Positive and ambitious energy follows Flo wherever he goes. His go-getter attitude and consistent drive to be better, work harder and provide more for others, is a constant reminder to the Kiron community of what real passion looks like. As a triplet with two sisters, Flo learned at a young age to both love being surrounded by others, as well as how to negotiate and see different perspectives. By the age of 14, Flo had already begun to discover what would become his lifelong passion – how to help disadvantaged people get access to better opportunities, improve their lives, and most importantly, how to access education. From being a youth leader in his hometown in Bavaria by age 17 to working with the indigenous minority of the San in South Africa, Flo finally found his place as Kiron’s Director of Education where he fulfills his dreams of providing open higher education to refugees.
- Tell us about your journey
I grew up in a small town in Bavaria, close to Nürnberg. As a triplet with two sisters, I learned to always love being together with people from the very beginning. I love my sisters, but being a triplet also prepared me for a life of continuous negotiation of different perspectives. We are each very different, Christina is an Engineer, and Kathrin is a teacher, nevertheless, we continue to support each other. I believe that learning to care for each other is something that really develops when you are always surrounded by others. Because of that, I started engaging with my community and doing youth work from early age on. By 17, I was a youth representative in my hometown for the city youth council, where I was deputy chairperson of an organization with a staff of 10 taking care of youth clubs, outreach work and many great projects passionately working to enhance development opportunities to disadvantaged youth in my community. On a local level I learned how important political negotiation and compromising is. One of my focuses was internationalization, as I organized youth exchanges, a passion that led me to my own year abroad after I finished school. I spent a year in South Africa working with the indigenous minority of the San at a cultural center close to Cape Town. During my year abroad, but also a few years later as a teacher in Namibia, I learned a lot about global inequalities but also local inequalities within societies, an issue I also increasingly realized back in Germany.
Later, at the University of Passau, I studied Governance and Public Policy, European Studies, Secondary School Education and Educational Sciences. During my studies in Passau, I became politically engaged, also with a focus on the internationalization of higher education. On a local level, I was a member of “Asylum Café” where we supported refugees coming into Germany through Austria long before 2015.
In 2015 I finished my studies and started working as a research assistant in teacher education. Through a scholarship program, that supported me during my studies, I learned about Kiron in August 2015. Because of the experiences I faced advising international students at university and my experiences from supporting refugees, Kiron’s idea of opening up education through digital solutions became an immediate inspiration to me.
It was in early September 2015 that we successfully pitched for a fellowship program for Kiron: “Herausforderungen Unternehmertum” that was sponsored by the Foundation of German Business and Heinz Nixdorf Foundation. Through this fellowship program, I became part of Kiron being responsible for quality assurance and research in my early voluntary days.
- What is your role at Kiron?
As Director of Education I am responsible for our proof of concept In Germany. I work with an incredibly dedicated team on Kiron’s curriculum and tutorial development, quality assurance in digital learning environments, academic partnerships and successful transfers of our students to higher education institutions and try to contribute to research on digital solutions for refugee integration. I also lead and coordinate several projects with governmental and non-governmental sponsors. My favorite is INTEGRAL+, a project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, where I am responsible for coordinating with our amazing partner universities, RWTH Aachen and FH Lübeck. In quite an unusual setting, bringing a start-up, a university and a university of applied sciences together, we established a very collaborative and trustful approach to further open up higher education in Germany, with a focus on refugees and digitalization.
What I really like about my job is that on a daily basis, I work both on a political level with policy stakeholders, sponsors, industries and partner universities, but also get to share very personal experiences with our students. I believe that without the personal connection to our students, Kiron cannot be successful and I personally cannot be good at what I do. All policy-making, research, and innovation should follow such “real-world-laboratory” approaches. I also work with a very dedicated team of experienced individuals, who come from diverse international backgrounds in higher education and research, and who really push me every day in moving our educational program forward, in order to best cater the needs of our students.
- What is your vision for Kiron?
My vision for Kiron is that by achieving successful student stories for a large number of refugees, who put a lot of hope in us, we also contribute to opening up higher education in general. We are currently exploring new digital pathways into higher education and setting the framework for quality standards and sustainable impact that can really lead to systemic change. The great part of this is, that we can and will never do this on our own, but as a proud part of dedicated communities in the field of open education and digitalization.
- Kiron means to me..
Kiron means to me passion and dedication for opening up education. To me, Kiron’s role is building bridges between students and universities. Kiron’s role is to be a curator, a facilitator, an innovator and sometimes also a critical and uncomfortable partner to jointly bring about change.
- What are the challenges that you are facing?
Internally, one of the biggest challenges that we face is effectively catering the needs of each individual within a very diverse student body. We have developed a program, that is highly suitable for very specific types of learners, but we need to improve every day to overcome all challenges coming along with online learning environment. Externally, we are lucky to have such strong support from more than 50 partner universities and other stakeholders like the Hochschulforum Digitalisierung. But at the same time, we also see that there is still some reluctance on the recognition of digital learning. I sometimes feel that there are different standards applied to online and offline settings. In the end, it is all about trust. We have built even more credibility in order to make sure that stakeholders trust us and trust our students, who are wonderful examples of what one can actually achieve when only given the chance to do so.
- What do you enjoy most about your work?
Kiron challenges me every day. I have incredibly inspiring colleagues with very different backgrounds and I also meet outstanding students every week, who inspire me through their individual dreams, hopes, opinions, and feedback for my work. Being part of this diverse environment that never stops, never stays the same is a once-in-a-lifetime gift!
- What was your favorite moment at Kiron so far?
There is not only one moment but many favorite moments! Most of all, when I get informed about yet another successful student transfer to university. Making access to higher education institutions possible is what we work and live for, and it is the greatest satisfaction that we get to see at the end of the day.
- Describe yourself in one sentence?
I am a passionate and dedicated open education enthusiast who loves achieving great impact in inspiring teams through digital solutions. Also, I am a quality assurance nerd and, you wouldn’t believe, it is possible to combine that.
- What do you like to do in your free time?
When I have time, I play the guitar. I also used to play the trumpet, but unfortunately have not really done so since I moved to Berlin last year. For me it is important to spend time with my niece whenever possible, however, it is unfortunately not as often as I’d like, due to my Kiron commitments. Also, I choose to be very politically involved in several initiatives and moreover work as an accreditation and evaluation expert for higher education institutions and, nowadays very rarely, as an intercultural trainer for European youth exchanges.
- Some last words for Kiron…
Finding the balance between being an innovative EdTech startup and a sustainable and quality education provider is not easy. But looking at our students and working together with our many great partners, I see, that this balance is not only exactly the right way forward, but we are really making it happen!