Why a German social entrepreneur wants to learn from CCVO

Sarah Rosenthal Headshot.png

by CCVO Visiting Fellow, Sarah Rosenthal

This is the first in a series of posts that will record my work with CCVO over the next three months as I undertake research to define Adaptive Capacity for CCVO and the nonprofit sector.



I am a social entrepreneur from Germany and founder of the organization Start with a Friend. At Start with a Friend, we bring together refugees and locals 1:1 to create sustainable networks and friendships between people who probably would not have met otherwise. Two friends and I started the initiative in late 2014, and with the vast number of refugees (often referred to as a “refugee crisis”) in the summer of 2015, many volunteers from all over Germany joined our organization.

Start with a Friend continuously grew into an organization, which is now active in 23 cities and has brought together 3,500 tandems, as we call the 1:1 friendships between refugees and locals. We aim to overcome social exclusion and parallel societies and instead build an integrative community. By befriending refugees, locals offer refugees access to their social environment and activate their own networks. Furthermore, our organisation facilitates exchange and skill sharing among participants. The success of our work can be measurable by hard endpoints such as improved language skills, successful apartment-hunting, internships or job placements. More importantly though, we want to enhance social sensitivity and reflection on both sides. And last but not least, our tandems have a lot of fun together, show mutual appreciation and the former distinction between refugees and locals has diminished.


My Objective

In my work with Start with a Friend for the last three years, I learned a lot about the challenges the nonprofit sector faces. One major challenge for me was being adaptive. The refugee crisis in Germany in 2015 was remarkable and all sectors worked together to tackle the challenges that could not be managed by one sector alone. Instead of following complicated bureaucratic processes, all sectors just worked together. I am convinced that all of the great challenges we face today can only be handled in a cross-sectoral approach.

The refugee crisis shaped me and I decided to learn more about adaptive environments and cross-sectoral relations. This was when I learned about the Hans Weisser-fellowship by the Foundation of German business, which allows responsible entrepreneurs to apply with a project idea to gain deeper insights into a topic that helps them with their individual development. I applied and received the opportunity to move to Calgary for at least one year to learn more about cross-sectoral relations.  


Why Calgary, Canada?

Calgary sums up preconditions that support my project idea. Canada in general has a well-developed social system, similar to Germany, but US influence on cross-sectoral cooperation is strong. Volunteering is woven into many peoples´ and business´ DNA in Canada, who see themselves as part of an active community. I was impressed by the number of nonprofits in Alberta and by the vivid entrepreneurial scene. At the same time, Calgary had to handle a severe economic downturn and the sector is aware that one has to find ways to adapt to political, economic, social, and technological challenges that will face us in the future. There are nonprofit organizations with a focus on digitalization, I see this as a major opportunity to be utilized.



CCVO, as the voice of the nonprofit-sector in Calgary, impressed me by its long-term approach. As an umbrella organization, CCVO cares about thriving organizations as well as a sustainable and forward-looking nonprofit sector as a whole. During the next three months, my focus will be on adaptive capacity building. In previous work, CCVO defined what the next steps should be to continue the conversations about adaptive capacity and my focus is to take these ideas further. I will be looking for practical examples, discuss new ideas, and find approaches to bring adaptive capacity building to life. More precisely, I want to think about networks that can support adaptive capacity building and ways of partnering to get better results for the whole sector, for example in terms of funding or organizational development. Thereafter, I will make suggestions on how CCVO can use them best. Whether it´s the development of new programs or the need for adaptation in existing ones. I will give input based on my findings and provide suggestions on how CCVO could implement them. 

After a great welcome at the organization, I am very much looking forward to my time here at CCVO and learning more about the work of the nonprofit sector in Calgary. Over the next three months, I will post regular blogs to keep you updated on my findings, challenges, and experiences.

If you have any questions concerning the project or my previous work, please feel free to contact me at srosenthal@calgarycvo.org. I want to get involved with as many organizations, people, and topics as possible. By the way, I am also always open for hiking-tips and tips for outdoor activities. I enjoy living so close to the Rocky Mountains and just had my first experience in cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. I loved it!