Professional Development

My professional development consists of two parts, my work as a researcher in a prestigious institute in Germany and my work as a self-employed sociologist when I moved to The Netherlands. After I finished my degree (MA) in sociology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, I found my dream job at the Deutsches Jugend Institut – DJI (German Youth Institute) in Munich. There I engaged in a series of research projects and studies for a total of 27 years (see my DJI profile ).The second part  of my professional life was becoming self employed when Marieke and I founded our business M&M and parallely I became co-founder of the German company anakonde together with former German colleagues.

DJI was my dream job, because I worked there during a period of time where it was possible to define own research interests and projects (this has meanwhile changed at DJI). I worked together with a team of colleagues who shared my interest in action research and who were also inspired by creating innovation. We were often friends and the general climate at my workplace was very supportive and warm. I was extremely lucky to have both inspiring and self defined work as well as inspiring, cordial and committed colleagues. It was the reason I stayed so long in Munich, because I never was very fond of the city as such. Working at DJI meant I had a very privileged and coveted job, something you did not leave without good reason.

My career started with the study on parent education that resulted in the concept of Mother Centers (see  Movements: Mother Center Movement). This was followed by a series of international comparative studies on parental leave measures and flexible working schemes. This involved a lot of travelling to countries like Finnland, Sweden, France and Austria, and also to Eastern European countries like Hungary, Poland and Russia. I loved these study trips to foreign places. We did further studies on the compatibility of work and family life, which took us to Ireland and to the USA. In general we were pioneers in these themes and our results created a lot of public debate. Our themes usually became mainstream issues years after we had conducted our studies.

When we studied company policies on part time and flexible working hours we included hands on experience as part of our research methodology. We would spend some weeks working in the companies we studied, which gave us first hand information as well as better access to interviewing company staff. I was very much reminded of the research approach of my MA thesis, which I wrote on my experiences working at the Opel factory (see Autobiography in the section Personal), but this time we came in top down rather than as clandestine revolutionary students.

We were involved in a research project which included the DDR (German Democratic Republic), just before the Berlin wall came down and continued during the first exciting months after the reunification of Germany. This was a very thrilling time to be doing research in East Germany and I cherish the encounters and very touching interviews we conducted during this study.

I was the representative for Germany for 10 years in the EU network “Childcare and other Measures for the Reconciliation of Work and Family Life”, an experience which strengthened my conviction in the importance of preserving cultural differences and disillusioned me about the workings of large bureaucracies like the EU.

All of the research projects I was involved in resulted in publications, (see the rather extensive publication list under CV in this section). That is part of the academic scheme. Fortunately many of our results did not only live a shelf life but were applied, became part of social movements and were used by practitioners in the field.

The last projects I was involved in at DJI were directed towards the integration of migrants. I was part of the team that put together the federal report on the situation of migrant families in Germany and together with the municipality of Munich we developed an innovative orientation course offered in the mother tongue, which gave migrants a basic overview and orientation for their life in Germany. One of the main issues and barriers to integration lies in the fact that migrants most often work way under their skills and competencies because these are not recognised by the host country. This implies a huge waste of resources for the host country and accounts for many shattered dreams and motivations of the migrant population who get directed towards unqualified jobs or do not find jobs at all. Together with a colleague, I developed the Competence Audit for Migrants (read more under the section Innovations) as an instrument to make visible and to obtain recognition for skills, especially those developed in informal settings.

When I followed my heart and moved to The Netherlands, the first project I worked on together with my partner, whose background is in architecture and engineering, was in the field of urban planning. We conducted a study called: Not the Chicken, not the Egg, but the Nest! (see www.nest.cc). This was a feasibility study, commissioned by the Dutch Federal Department for Housing and Urban Planning, on how to jump start social integration and community building in town extension projects by integrating temporary settlements into the planning. The business “M&M –Coaching and Research in Social Innovation” we co-founded (read more in this section) combined our two backgrounds and focussed on how to integrate the hardware and the software of urban development and community building, as well as introducing many of the projects and instruments I had developed in Germany to The Netherlands.

We were not as successful with M&M as we had hoped. Most of our studies and ideas were not implemented. The Dutch society proved more resistant to ideas of self help and social innovation than I had expected. Professionally my own migration to and integration into The Netherlands turned out a disappointment, I did not manage to transfer my knowledge and innovative approaches into the Dutch context as much as I had hoped. After having had such a privileged professional life in Germany this was a bitter pill to swallow.

My income as self-employed sociologist was complemented by the work I did for our German company anakonde, which focussed on the evaluation of projects and networks for the integration of migrants into the labour market.

Together with my partner I continued to initiate projects in the context of the international Mother Center movement, where we took on coordinating and documenting roles (see links in Movements: Mother Center Movement). We also continued my focus on knowledge generated in informal learning settings by co-founding the Nest! Foundation, an NGO with the objective of compiling grassroots knowledge on community building, making it transferable and stimulating its recognition in society. The Nest! Foundation got involved in a series of European projects focussing on informal learning.

The themes my professional life has revolved around are community development, integration, participative governance and self help, red threads throughout all my active working life. They reflect my values and my background as a social activist. Other points of focus were on gender issues and on informal learning. Promoting a more holistic approach in the women’s movement and analysing the economic aspects of patriarchy, the split between private and public and paid and unpaid work were prominent issues and subjects I lectured on and wrote about and to this day I consider myself a feminist. I am convinced that the mothers’ movement, which is currently developing in many places, will take on a more prominent role in the women’s movement.

The focus on informal learning reflects my early interest in how people really learn. This was a big theme in the student movement (see autobiography in section Personal). The experience of how the distorted social concepts of qualification block a lot of potential for migrants and grassroots groups, kept this theme on my professional agenda (see Grassroots Women’s International Academy, GWIA, and Competence Audit in section Innovations). Informal learning is currently a recognised theme at the level of the European Union and you will find links to projects the Nest! Foundation is engaged in on European level in this section.

I still enjoy working on issues and themes I really believe in. I love following my natural curiosity and being a researcher and conducting interviews brings me joy. I have a good intuition and usually am very good at getting to the bottom of the issues at hand.

I have been rather a workaholic in my life and as such have quite a body of work and achievements to look back on. It is very satisfying to know that with my work and projects I have made a difference and have left traces in areas I value. I have been a pioneer and an innovator; I never was very good at mainstreaming and going into the second stage of projects. My colleagues often described me as the “purist” in the group, the one that watched out that our innovative concepts were not watered down. I am fine with this role, as I also have learned to appreciate and respect other roles in the process of social change and development.