With her warm smile, caring spirit and special way of hugging Kironistas on a daily basis, it is no wonder that Julia is so often referred to as “Kirons Mum”. Growing up in a small town near Augsburg, her journey with Kiron began in Bavaria. Starting with her passionate work for a youth organization, Julia always felt the need to help and empower others. This path led her to study Psychology in Konstanz and later on follow a Master Program in Applied Psychology in Toronto, Canada. During her studies in Canada, she started to be interested in social businesses: she volunteered for the social organization Options for Homes in Canada and wrote her master thesis back home in Munich at FamPlus, a platform that supports families with childcare. Then Julia found Kiron and Kiron found Julia during the founding months of Kiron in 2015. With the exceptional situation at Munich central station during that time, Julia soon decided to build up Kiron’s first regional group Kiron Munich. Having joined Kiron as one of the first team members, she not only helped to set up Kiron Munich, but established Kiron’s Mentoring- and Buddy-Program, took the lead for Kirons Student Services and today puts her big heart into managing Kirons Human Resources. Read the interview with her to find out more about her journey and why she will leave Kiron in March 2018.
- Tell us about your journey
I think my passion to support refugees accessing higher education was already influenced by my family background. My great-grandmother was a refugee herself, she had to flee her home and came from Sudetenland to Germany. She and my grandmother both had a big influence on me, since they were raising me together with my mom. I learned from them that everything I own has to come from my own energy and drive. Both my great-grandmother and my grandmother never had the opportunity to access higher education. Hence, they always pushed me to follow my goals and shaped my ambitious personality.
The social focus of always wanting to take care of others however came from my mother. She took care of everyone in our community. I grew up in Bobingen near Augsburg. From age 16 on I had already started engaging in community work: I led a Kolping youth group and had the honor to support teens from age 9 to 18, while at the same time also training other youth leaders. Since I had always been passionate about the social sector, I decided to study Psychology. Later, my interest in the topic of migration led me to the student organisation Studies Without Borders where I led internal workshops about postcolonial theory and engaged in our work in crisis regions. The next important step of my journey was Toronto where I did my Master in Applied Psychology, with a focus on Learning and Change in Social Organizations. I soon realized that I would like to work in a social organization after my studies. Therefore, I wrote my master thesis in a social business, FamPlus, a platform supporting employees in finding a Kita placement and helping with one on one consulting.
While, I was still in Canada I had already read my first article about Kiron, but it was not until an online posting in my network as a scholar of the Foundation of German Business (sdw, Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft) that I reached out to Kiron myself. Before I knew it, I decided to join the crazy bunch of people in Berlin and help build up this revolutionary idea. I still remember the vibrant atmosphere, in this rear building in Kreuzberg at the office of the Social Impact Lab, where everything started. We were just about to launch our big Crowdfunding Campaign. I met Vincent, Markus, Sophie, Willi, Flo and so many more – an energetic bunch of highly committed people, working day and night. In this first week at Kiron, Flo and I created a storyline about Kiron for our joint pitch for the program for founding teams Herausforderung Unternehmertum of the Foundation of German Business (sdw) and the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation where we managed to get our first major funding and furthermore received team trainings. It was like a different world! The unique spark of young entrepreneurship and a great idea set fire.
With the situation at Munich central station, with all refugees arriving in Munich during that time I soon decided that we needed Kiron Munich. So, I got started and managed to pull together some volunteers in a café in Munich. I remember placing white sheets of paper with different working packages on a big table and everyone eagerly grabbed several sheets and started to help. From that moment on, we built up our Kiron Munich team and I travelled back and forth between Berlin and Munich to coordinate. Before we had a proper office, we used to sneak into the Latin Faculty at the LMU Munich, where one of our Kiron volunteers was working. Finally, in January 2016, we managed to get an office and started kicking off our Buddy Program.This is how everything got started and how my journey led me to Kiron.
- What is your Role at Kiron?
This is a very difficult question because Kiron has been in constant flux. Right now, I am responsible for the Human Resources Department. However, having been part of Kiron from the very beginning as Head of Munich Office and Student Services, I still see myself being engaged on so many different areas in the organization. From May 2016 on, we were given the unique window of opportunity to apply for a relatively big volume of federal ministry that corresponded with the ability to hire more people. Our organization more than doubled in its size from June until November 2016 through several funds that enabled that Kiron could grow. Because I saw one of the biggest challenges of the organisation to staff so many high-professional positions within such a short time frame, I took charge of Human Resource and built up our organizational structures. I was happy to work with supportive colleagues from other departments that supported the hiring process as we had no HR team back then but just one person. For building the organizational structure together with the founders, I could draw from my study background of organisational and work psychology in the context of social organizations. However, rapid growth is always very challenging for such a young organization! I introduced the HR Management Software Personio, designed professional recruiting processes with pro bono consultants from Kienbaum and organized our first team meetings and events with Kironistas and students coming together from all over the world.
Since the last half year, Kiron has reached a new stage in organizational development. A lot of things that we have once build up from scratch have now turned into a more stable and professional organization. We managed to fulfill the purpose to set up all important organizational processes, rules and structures after more than two years of existence. It was a huge pleasure and connected with a whole lot of learnings for my professional career helping stabilizing the organizational setup. Now after this successful transformation I want to leave the field of HR, hand over the established structures to great people to follow this professionalization process and move on to new challenges where I can draw from all my experiences in such a special social enterprise in other professional contexts. This is why decided to leave Kiron end of March 2018.
- What is your Mission for Kiron?
Throughout my – still young – life I experienced that life-long education is key in order to always be open for new experiences, fresh ideas and different perspectives. For me, open online education can really help to widen access to knowledge and great content. It makes me happy to see how many of our students take this opportunity new technologies are providing. I think Kiron is a new approach to make higher education accessible for everyone. I believe, that Kiron can inspire ideas for platforms, community formats and selected, quality assured curricula for an even larger target group that has disadvantages in access to higher education.
- Kiron means to me…
Kiron means: Family! During the last 2.5 years I have lived through tremendous personal development. I have learned a lot about myself and others, especially how much more you can establish if you are intrinsically motivated for a cause and if you can keep a positive spirit even when things feel stuck or frustrating.
- What are the challenges you are facing?
At first, when you listen to my story, Kiron always has this fantastic, motivating, self-fulfilling start-up charm. However, new Kironistas joining the organization now step into a grown organization with established processes and cultural settings. It is great to see this professionalization in order to best serve the needs of our students but it is of course a different spirit compared to the initial Kiron drive of creative chaos me and others from the team that know Kiron since the beginning experienced. Kiron is a job, an organization and not just a dream anymore. The dream could only be realized by a professionally working engine. I believe the challenge is now that we need to include again more passion for our cause into everyone’s everyday work life – both holding on to this initial energy while still driving forward!
- What do you enjoy most about your work?
Through the recruiting process I can dive into different fields and working areas at Kiron. I get to know so much about many fascinating people in extremely demanding roles and what great things they are doing every day. Ultimately, however it is not the people that I am working with but the people that we are doing this for that really drive my motivation!
- What was your favorite moment at Kiron so far?
Just a few weeks ago, I was able to conduct a Time and Self-Management Workshop at Kirons Community Weekend. The workshop was set for volunteers and students and again, I realized how much I love to facilitate the development of new ideas, structures and thought processes together with a team. Encouraging the empowerment of volunteers and students, with each group facing similar problems and seeking the same solutions is very powerful. I was amazed to see how eager everyone was, how everyone wanted to learn something, and how afterwards they had directly applied the content they had just learned. This was a very emotional moment.
- Describe yourself in own sentence:
I am this school teacher who takes pictures of her school kids on the first school day in order to hang them in front of her desk at home to smile every morning while being quite firm at school as soon as she enters the class. I think this would be the best metaphor to describe me since a lot of people perceive me to be strict and firm in professional settings as HR Manager, however at the same time, truly caring. My main interest is the personal development of each and every one of our team members and students. And, just a little secret: I always wanted to be a teacher when I was little, so maybe this inspired some behaviours.
- Who are you outside of Kiron?
I am a very relaxed and fun person and I do a lot of sports like Ski-Touring, Contact Dance or Yoga and I love music. I go to concerts quite often, play piano and I danced Hip Hop and sang in a Rock Band for quite a while. I am still that secret rock girl, which not everyone would expect here at Kiron, I believe. I am the one that is jumping around at festivals, goes crazy in board game nights and impro theater sessions and loves the chaotic life outside of work to compensate for some over-motivated late night work sessions. But there is, for sure, also in my personal life the caring side that is important. Some Kironistas know that I have supported to raise the little baby of my best friend in Munich together with her in my first year at Kiron and everyone at Kiron has always been so supportive for this extraordinary situation! Friends and family are always priority number one next to all those big social challenges that I am eager to tackle by working together with many more social entrepreneurs in the upcoming years.
- Some last words for Kiron…
We should let the magic happen: Let us set aside personal priorities and opinions and head into one direction together!