Our process of professionalisation at Tausche Bildung für Wohnen e.V.

How it all began

It is one of these clammy and wet December days in Duisburg-Marxloh, when the streets seem exceedingly grey and what may otherwise be described as industrial charm appears particularly uninviting. You’re better off inside when weather is like this and ten children agree, as they’re all happy inside our hub the Tauschbar, shoes tossed across the entranceway. It’s a regular winter day for us at Tausche Bildung für Wohnen, a social enterprise which literally trades accommodation for education.

Here in Marxloh, in an area gravely affected by the demise of Western Germany’s steel industry, support structures are scarce, and vacancy is a disheartening normality of local real estate. Here our project owns two flats which provide accommodation for young and motivated people, rent free. They in turn act as personal mentors and tutors for children of the neighbourhood. The exchange is realised at the Tauschbar, a child friendly place of learning where each mentor has fixed groups of children, they tutor each a week.

While it’s business as usual in Marxloh on these December days, there is a lot happening beyond the chatter of the Tauschbar: We are becoming a professional social business. A second site of Tausche Bildung für Wohnen is due to open its doors in Gelsenkirchen-Ueckendorf and more cities are excited about bringing Tausche Bildung für Wohnen into their struggling communities. We are negotiating with city planners and schools, rethinking our fundraising strategies and reshaping our communication tools.

What started as a small social start up in 2012, now commands a team of 24, reaching approximately 130 children. It’s only a few years back that decisions had to be made quickly and cost effectively, often at the expense of leisure and personal resources. Short-term strategies had allowed us to swiftly change focus when necessary, adapting our processes daily. Many good tools were left unused since there was no time to learn how to utilize them. We learned about agile working during a pro bono consultation, for example, but simply never had resources to implement it.

New challenges

Now, with much more (woman-)power at our disposal, our organisation can tackle topics that ran alongside until now. And tackle we must, as the opening of our site in Gelsenkirchen compels us to standardise certain process. It is an exciting time in which we experience a shift in our work culture. There is a need for clearly defined processes, while maintaining our flexibility, we want structure without losing our freedom. Plus, with operations increasingly complex, we want our story to be as clear and loud as can be, a cornerstone for interviews, networking events, communications and our brand marketing.

For a long time, we had relied on shared values and a common drive to change the communities we worked in. This kind of intuitive knowledge doesn’t hold in a professional business. With our purpose clear to everyone in form of a mission statement, together with press briefings, organised media workshops for our staff, and an overhaul of our social media channels, we remain in charge of our narrative with all the aspects of our impact considered: the community, the housing market, our mentors and their mentees.

For the process of writing our mission statement we are using methods of agile working. We want to liberate and empower our staff, so they can structure their time and resources according to their needs and priorities. The framework of agile work helps our business to become more effective while maintaining our flexibility.

It’s an exciting time of learning and growing as we understand more and more what motivates us and what makes us unique but also what needs to go. This time of reflection increases our gratitude for the advice and companionship of others. We’re very lucky to have some years of experience to look back on, people who have been with us the whole way.

And then there are the children at the Tauschbar who make it bright inside when rain is pouring outside. Seeing how they strive in their personal and mental development while their young mentors become more confident and self-aware is instantly rewarding. It is humbling to come back to that place and reconnect to our purpose on this journey to becoming a professional social business. Coming back to our roots is what we hopefully will never stop doing.