Meinrad Armbruster

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2008
Eltern AG


This profile was prepared when Meinrad Armbruster was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
In 2000, an important study of OECD countries found that in Germany, there is a very strong correlation between parents’ class and educational background and the social position of their children. This finding sent shockwaves through Germany and shook the national myth of equal opportunity. While the official reaction was to focus on reforming curricula and the school system as a whole, Meinrad began tackling the problem from a different angle: He believes it is crucial to work with the parents of disadvantaged children as early as possible, because they most influence their children in the formative years before they enter school.

Where others have failed, Meinrad succeeds in reaching poor, undereducated working class parents in depressed areas who have fallen through the German social safety net. He attracts these parents (with children under seven years old) who are typically wary of state welfare services, by offering peer-to-peer parenting support groups, by building ingenious local networks to refer and welcome young parents, and by offering tangible incentives to participate (such as free childcare). His program, Eltern AG (parenting community), allows parents to seek help and advice while avoiding the stigma of institutional welfare dependence.

Meinrad’s community-based, self-help parenting training program empowers poor, isolated parents to form peer networks, to learn alternatives to domestic violence and neglect, and to become loving, capable parents for their children. He has carefully developed his training method, in which moderators focus first on the things that these parents do well, and let them learn from each others’ successes. Trainers quickly involve the parents in running individual group sessions. Working with local partners, Meinrad then links the parents into self-perpetuating community networks—which include doctors, schoolteachers, kindergartens, and childcare organizations. He thus helps his target group overcome their social isolation and improves their children’s prospects. Meinrad has begun spreading these networks—along with his parenting schools—throughout several of the most depressed regions of Eastern Germany.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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