Bernd Gebert is enabling youth to act as agents of change in a national movement, “Das macht Schule” (literally: “This is what school does” an idiom for “a practice, that becomes common”). Beginning with hands-on activities that yield quick but impacting success stories, Bernd uses these success triggers to build the youths’ sense of citizenship, unleash their potential, and connect them with each other. While building the youth movement, the children start their own initiatives in schools and communities, and prove to themselves and other pupils, teachers, parents, and communities what power they have to change their surroundings. Bernd builds support networks around schools and in the communities to take the initial momentum of self-help actions to a sustainable level and continuous attitude of “I and we can do” in society.
Die neue Idee
Bernd is cultivating a new generation of youth who have made the experience that they can shape the world thanks to quick, hands-on activities, supplemented by interactive web marketing. His nation-wide program, “Das macht Schule” provides the tools students need to start classroom renovation projects and other creative enterprises, and enables them to share advice and success stories with one another. Saddened by the lack of hope, confidence and initiative shared by most of Germany's students, Bernd sought a way to encourage students to trust their own abilities and discover their potential to make things happen. He begins with hands-on activities that yield quick but powerful results that give children greater confidence to pursue their own initiatives.
With most of Germany’s public schools in a state of disrepair, Bernd recognized an easy entry point for children to create change by initiating classroom renovation projects. The benefit is two-fold, as students discover what they can accomplish when given the necessary tools, and also experience the advantages of a brighter and more conducive learning environment.
Bernd engages strategic partners, corporations and local craftsmen to provide the students with pro-bono assistance, which in turn further integrates the movement into the community. Using a variety of marketing techniques, web 2.0 and media campaigns, Bernd is working to ignite a youth movement and inspire children of every age to make change. He plans to supplement the internet-based movement with an organizational structure that trains mediator students to act as representatives within their school or as ambassadors outside of it.
Public schools in Germany are notorious for their gray walls and often decrepit conditions. Accounting for more than 90 percent of all the country’s education facilities, they often lack the funding to support necessary renovation, and as a result, even basic equipment is typically old and shattered. While students spend most of their day in school, they are not encouraged to take initiative to better their surroundings, as responsibility is placed entirely in the hands of the administration. Thanks in part to this mindset, students widely see school and teachers as their natural enemies; unlike many schools in the U.S. and elsewhere, German schools rarely promote any sense of shared identity or school spirit.
Despite various examples to the contrary, most adults in Germany feel that children lack the skills to initiate and lead their own projects, believing that they are not yet “ready” to take on the responsibility. Rather than encourage children and young adults to experiment and take action, parents and teachers often fuel a sense of “can not do” by constantly reminding them to be careful and rely on adults. While surveys show that many children would like to get engaged, they often do not know how to begin, and consider it too complicated. As a result, Germany is missing out on a powerful resource whose contribution would readily benefit society.
Bernd’s strategy consists of two main pillars: Initiating high-impact student-led renovation projects, and expanding these efforts into a powerful nationwide movement, using the web to connect the students and facilitate cooperation
Renovating the typically drab classrooms with colorful paint provides a range of tasks for students to undertake, and results in a “warmer” learning environment where students can truly thrive. Students learn to be persuasive, as it is their responsibility to convince their school administrators and peers to join in. They are integral decision-makers at every stage, learning how to calculate a budget, fundraise, buy materials, and conduct the renovation.
Bernd is scaling his efforts through an interactive website www.das-macht-schule.net. There he provides tips for students on how to get started, how to renovate a classroom, and participants share their success stories and provide tips for other students. The initiatives as well as experienced students offer advice on how to convince classmates, teachers, and headmasters, to support their start-up activities, along with easy calculation tools and practical tips. The website allows them to upload pictures of their completed projects, and will soon enable them to directly exchange ideas and plan follow-up projects. Bernd also uses children’s testimonials to encourage students to engage in other projects, instructing them on how to build playgrounds, plant a community garden, and set up a solar panel.
The unique interactive features serve a dual marketing role, by providing an unusual hands-on outlet where children can create and change entries relevant to their projects, and where they will soon be able to chat and exchange ideas. He supplements his online outreach with regular advertisements in student magazines, and by constantly picking up interesting projects and new ideas of students that help him to stay in the news. For example, he has partnered with a television station so that students can document the process. Students receive a short introduction to the basic principles of reporting and working with a camera, and then do stories about their younger peers’ renovation projects, conducting interviews about how they did it. The films are then shown on the web platform, on regional television, and can also be used for school celebrations and other opportunities, providing both a marketing tool and an added incentive to get involved.
Bernd will implement a group of “mediator students,” who work voluntarily for “Das macht Schule” and are chosen by their peers to represent their interests and to reinforce the student-driven nature of the initiative. The mediator students will receive training and mentorship and become the spokespersons for “Das macht Schule” within and beyond their school. They both relay information to the schools, and communicate students’ ideas from the students back to the organization, so that it can better adapt to new developments. Bernd finances his organization through different sources: Pro-bono partnerships with web-design and web-hosting agencies, strategic business partnerships with companies looking to gain access to young target groups, i.e. sponsorship agreements. In the course of a year, his partnerships grew to include companies such as Max Bahr, a nationwide Do-it-yourself-chain, which provides students with advice and vouchers entitling them to a discount of 20 percent on all Do-it-yourself products, and the Walt Disney Company. Furthermore, he provides consulting and services to corporations and communties, such as the organization and support of Corporate Volunteering, or campaigns organized by students, such as energy saving days.
“Das macht Schule” began with a pilot program in 2005 in just five schools. The pilot proved equally successful among students of varying age and education levels, including those in typical “problem schools,” where there exist sizeable immigrant populations and whose students come from largely disadvantaged backgrounds. And while he encourages teachers and parents to support the students throughout the process, he insists that the project be student-driven and serve only as a first step toward long-term leadership. He considers the school renovation program a “Sprungbrett für mehr Tatkraft,” a springboard for more push and drive, and ultimately aims to create a self-sustaining mass movement of proven young leaders.
Born with an insatiable curiosity and desire to understand how things work and why, Bernd went back to school as mature student to read physical technology. He realized that he had an ability to explain complicated facts in simple words. He went on to found his own company, a consultancy which specialized in compressing complicated manuals and instruction guides into a form that could be easily understood by the general public. He always thought that technology and science have to be accessible for people, otherwise they are useless, and consequently built the expertise to simplify the use of technical products. He was especially successful in changing instruction leaflets into easily readable marketing instruments and earned a reputation as a PR and communication specialist. He later sold his company and worked as a freelance specialist for marketing communication, honing his communication skills through careful observation of people. He particularly focused on understanding how people relate to the world around them, and behavioral differences between various categories of people, whether men and women, extroverts and introverts, natural leaders and followers, or adults and children. After watching a television campaign initiated by German companies that encouraged people to “do something”, he began to brainstorm what was truly required to move people to take action. In particular, he recalled the well-recognized impact of children, who successfully encouraged their parents to start rubbish recycling. Having at the same time noticed the poor conditions of the schools in Hamburg that his friend’s children attended, he came up with the idea of “Das macht Schule.”