate themselves in Germany. The importance of social media became abundantly clear.

Graphics: Social media is most important for orientation.

The migrant organizations serve as a functioning link between migrant women and German society. Working at DaMigra, the umbrella organization of migrant organizations, Zarona Ismailova often deals with newly immigrated women who have problems finding information on topics such as education, work or housing. 

"A lot of information can't be found through search engines, but only through direct links that you have to know. Plus, it’s often written in complicated language. And once you have figured it out, you may discover that it is out of date." 
– Zarona Ismailova, project manager at DaMigra

Zarona Ismailova

She came to Germany from Tajikistan in 2014. Ismailova, 47, works as a project manager at DaMigra, the umbrella organization of migrant women's organizations in Germany.

Tamara Puerto too rarely felt well informed during her early days in Germany:

"After I graduated, I took a course that was supposed to get me ready for job interviews. It wasn't until much later that I learned that the employment agency would have paid for this course. I had no idea what I was entitled to, and there was no one in an official position to tell me. It would be good if the information was written in simple language and made more user-friendly."

How to really improve information services for new immigrants?

The Digital Active Women project offers local authorities, migrant women's organizations, and resource centers a kind of long-term digital coaching. Until the end of 2023, the women, as experts on their own lives, will be advising public authorities and resource centers on how to better reach new immigrants through social media and digital channels. As a result, the services offered by administrative units or resource centers can be tailored more precisely to the needs of the target group. 

"You always have to ask yourself: Am I really reaching the people I want to reach? In which languages? Using which approach?"
– Derya Yarici, employee at the Berlin-Charlottenburg Integration Office

Digital skills and access to target groups vary greatly in the institutions involved in the integration process – this became clear in exchanges and dialogue meetings held as part of the Digital Active Women project. 

"We work with WhatsApp groups and post our measures on social media that we know are used by our target group."
– Zarona Ismailova, DaMigra

"Privately, I hardly use social media. Even in our project, which coaches newly immigrated women to help them integrate into the labor market, we've only just started using Facebook and Instagram."
– Pantelis Lekakis-Kerkyraios, MUT_RAUM project

At a glance

Which platforms do female newcomers use to search for information?

Only 40 percent of the women surveyed as part of the Digitally Active Women project use the official websites of government agencies and resource centers; almost twice as many rely on Facebook.

Graphics: Facebook is more important than official websites of the government agencies.

Social media are well suited to explaining complicated things in a simple way. After a certain age, children and young people today hardly ever do presentations without using explanatory videos. Why haven't these media been used in the integration process for a long time? According to the DAW survey, more than 75 percent of respondents use Facebook and some 40 percent use the YouTube platform to access information about living and working in Germany. In personal conversations, many women report that they are particularly drawn to the  groups of like-minded people on Facebook.

"It’s actually quite logical that a person who has newly arrived in Germany would first look around on the net. The DAW study made me realize how useful it can be to add a digital strategy to the physical dimension."
– Pantelis Lekakis-Kerkyraios, MUT_RAUM project

Pantelis Lekakis-Kerkyraios

He heads the MUT_RAUM project at EMPATI gGmbH, a non-profit initiative that has been carrying out and promoting projects, events, and studies in the field of integration for more than ten years. Lekakis-Kerkyraios, 36, came to Berlin from Greece in 2004.

And that's exactly what the Digital Active Women project aims to do: it suggests to integration service providers how they can improve their digital formats and offerings. The aim is to build bridges where providers and target groups have so far failed to reach out to each other. Ultimately, the services are to meet the needs of newly immigrated women in order to make it easier for them to settle in Germany. Online and offline. Without the commitment and solidarity of the volunteer co-researchers, this would not be possible. The group’s motivation is high – for good reason.

"Other women should have it easier than I did back then. Besides, this work is also an opportunity for me. Most of the time, migrants are objects of research and not actively acting subjects. I would like to change that."
– Tamara Puerto, DAW co-reseacher

About the project

Digital Active Women

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Newly immigrated women have a great need for information and advice on various topics of social participation. This is precisely where the Digital Active Women project comes in, a project von Minor Hier setzt das Projekt „Digital Active Women“ an, carried out by Minor –Projektkontor für Bildung und Forschung and supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. To this end, Minor – with the help of the citizen science approach – is working with co-researchers from various communities to develop concrete recommendations and models for tailored digital counseling and information services for newly immigrated women. The focus is on services offered by municipalities, migration and social counseling centers, and migrant women's self-organizations.

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