We Help: »Help must be a group effort«
With its “We Help” campaign, ProSiebenSat.1 takes a stand for refugees. Annette Kümmel, Senior Vice President Governmental Relations & Regulatory Affairs, talks about employees’ commitment, unconventional statements, and coordinating the Group’s aid efforts.
Last year, ProSiebenSat.1 adopted Joko & Klaas’s video “Mundaufmachen” (Speak Up) as a mission statement on the refugee debate. They discuss “spiritual diarrhea” and “I’m not a Nazi, but …idiots”— not the kind of language we usually hear from corporations.
Annette Kümmel: That’s true, but it’s also what makes the statement so authentic. It’s an outpouring from two people who feel personally compelled to do something about the xenophobia and racism on social networks. The video was initially posted on Joko & Klaas’s website. We thought it was so powerful that we broadcast it on all our stations.
ProSiebenSat.1 is better known for providing entertainment than sociopolitical commentary. Why should a media company feel any need to “speak up” about the refugee crisis?
Kümmel: Our TV stations reach millions of people every day — that constitutes a social responsibility. The debate about refugees is one of the most significant sociopolitical issues we face in Germany today. It’s only right that we stand up and be counted. I would like to point out that it’s our employees who have put forward most of the ideas and initiatives to help refugees. Then ProSiebenSat.1 started picking up on them and coordinating them.
What have the employees put into action?
Kümmel: As the number of refugees continued to grow last year, many of our staff got involved in donation and aid drives. Over 100 boxes of clothing and toiletries were collected for the Bayernkaserne refugee accommodations, for example, and at Christmas the residents received a total of 500 gift bags from us. We also have staff members who organize tutoring, jogging groups, or afternoon crafts sessions in their free time.
How has the company encouraged such activities?
Kümmel: Helping must be a group effort. ProSiebenSat.1 assists employees in coordinating and carrying out their plans. We created a special section for refugee aid on our intranet. In no time at all, the section logged over 200 e-mails with offers of assistance and project proposals. The next step was establishing the We Help working group that collects and reviews the suggestions.
What exactly does the working group do?
Kümmel: We meet weekly to exchange news and views on upcoming projects. We welcome anyone interested in joining, no matter what department they belong to. From executives to interns, We Help represents the full spectrum of employees. We regularly make use of ProSiebenSat.1 Academy’s Lunch & Learn events, for instance, to present our projects to the entire workforce. What’s more, we’ve developed a concept to support refugees in the long term — beyond our current donation drives.
What form might this long-term support take?
Kümmel: We came up with the idea of erecting a container structure to house multimedia equipment next to the temporary refugee accommodations in Unterföhring near our Munich headquarters. The building was supposed to comprise a classroom, an Internet café, and a common room with a TV lounge. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we ran into a lot of the legal and bureaucratic red tape that is a real obstacle to private-sector aid reaching refugees.
refugees and immigrants arrived in 2015 in Germany
Source: Federal Office for Migration and Refugees / EASY
ProSiebenSat.1 is part of the „Wir zusammen“ initiative of German companies that support the integration of refugees in Germany.
»IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE WE RAN INTO A LOT OF THE LEGAL AND BUREAUCRATIC RED TAPE THAT IS A REAL OBSTACLE TO PRIVATE-SECTOR AID REACHING REFUGEES.«Annette Kümmel
What kind of obstacles?
Kümmel: The Unterföhring town council was really excited about our idea. What’s more, the Group also backed the project and approved a budget. But it quickly became apparent that the district office’s safety concept and European laws would prevent a structure from being put up on the property where the temporary airdome shelter is located. Permanent accommodation for asylum seekers is now being built in the north of Unterföhring, and we will implement our plans for a classroom and communications area there.
Unfortunately, there are still people who believe that asylum seekers don’t need multimedia facilities.
Kümmel: That’s ridiculous. They need to be able to connect with others and that’s only possible if they can communicate. Cell phones and Internet access are vital, and often the only way for them to contact home. Plus, TV helps you learn a new language. The classroom could be used for training, information, and recreational events — whether organized by our employees or the very active refugee support community in Unterföhring. Financing will be provided by ProSiebenSat.1 and through fundraising activities. We could draw on associated companies such as the online retailer moebel.de for the furnishings. Our employees would take on the job of decorating the rooms — during our Social Days, for instance, which are scheduled regularly to enable staff to volunteer with social organizations during office hours.
How do you handle concerns about, or opposition to, refugee aid?
Kümmel: Joko & Klaas’s statement is the perfect response to hate speech on social networks. It is important to demonstrate an open and tolerant attitude, educate the public, and encourage contact with refugees — that’s a great way to break down barriers. <