I’ve spent the last few days in Germany in the cities of Hamburg and Berlin. There were a few preconceived notions I had about Germans that are actually based in reality: They are very punctual—adhering to strict, regimented schedules. They also love meat (as a vegetarian, I was a bit horrified when confronted with a salad tossed with blood pudding).
Yet, there is another aspect to Germany that I did not expect: They are quite focused on equality and social safety nets for the most vulnerable in their society. That focus also includes diversity in its awakening tech startup scene.
Using Tech to Aid Refugees
Many are aware of the refugee crisis. People are pouring out of Syria—bloodied, broken, and terrified from endless conflict. Germany, under the guidance of leader Angela Merkel, has embraced thousands of Syrians fleeing from a nightmare—even with pushback from some German citizens.
While America elected a new president whose dictate focuses on closing borders to those trying to escape suffering in their homelands, Germany is using a blend of compassion and technology to help Syrian refugees.
I learned about the Refugee First Response Medical Center, medical emergency facilities with “smart technology,” from Cisco. The center is used to care for refugees, many of whom are in medical distress after fleeing their countries. These medical facilities were converted from 20-foot shipping containers. Using Cisco technology, medical personnel can communicate with patients in over 50 languages, reducing the need to find and retain human interpreters. The centers also have Wi-Fi.
Diversity and Inclusion in Germany’s Most Diverse Cities
That sense of social responsibility is making its way into Germany’s still rather nascent, yet quickly booming startup scene.
I met one innovative fintech startup in the city of Hamburg that uses artificial intelligence to generate loans for the underbanked—mostly to those in underdeveloped, remote parts of the world. Kreditech’s CEO and co-founder Alexander Graubner-Müller says that the typical loan approval process relying on credit checks is “broken.” He thinks that there are other ways to determine whether someone is loan-worthy. And for him, the massive amount of data individuals amass and create daily, is the answer.
“More and more data is being produced in the world but there’s not enough to make credit decisions?” asks Graubner-Müller, somewhat incredulously and sarcastically. He cited small business owners that his startup helped secure funding; people turned down by traditional banks, including a woman who owns a small restaurant in Mexico and a freelance graphic designer in Poland who could not afford to purchase business equipment. Kredittech is looking into other emerging markets to offer its service, including Nigeria.
It’s not surprising perhaps, that the one startup that really had a defined strategy for diversifying its workforce is in Berlin. Berlin is Germany’s capital and regarded by many as the country’s most cosmopolitan and multicultural city.
The startup is Wooga, a gaming company that makes mobile hits including Diamond Dash, Farm Time, and Bubble Island.
Wooga’s PR Manager, Maike Steinweller, provided insight into the company’s diversity numbers. “We have over 250 employees that represent over 40 nationalities,” says Steinweller.
Out of those employees, about five are people of color. Thirteen percent of its engineers are female, and 31% of overall staff is also female. Those are diversity statistics that surpass even some of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies.
Steinweller says that the company has implemented a strategy to not only further diversify its workforce but also to retain non-traditional employees. These include training on unconscious bias, obtaining regular feedback from all employees, and ensuring that every single employee has a voice in the company.
Wooga is also very involved in hosting events and hackathons with organizations (some of which are counterparts to American ones) such as Girls Who Code and others dedicated to getting girls involved in tech and particularly, gaming.
As I walked around Germany, mostly in Berlin, I saw constant reminders of some of the cruelest atrocities in world history, including memorials dedicated to the millions of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust and the remnants of the Berlin Wall, which sliced the country right down the middle, separating its eastern citizens from its western citizens—from its hasty erection in 1961 to its celebrated fall in 1989.
Perhaps it’s those horrific experiences that inspire Germans to keep striving for equality for all its residents and those who seek refuge.
The Tech 100 is an opinion column that looks at race, religion, sex, politics, and business, in terms of technology, because they are all connected, somehow. Follow Samara Lynn at @samaralynn