Fellow_Mimoun Berrisoun
Ashoka Fellow seit 2022   |   Germany

Mimoun Berrissoun

Mimoun envisions a renewed future for the outcast of German society, namely the immigrant youth with a Muslim background. This youth group tends to become apathetic or join extremist groups due to…
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This description of Mimoun Berrissoun's work was prepared when Mimoun Berrissoun was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2022.


Mimoun envisions a renewed future for the outcast of German society, namely the immigrant youth with a Muslim background. This youth group tends to become apathetic or join extremist groups due to years-long discrimination, biases, and mistrust they experience within society. Mimoun is creating opportunities for these young people to become changemakers within their communities, transforming deep-rooted perceptions about them from the rest of society. Through 180 Grad Wende, Mimoun and his team create pathways for young people to take action on the issues closest to their communities.

Die neue Idee

Being a second-generation immigrant himself, Mimoun realizes that the solutions to the migrants’ problems should emerge within those communities. By organizing a grassroots movement across Germany, Mimoun recruits young people with an urge to contribute to society and then helps them help others by organizing activities on the most urgent issues in their communities.

180 Grad Wende (180 Degrees Turn) acts as a hub of solutions and tools for immigrant youth to join and co-lead this movement. There are three roles for these motivated youth: Becoming a coach, a multiplier, or a keeper. Coaches are people who are respected in their community, and they go through a recruitment process and training with 180 Grad Wende. Multipliers are often youth with no specific position or recognition in their community but are eager to change the status quo for other immigrant youth. Coaches act as organizers and mentors, whereas multipliers create a peer-to-peer system that works to recruit and engage many more. On the other hand, keepers build independent projects with the help of 180 Grad Wende’s network to tackle their local issues.

In a society where the only role deemed to immigrant youth is ending up as criminals and extremists, Mimoun creates a positive cycle for these youngsters to lead their communities’ healing journey. 180 Grad Wende also supports these emerging leaders with a strong network of allies and the mindset shift work they run with institutions in the background. Once the police, the teachers, and the judges of a town are aware of the 180 Grad Wende youth, they do not only know who to reach out to when they see a kid at risk, but they also realize the power of these young people to create positive change when given the opportunity. The contribution of professionals is critical for the continuation of the work as the model is only impactful when cross-sectoral, multi-stakeholder solutions emerge in immigrant communities.

Das Problem

Germany has the biggest immigrant population in the European Union, followed by France and Spain. Up to 20 million people, a quarter of the country’s population, are first- or second-generation immigrants. Half of these immigrants are the second generation, meaning they were born in Germany to parents born elsewhere. Second-generation immigrants often suffer an identity crisis for not having a home country to return to and not feeling fully part of German society due to their native language, religious belief, skin color, etc. The youth within the second-generation immigrant population constitutes a big part of at-risk groups considered to be inclined to radicalization and destructive behavior. The rising extremism across Europe and the increasing Islamophobia in the Western world¾following the 9/11 events¾push immigrant youth with a Muslim background to the more dangerous edges.

Institutional racism and prejudices against Muslims and non-White individuals in German society became more evident over recent years. The German police have been accused of practicing racial profiling . Feelings of social isolation, alienation, humiliation, and persistent inferiority complexes emerge among youth due to discrimination against the Muslim identity. Such polarizing factors may contribute to destructive behaviors and make individuals receptive to radical propaganda. Radical groups may offer them a sense of belonging and answers to existential questions.

In 2021, 10.6% of all 15- to 34-year-olds in Germany were neither in employment nor in education or training . In vulnerable positions of distrust, discrimination, and unemployment, the youth are more receptive to drug and alcohol abuse and extremist propaganda . There’s a lack of natural meeting points between the majority society and the youth . Because of this, youth can’t identify themselves with the existing support mechanisms offered by the majority society.

Youth with Muslim beliefs, who distance themselves from the majority society, tend to trust religious institutions like mosques because these institutions have better access to these youth groups than the regular system, due to a general sense of trust and belonging¾ they are in contact regularly and establish a personal relationship with them. Mimoun sees an opportunity to leverage the community power of Imams and other respected young members of the community to reduce the risk of marginalization for immigrant groups.

Die Strategie

Mimoun is generating social impact by leveraging the network effect created through deploying his strategy at three levels : giving young people a new role to play, getting institutions to accept and enable youth leadership, and growing organically through communities.

With 180 Grad Wende, young people do not only become receivers of a community-based program, but they also become its co-leaders. First of all, everyone enters the network via their friends and relatives. Programs welcome everyone, with a specific focus on the youth at risk. Their first interaction with 180 Grad Wende includes speaking with a coach or a counselor, then they attend facilitated conversations on that region’s urgent problems. These could include a workshop with police on democratic rights, or a course by one of the coaches about countering hate speech. Topics like racism, practicing democracy, critical thinking, and detecting the signs of extremism are usually covered in all communities. As a person spends more time in the community they can become a multiplier, a coach, or a keeper.

Multipliers are every young person engaging in the network, they are usually the number one salespeople of the idea, convincing more and more young people to join. Among the multipliers, some become coaches. These are charismatic persons who for example thanks to successful school attendance or societal engagement can be seen as role models in the community. The coaches act as mediators between the youth and the majority society, from which many have turned away because of previous troubles or exclusion experiences. The coaches are guides to existing youth services and help with study guidance, job search, and ad-hoc questions and needs. Keepers are young people who receive financial and administrative support to develop and implement independent projects against radicalization. The projects are in different ways furthering democracy and preventing radicalization. The goal is to provide keepers with as much start-help as they need to continue developing and leading the project independently.

Once young members of 180 Grad Wende reintegrate into their communities and carry on with their everyday life and naturally meet other youth, they act as an early warning system for violent behavior. They are represented at schools, sport clubs, mosques, and common meeting places for youth. They are therefore able to detect youth at risk of radicalization at an early stage and refer them to 180 Grad Wende, which offers an alternative to destructive paths. Since both the young coaches and 180 Grad Wende’s multipliers share an identity with the youth and meet them at eye level, they convey a feeling of empowerment, understanding and trust instead of subordinance, fear, or pity. Thanks to its deep roots in the community, the organization is constantly updated on trends, groups, and ideologies that might endanger youth. The multipliers are also natural recruiters of new youth to the organization, which has grown organically at a steady pace since its foundation.

Working with institutions, 180 Grad Wende prioritizes the professionals who interact with youth on a regular basis. Teachers, police officers, and judges constitute a huge part of their institutional work. Mimoun not only aims for these institutional actors to become aware of how their work directly impacts this youth’s integration into society but also wants them to change their misconceptions and be active supporters of the young leaders. In order to achieve this goal, these professionals are first invited to the trainings organized by the 180 Grad Wende team, then they are asked to practice empathy and open-mindedness towards the risk youth while going about their daily tasks. Once these steps are completed, these professionals start to co-lead the movement with the youth by giving trainings, helping them organize events, and being their go-to person for specific issues. These workshops are many of the youth’s first positive encounters with the police or the state. It is an important part of 180 Grad Wende’s strategy to build trust and bridges between the youth and the majority society.

Prison guards in 36 institutions, 100 policemen, 1,000 teachers, many social workers, and immigration officers have gone through these steps so far. 180 Grad Wende has newly started and is facilitating a network of teachers with immigration history. Their main purpose is to build intercultural competence within the system and find ways to give youth from disadvantaged communities prospects.

The last piece of strategy leverages the network effect created by the whole movement. 180 Grad Wende grew organically thus far, mainly due to the network members recruiting others to join in. Youth bring new youth, prison guards convince their institution to get a training, teachers encourage their students to check out Mimoun’s organization’s work. Now this effect and the impact is leveraged to change the perception of the majority society toward Muslim youth. State institutions used to call the team of 180 Grad Wende when they had to manage the case of Muslim immigrant youth; over time they learned about the approach of building shared trust and not getting into a confrontation with youngsters. Such learnings were so impactful that municipalities and state institutions started to invite 180 Grad Wende to the working groups around immigrant youth’s issues. Mimoun is often highlighted in media, discussing the importance of eradicating extremism on all fronts. The positive results of this work were recognized by multiple national and international awards. A few examples are the German Engagement Award in 2018, UNAOC’s Intercultural Innovation Award in 2019, Mevlüde Genc Medal in 2020, and the bpd’s Wir ist Plural Price in 2021.

During the pandemic, 180 Grad Wende focused on individual support and found alternative ways to engage their network. Although training and education offers were limited during 2021 and 2022, six workshops were carried out on the following topics: Intercultural competence for teachers, prejudices for pupils, and empowerment for 180 Grad Wende’s keepers. In total, 204 participants answered the organization’s survey, which gives a clear picture of the impact:

• 90% would like to get more involved in prejudice and intercultural competence topics.
• 92% said that the training had a practical relevance for them.
• 94% would recommend the training to others.
• 81% became motivated to reflect on their own perspective critically.

180 Grad Wende is currently present in 30 cities and smaller towns in Germany. They have reached more than 100.000 people, educated more than 500 multipliers and 100 coaches, and helped more than 350 youth with labor market integration and educational guidance. There are now more than 60 keepers in 22 cities who are in charge of their own projects and scaling the work that 180 Grad Wende is doing.

Die Person

Solid values and attitudes towards life characterize Mimoun's life and development. Helping others and standing up for others were always precious virtues in his family. In addition, his experiences in various cultural circumstances and social classes have trained and sharpened his sense of justice.

As the child of Moroccan Muslim parents who came to Germany in the late 1950s, he was one of the very few children with an immigrant background who was recommended to pursue the German gymnasium. He quickly learned that prospects and opportunities often had nothing to do with talent but were significantly influenced by the socio-economic realities of neighborhoods. He experienced discrimination firsthand because of prejudices, often from teachers. No matter how much he adapted to the majority society and how hard he tried, he received a lower grade than his equally good German classmates. He was also constantly put in positions where he had to speak up against Muslim-influenced violence.

Above all, Mimoun’s societal engagement can be traced back to all his encounters with young people who have fallen by the wayside, as he describes it. As a teenager, Mimoun had the impression that more and more people with a migration background or difficult socioeconomic circumstances were unable to develop their potential and were behaving self-destructively, choosing criminal paths, or falling prey to radicalization.

Particularly formative for Mimoun was the story of a young man he once met in the mosque. Mimoun had always perceived him as a very active young person. He was committed to the community and Mimoun knew him as a well-behaved person who used to recite the Koran in front of the congregation. One day, Mimoun met the young man at a bus stop. He explains to Mimoun that he had problems with registering himself for school and will not be able to graduate because of this. The job center, he said, had given him little hope of finding a job. Later, Mimoun learned that the young man had joined a radicalized community that convinced him to leave Germany. He later died in Yemen in a drone attack. Mimoun often wonders what would have happened to the young man if he had simply helped him with the school registration problem at the bus stop back then.

Ultimately, the death of a young person of Moroccan origin in Mimoun's neighborhood caused Mimoun to take action. The young man was stabbed to death by a German person and the act was classified as self-defense by the police and the public prosecutor's office. However, the victim’s family, friends and neighbors were convinced this was not an act of self-defense but rather a hate crime or assault. Migrant diasporas and Muslim communities in Germany accused the authorities of state racism. Mass demonstrations demanded that the German state must stop their special treatment of German perpetrators compared to Muslims. The then 21-year-old student Mimoun presented an idea to the police in Cologne, based on this conviction that peers with migration backgrounds and remarkable personal achievements in German society¾like completing their studies or finding a job¾should serve as mediators and role models for others. Mimoun urged the police to involve these groups as experts and mediators to support the police and the state in conflict situations like this. As a result, Mimoun became part of a working group that resolved the ongoing violent conflict. With his degree in social science, he developed communication training for young people and the police. This initiative did later evolve into his organization 180 Grad Wende.