By Sybille Fleischmann, Project Lead for Project Reconnect
"Call me Thomas," says Dr. Thomas von Rueden, shaking my hand with a grin. The fifty year-old man with gray-black curls leads the team of Asylplus, an organization that provides refugees access to education, and hopefully, to job prospects.
While answering my questions, Thomas sticks a silver-gray adhesive label with an inventory number on the back of a computer. The co-founder and chairman of Asylplus, located in Wackersberg, Germany, is losing no time. It's too important, what he and his organization are doing here.
In January 2016, Google.org and NetHope launched Project Reconnect to help refugees gain access to online education and information resources. The initiative provides 25,000 Chromebooks to organizations working with refugees in Germany. Google.org has funded the initiative with $5 million, and nonprofits were invited to apply for up to 5,000 Chromebooks for their work with refugees.
Asylplus, founded by Dr. Thomas von Rueden and Waltraud Haase, who initiated computer-based learning for refugees, was among the first organizations to receive Chromebooks.
"Where is the power supply for this Chromebook?" asks Thomas, who is looking around with impatience. "We will not issue any power supplies for everyday use, but only fully charged Chromebooks. Can we define this as a standard process?" He is learning from this experience.
While he is connecting one of the Chromebooks to Wi-Fi, he describes how he uses not only hardware but also Google applications for his organization. With the Google device management, Asylplus configures and manages all the Chromebooks with minimal effort from afar. Using Google Forms, he has developed surveys for other nonprofits who also plan to provide computer based trainings and loads the answers automatically in Google Spreadsheets.
"In Google Maps I have highlighted all locations of Asylplus deployments on a map of Germany with flags and inserted this on our website," says Thomas, who claims he is not computer-savvy.
His systematic approach is no surprise to anyone who knows the history of Dr. Thomas von Rueden. The serial entrepreneur in the biotech sector was on the board of several, even stock-listed companies for many years, and is very familiar with process optimization. What motivates someone like him to stand in the Public Library Gasteig in Munich and pull notebooks from cardboard boxes?
"In the past 24 months, more than 1 million people have sought refuge in Germany. They hope for a new life in Germany," explains Thomas. "Very often they first have to learn our language, receive vocational training and understand our culture, so that they have a professional perspective here. With Chromebooks, we offer programs for language learning and vocational training and provide an access ramp to the labor market."
In the 1930s, we in Germany saw what happened when too many people had no prospects; they become easy prey for extremists, says Thomas. "What we do here is very important for Germany," he concludes.