Small ideas, great impact - how to turn strangers into friends and a village with refugees into a community.

Small ideas, great impact - how to turn strangers into friends and a village with refugees into a community

Text by: Natalie Haas

Category: Civic Engagement / Social Innovation

Photos by: Philipp Benedikt / Toni Chung

"We believe in the successful coexistence with refugees in the community and have made it our mission to make a positive contribution to the so-called refugee crisis." says ZIAG co-founder Lukas Leitner.
When, in January 2015, 35 asylum-seeking men found shelter in the small community of Berndorf near Salzburg in Austria, not only a time began that enriched and brought people there closer together, but also a pathway for a positive integration of refugees in small communities was found. Based on many small ideas that have been implemented by different individuals of the community to include the new neighbours, it quickly became clear that a successful coexistence and an integration from which everyone benefits are possible.
The awareness that it is exactly about these small ideas came when many villages that were about to accommodate newly arrived refugees approached the Mayor of Berndorf Josef Guggenberger and Natalie Haas, at the time volunteer coordinator in Berndorf and later founder of ZIAG, and asked what it is that makes it possible to live together in the community happily and without problems. It was then, when the idea for ZIAG was born. Because of the many inquiries to inform others about the "Berndorf model of integration", the vision of an idea box, collecting all the small ideas from different best practices around Austria that generate a win-win situation for refugees as well as for the communities in which they live, arose. "It is not about a big master plan but rather about everyone having the chance to contribute to a community with their ideas and their passions. And then, to share these best practices with others instead of making them re-invent the wheel." ZIAG co-founder Anna Maria Haas.
From then on, ZIAG saw it as their mission to provide all these ideas, to give ideas to communities, volunteers and all those who help them, to enable a positive and successful coexistence and to exchange more information. "Our idea box provides proven ideas and builds the bridge between those who stand in front of the challenge of integration with a big question mark and those who are full of ideas and solutions." ZIAG co-founder, Theresa Wallinger
After gaining awareness of the Austrian government and the United Nations and winning several leadership awards, including the Social Impact Award in 2016, ZIAG became a resourceful actor in supporting small Austrian communities to integrate newly arrived refugees.
Additionally, to the online idea box with a collection of best practices to integrate refugees, the "platform for successful coexistence with refugees in the community" supported rural Austrian communities with expert-led workshops for mayors, with workshops and mentoring from seasoned refugees to newly arrived people seeking asylum and from experienced volunteers to local supporters and people within the communities. "What we saw is, that when everyone can contribute with their ideas and their passions, communities can grow from within. After seeing that in Berndorf, ZIAG was like a catalyst to make this possible on the larger scale." ZIAG founder and project manager, Natalie Haas.
ZIAG today is an inspiring example for how small ideas in a small community can positively influence a whole region in times of uncertainty and bring people closer together when it's most needed with their own resources and ideas.