Innovative Best Practices




Name of the Practice

Initiative for the Self-Employment of Immigrant Women


Education and Training

Country - Area/Region

City-State of Berlin

Geographical Coverage

Berlin is some 890 Square Kilometers, population about 3,577,000


Not-for-profit Association founded in 1990. Program 29 years, renewable 3 year cycles, current cycle ends 31.12.2022.

Level of the practice


Type of activity

Training Immigrant and Refugee Women for a business start-up

Partnership implementing the initiative

The Initiative (ISI) is an association that develops the concept, applies for funding from the Berlin State government Department of Gender Equality (Gleichstellung) within the ESF Framework of the EU, 50% local government and 50% ESF

Contents of the practice

ISI empowers  immigrant and “refugee” women, strengthens their skills in economic and technical German, educates them about the German economy, including the specific legal conditions for starting a business in Germany, as well as other skills needed for starting a business: market analysis, feasibility studies, business plan development, IT skills, internet business, specializations in the uses of social media, business via youtube, webpage design, photographic techniques for internet, office skills, sales skills among units that strengthen the entrepreneurial personality. Modular learning enables the integration of new courses to meet the need of the current participants. In additions, participation in business trade fairs, learning groups and some co-working spaces. Regular monthly discussion forums with self-employed women and Brunch meetups regular invitations to interested immigrant and refugee business-women or those curious to become so.

Evaluation of the practice

Generally, about 30% of the participants have created their own business after completion of the courses. Others create their business later, or find better work opportunities, or decide to enter new occupational training. The program is monitored monthly and yearly based on feedback with participants and trainers. It has been regularly adapted to the changing needs of the target group and changes in the business world, as new specializations are required for a good start.  Over 2,000 women have been reached in the start-up program at isi in the almost 30 years. Inquiries and participation has increased steadily in the last 10 years. The goal in the first decade was to offer longer courses from about 10 months with 6 - 9 weeks internship periods in small businesses with 20 participants yearly. In the years 2005-2007 two parallel courses in addition to the regular program were funded by the equal program from the federal ministry of labor and social affairs, one for refugees and the other academic women. Since 2010 a greater number of women are reached yearly. The courses became shorter in length, steadily increasing the share of women with an academic degree. Interesting is the growth in number of inquiries and counseling in the most recent period: from 446 consultations in 2017 to over 1000 consultations in 2018. Over 200 participants were reached in the new modular courses in 2019. In the 1st quarter of 2019 a survey of participants between 2013 and 2018 found that one-third of the former participants had become self-employed (33.6%). In the years between 2016-2018. Isi ran two specialized programs for refugee women (tandem and first steps).  Tandem was primarily a “big sister” project that initiated activities, accompanied new arrivals and their children to familiarize them with berlin. Individual participants attended self-employment courses. Parallel to this “first steps” was a mobile advisor to assist refugee women who were interested in self-employment.  In each of these programs isi reached between 150 women, e.g. In tandem yearly (2016-2017-2018) and 180 refugee women in 18 months in first steps. About 20% of participants either went on to following courses at isi or other pursued other paths to further education and training. Another 10% isi recommended for mentoring programs for export-import business with local entrepreneurs via the local and national business associations. (chambers of commerce).  This is innovative because the concept was built on the experiences and the initiative of immigrant and refugee women who came together to design programs that would meet their needs. This contributed to its sustainability and authenticity in the determination to meet these needs for themselves and their peers. Isi has received the innovation prize of the economic commission of the national body of the social democratic party in 2010.  2018 it was awarded the phineo prize for empowerment of immigrant/refugee women. Isi has been approved and accredited for quality standards by dekra for azav. Isi has also been recognized by the offices of the federal chancellor (Angela Merkel) as one of three associations/ programs to be honoured in 2017 for “integration” prize.  This was in 2018 a special tandem, “big sister” program for refugee women, tandems with locals, was recognized in 2018 as one of ten projects in the federal republic to be honoured by the Chancelor  Angela Merkel for its 3 year tandem program. In 2017 and 2018 isi was honoured by a fis (women’s infrastructure position) to reach out to refugee women (first steps) to familiarize recent arrivals and advise them about opportunities for self-employment.  In each of these programs isi reached between 150 e.g. In tandem yearly (2016-2017-2018) and 180 refugee women women in 18 months in first steps. About 20% of these women either went on to participate in courses at isi or others to pursue other paths to further education and training. Another 10% were involved in mentoring programs for export-import business with local business persons via the local and national business associations. (chambers of commerce).

Adaptability/Replicability to other contexts

Important for replicability in the spirit of ISI would be the establishment of immigrant/refugee women’s associations that would take the initiative and can attract their counterparts among the new arrivals.  Immigrant women should be involved in the organizational start-ups and trainings. It would also be necessary to do a needs analysis among local immigrant women who are already self-employed as well as potential refugee women entrepreneurs. It could be that certain nationalities of origin among the women refugees/new arrivals have been self-employed in their country of origin as is the case for many Syrian women in Germany. Initiators need to reach out to these women and together analyse their potential and barriers to starting-up business in their new place of settlement. Working together refugee/immigrant women inspire mutual trust, exemplary persons from a similar background, empower and encourage solidarity to achieve common goals. This may of course also, when the context or situations offer such, work with local women’s organizations could be useful. It is the spirit of cooperation that counts, enabling the target group to be recognized for their own potential and appreciated for their experience and perspectives.  Study visits and if required trainings can be made between interested refugee women initiatives in other cities, countries with members / employees of ISI.


Up-Scaling is the objective of the pilot that ISI proposes. The challenges facing refugee women especially and a number of other immigrant women with different legal status: married, divorced or separated from their spouses with children, without social networks, face similar issues. For these empowered and imaginative women, there is a need for an infrastructure that enables them to test their self-employment.  This could be an incubator with, co-working spaces that would be large enough to let several women use this for minimal or no rent until they earn enough to profit from their business venture. Space would be available for a large kitchen for catering, cooking and baking for events, business lunches, healthy foods for kindergartens and school canteens. As well as space for others to offer other products and services.  At the same time space should be available for an intercultural Kindergarten and Day Care Center.  This is first impetus for the pilot that ISI needs to develop within SIforREF.   This would be designed as complementary to the regular training program.  For this purpose co-creation workshops will be launched with current and former participants, refugee women themselves active in the field of self -organisation of refugee women’s concern and other experts in the field.


 immigrant and “refugee” women

Related Web site(s) of the practice   

Facebook and INSTAGRAM

Related reports and resources developed by the practice

Wilpert, C. Die Inititiative Selbständiger Immigrantinnen (ISI), IN: Ortsveränderungen: Perspecktiven weiblicher Participation und Raumaneigung, hrsg. Von Heider Andres Müller, Königsteil Taunus: Helmer Verlag 1999: 111-226.

Wilpert, C., Gutachten über Existenzgründung und kleines Unternehmertum bei Immigrantinnen in Berlin im Auftrag der Investitionsbank Berlin (Equal Credit-Programm)  in Zusammenarbeit  mit der „Initiative Selbständiger Immigrantinnen e.V.“ (I.S.I.e.V.) 2005. 

Wilpert, C.,  Wege zur sozialen und ökonomischenn Teilhabe, in: Pfeffer-Hoffmann, Ch. (Hrsg.). Profile der Neueeinwanderung 2017, Spezifische Herausforderungen der Arbeitsmarktintegration geflüchteter Frauen: 93-110.

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