Katja Urbatsch

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2009


This profile was prepared when Katja Urbatsch was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Contrary to the commonly held belief that social mobility is a hallmark of modern society, children in Germany with non-academic parents are more than three times less likely to attend university compared to their peers with university graduate parents. Katja combats this trajectory by giving youth from lower income and educational backgrounds a collective identity. More importantly, she helps them overcome the specific challenges they face through a mentoring system that provides the support and information they need to obtain careers commensurate with their skill rather than their background.

Katja is working on three levels to achieve this. First, she is using the attention-grabbing label Arbeiterkind (meaning “working class child”) to give this group of adolescents an identity and a voice. Giving this group a name has created self awareness among the youngsters, sensitizing them to their roots as well as to the implications that their family backgrounds may have on their lives. In doing so, she transforms what was once a stigma into a badge of honor as kids recognize that they can be the first in their families to qualify for higher education.

Second, Katja builds up local networks of mentors to go into schools and specifically promote the possibility of attending university to pupils from families without a history of college education. These 1.300 mentors in 70 local chapters are generally university students who are the first in their families to study, but also include professors, study advisors and professionals outside university. The mentors are all keenly aware of the specific and often hidden obstacles young people face, including the complex challenge of children "overtaking" their parents, lacking financial support, and the general absence of guidance from parents.

Lastly, Katja has also created an online resource center and mentoring platform that compiles a wide range of information relevant to people starting university and provides practical how-to’s that are easy to understand.

Through direct outreach to her target group through a mentor system, the provision of information on her website, and through awareness and identity creation among underserved youth, Arbeiterkind.de systematically empowers a historically disenfranchised subset of German society. As such, it has the potential to profoundly change the composition of university students in Germany by broadening access to higher education.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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