• “If you have something in mind, simply give it a try.”

    Interview with David Zistl, founder of “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” and SIA winner 2015.

     

    The vast migration of refugees has become one of the most complex challenges for European countries since many years and triggered a broad discussion about how the refugees can be integrated into our society. While politics are still struggling in offering proper solutions to this topic, a few students from Vienna, Austria have been faster. In the beginning of 2015, they developed the project “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” (“Refugees Welcome”). The project’s concept is as easy as impactful: Whoever has a free room in his or her shared apartment, reports this on the online platform of “Flüchtlinge Willkommen”. The project then acts as an agent by connecting the interested person with a local NGO and one or more refugees. Before a contract is signed, the refugee(s) and his or her potential future flat mates meet and get to know each other.

    In May 2015, “Flüchtlinge Willkommen” won the Social Impact Award in Austria. We talked to David Zistl, initiator of the project about this exciting year, the challenges he has been facing and why the Social Impact Award has been an important step for the project.

     

    David ZistlDavid, almost one year ago you and your colleagues started “Flüchtlinge Willkommen”. What was the driving motivation for you?

    “Simply because the situation of asylum seekers in Austria has been and still is terrible! The immigrants are being kept out of city centers, they have almost no possibilities to get in touch with locals. You have to consider that the Austrian authorities support refugees with 320 € per month, out which 120 € are supposed to be spent for housing. You simply can’t get a room in a shared flat at that price! Moreover, with the dramatic increase of refugees coming to Austria more and more of them become homeless. In Traiskirchen, a large refugee camp close to Vienna, refugees were sent away and being told that they should take care of housing on their own. And even for legally approved refugees the situation is very difficult as they need a pay slip in order to be able to rent a flat on their own. So, there was definitely an urgent need for a concept like ours.”

    So you started to work on it in January. Just five months later, at the end of May, you won the Social Impact Award in Austria. How did this influence the project’s development?

    “Oh, it definitely helped us a lot. Even more important than the direct financial support has been the fact that this award brought us in touch with ERSTE Foundation and other important players that later invested into the project.”

    How did you use the prize money?

    “First of all, we were able to pay two team members a small salary in order to grow the operations and to bridge the time until we were able to raise higher funds from ERSTE Foundation and others. But we also used part of the money to create and print flyers and other PR material to increase publicity.”

    Now, about half a year later, what is the status quo of “Flüchtlinge Willkommen”?

    “Well, most important to mention is that we have already provided more than 200 refugees a room in a shared flat! But it is not merely about the numbers, but the people. It is incredible to observe how much the matching of locals and refugees affects both sides! I just want to give you one example: A successful entrepreneur approached us and offered a room in his apartment. So, we put him in contact with a immigrated teenager. But the entrepreneur didn’t stop there. He organized him access to school and offered him an apprenticeship position in his own company as soon as he finishes school.”

    Reflecting on everything that has happened this year, what has surprised you most?

    “The success of our financial model is one of the greatest surprises. It is based on micro donations by flat mates, family members or friends of the locals. Thanks to their solidarity we were able to raise enough money for each and every flat room that we got offered. Once, we raised more 2.700 € within two days, just from micro donations of ten to thirty Euros.”

    In a few weeks the Social Impact Award 2016 kicks off in more than ten European countries and again thousands of students will participate in workshops, work on their ideas and try to put them into praxis. With your experience from this year: What would be your key advice to them?

    „Simply do it! Try it out and then you’ll see if it works or not. If you have something in mind, simply give it a try. Probably, we are often too pessimistic that things might not work in the end, but our example should show that it can happen. But of course, you need to work for it and you need to be very flexible.”

    Dear David, thank you for the interview and all the best for your project!