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Katherine Kellein, Coach bei StartHope@Home
Katherine Kellein is a coach at StartHope@Home in Bavaria.

StartHope@Home assists refugees and migrants in Germany to start businesses in their country of origin. Those interested can also receive advice during the corona pandemic. Katherine Kellein and Ziad El-Sabbagh, coaches in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, explain how it all works. StartHope@Home is a programme run by Social Impact, a social innovation agency. It is one of the partners in "Perspektive Heimat".

How has your work changed during the corona pandemic?
Katherine Kellein (KK): We now offer advice and training sessions online or by phone. Participants previously joined us once a week in our Social Impact Lab to take part in individual coaching sessions and group events. 

What are the challenges posed by this new way of communicating? 
KK: There is often a lack of WIFI access in the accommodation where participants are living. So it's only possible to provide coaching by phone, which makes it more difficult to work on anything more detailed. It's hard for instance to perform a calculation on the phone. We therefore aim to use solutions based on internet credits or access via a hotspot. 

Online-Beratung mit einem irakischen Teilnehmer von StartHope@Home
During the pandemic, the coaches mainly provide their advice online.

How important is it for participants to have good digital skills?
KK: We have to adapt, because there can be major differences between participants. Many don't have access to a computer. On the other hand, we recently used video conferencing to coach an Iraqi participant. He had a computer and e-mail address, which meant he could download the online tools. So we were able to share our screen with him and work closely together with him on a mobile phone repair shop that he wants to open in Iraq. 

Ziad El-Sabbagh (ZE): I consider each individual's situation. How much time do we have and how receptive is the person? Sometimes I only pass on the necessary contacts – for example to a specialist working in the advice centres in the person's country of origin. It's important for participants to understand that people are waiting there who will continue to support them. 

In Zeiten der Corona-Pandemie nur begrenzt möglich: das persönliche Gespräch
Ziad El-Sabbagh is a coach at StartHope@Home in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Trust is essential for meaningful collaboration. How do you establish that without direct contact?
KK: You can certainly interact better sitting face to face. So it takes more time during the corona pandemic to get to know someone via screen or on the phone. 

ZE: Everyone has to adjust their thinking. We need to communicate more frequently, and often contact participants several times a week to build confidence with them. The transition was definitely easier with those we already knew personally from before corona.

Are there any language problems? 
ZE: We speak in English or French if we can't use German. We also have coaches who are proficient in other languages. I can also provide advice in Arabic, for example. We haven't needed to translate any online content yet. 

Have you learned anything for the time after corona?
ZE: We've realised that a lot can be achieved online. So we will also use this method more in future. Networking is very important. We are cooperating even more closely with the repatriation advisors who work directly with people in their accommodation. They often help to establish contacts and even organise technical assistance. We also put those who we advise into closer contact with one another, so they can share their experiences.

How have your participants reacted to the new situation caused by the pandemic?
ZE: They still remain motivated. I've noticed that their urge to go back home has become stronger. People are clearly becoming more emotional and thinking more about their home country and their families. 

KK: We're aware that some people are becoming anxious. They often ask what's going to happen and when the borders will reopen. It's difficult for them to obtain reliable information about their country of origin. They often don't know what the situation is there and what that means for their return. That's why we're increasingly relying on our partners in the countries of origin. 

As of: 06/2020

"It takes more time during the corona pandemic to get to know someone via screen or on the phone."