co-founder, Welcome to Falkensee; operating partner, ArchiMed
In five or ten years from now, I want to be able to say I’ve been an integral part in welcoming refugees to my hometown.
Throughout his career, Christoph Böhmer has worked in industries in the midst of drastic change. At McKinsey in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he consulted with defense electronics companies as a wave of peace decimated their business models, and with telecommunications firms adapting to deregulation. Later, as a managing director at Biotronik, a maker of stents, pacemakers, and defibrillators, he witnessed the commoditization of medical devices and their markets. “The summary is I’ve been in places that in a matter of years looked completely different,” he says.
After Böhmer retired in 2014, the drastic change happened much closer to home. As the war in Syria raged, violence in Afghanistan increased, and religious persecution in Iran intensified, millions of people fled these countries and arrived in Europe seeking asylum. Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders and the country handled the influx in the orderly and technocratic way one might expect: it used an algorithm to distribute the refugees among cities and towns across the country. Böhmer’s town of Falkensee, a rural suburb on the western outskirts of Berlin, was slated to receive eight hundred.
Böhmer saw this news for what it was: a chance to be on the good side of a historic migration of vulnerable humans. “I said to myself, ‘In five or ten years from now, I want to be able to say I’ve been an integral part in welcoming refugees to my hometown,’” he recalls. In part, he was motivated by cases where refugees in Germany had been attacked and killed by xenophobic citizens—he wanted to do his best to make sure that didn’t happen in his hometown. And, more prosaically, “I was simply curious,” he says, “and I had the time to live out my curiosity.”
In mid-2015, Böhmer joined the nascent volunteer effort to resettle the fifty or sixty refugees in Falkensee. Two months later, as it became clear that hundreds more refugees would be arriving soon, Böhmer was asked to help lead a re-organization of the volunteer group, which became known as Welcome to Falkensee. The name of the group was deliberately vague, because the initial organizers agreed that it should serve anyone who needed help, not just refugees. In addition to providing assistance to a broader population, the openness of the organization preempted any criticism about helping foreigners at the expense of local residents.
As one of the leaders of the group, Böhmer approached the re-organization project as if he were leading a business unit, creating working groups on medical care, local customs and resources, education, transportation, and a half-dozen other topics. Overlaid on those groups was a non-authoritarian decision-making and coordination structure suitable for a grassroots entity. Eventually, the group grew to five hundred volunteers—the largest citizens movement in town. Together, they serve the four hundred refugees currently living in Falkensee and neighboring towns. The town expects to welcome more refugees in the coming months, but the rate of arrival has slowed. While the reasons for fleeing Syria are as numerous as ever, the refugees are largely being held on the African continent or in Turkey and Greece—fewer and fewer are making it to Europe.
Those who have made it to Falkensee, Böhmer says, face at least a year of adjusting to their new environment, both physically and mentally. Today, many of the refugees are on the other side of that transition, going to work or attending school—a hard won normality.
Böhmer has called on his Tuck experience repeatedly during his work with Welcome to Falkensee. “I learned how to tackle a big problem by structuring it into a set of smaller problems,” he says, “and to understand the options, prioritize them, and find a structural solution—either in terms of organization or process.” He also learned to be flexible, because circumstances change and demand new solutions. “The requirements of what we thought we had to do changed over time,” he says of his refugee work, “so we discontinued some parts of the organization and started new projects with new working groups.”
Hundreds of refugees have Böhmer to thank, indirectly, for their new life. But for three young men, that connection is more obvious. One is an Iranian who had converted from Islam to Christianity and was being persecuted in the temporary camp in Falkensee. Another is a Syrian who was being passed back and forth between two German counties that didn’t want him. And the third is an Afghan who fled Afghanistan without his parents and needed a legal guardian. Böhmer and his wife and three children (and three dogs) welcomed them all into their home starting in January.
“They have been with us for almost a year,” Böhmer says. “We have this community in our house: Sunni, Shia, Christian, Afghan, Syrian, Iranian, and we co-exist where the experts said it could never work.”
(Photo by ArchiMed)
Charles F. Preusse II
A partner at Ridgeway Partners, Charles Preusse, II T’95 is a matchmaker of strategic talent.Read More
After guiding National City Corp through the financial crisis, Peter Raskind D’78, T’79 found civic engagement in confronting two of Cleveland's public crises—for the sum total of $2.Read More
Lauren Krostue T’10 tried working in other industries, but something about the hospitality world kept drawing her back.Read More
How to Promote Diversity and Nurture Talent
After Tuck, Suzanne Schaefer T’02 went into management consulting, figuring that eventually she might connect with a particular industry—to her surprise, she instead felt a strong pull toward recruiting and talent development.Read More
Gretchen Ki Steidle
Global Grassroots founder Gretchen Steidle T’01 helps women in marginalized communities unlock their considerable potential.Read More
At Tuck, Jayne Hrdlicka T'88 learned to think deeply and challenge convention—skills she draws on today as CEO of the Jetstar Group of airlines.Read More
Shawna Huffman Owen
If you think the Web made travel agents obsolete, Shawna Huffman Owen T’98 has news for you.Read More
Kathryn Baker T'93 is a true expert on boards of directors. She has served on more than 20 of them over the last 16 years, ranging from oil and gas companies to Norway’s Central Bank to Tuck’s own European Advisory Board.Read More
Over twenty years ago, Carolyn McGuire T’83 helped form Community Consulting Teams of Boston. It’s still going strong today—and facilitating a lot of good work.Read More
T'98 Victoria Levy’s post-Tuck career took off with The Monitor Group, an iconic strategic consulting firm where she became a partner by age 33. Now, the firm has been acquired by Deloitte and Levy is guiding the integration of the two practices.Read More
Bill Achtmeyer T’81 has worked with hundreds of senior executives at Fortune 500 companies and shares five pieces of advice for managing a large organization effectively.Read More
Jennifer Wilson T'99 doesn’t recall how she ended up turning a kindergartner into a caped-crusader, but as director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, this is part of her job.Read More
In his 20s, Duncan McDougall T’87 spent time guiding expeditions of the physical world. Since 1998, however, he has been leading expeditions of another kind, guiding children on a journey to literacy.Read More
Alan D. Pesky
After losing his son Lee in 1995, Alan Pesky T'60 and his family solidified their resolve to honor Lee’s memory by establishing an organization to help learning-disabled children.Read More
Fluent in four languages and passionate about entrepreneurship, Michelle Mooradian D’95, T’04 went from her post-Tuck consulting job at Opera Solutions to spend almost five years working for McKinsey’s Rio de Janeiro office.Read More
Tips for Transforming Your Career
After positions of increasing seniority at Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, and JPMorgan, Kate Grussing T’91 decided she wanted to transform her career by helping others transform theirs.Read More
On the Rewards of Nonprofit Board Service
Amy Houston T’97 was inspired to attend Tuck after seeing firsthand how a board with for-profit management experience can help a nonprofit, and she kept this lesson in mind when she joined the Robin Hood Foundation.Read More
At Tuck, Vicki Craver T'97 discovered a latent interest in financial strategy. Now, after a successful career at Goldman Sachs and raising a family, she applies her financial accumen to vetting nonprofit projects.Read More
Curt Welling D'71, T'77 started his post-Tuck career in finance, but after 9/11, he shifted to the nonprofit sector where he made lasting impact as CEO of AmeriCares before joining the Tuck faculty.Read More
Amy Feind Reeves
A consultant turned job coach, Amy Reeves T'92, was able to research, model, and project the successful future of her business using the skills she acquired at Tuck.Read More
In much of the Middle East and North Africa, cash is still king. PayPal’s Francis Barel T’05 wants to change that, and open people’s lives to the world along the way.Read More
Mary Humphrey T’99 is helping make the Jane Goodall Institute a leader in on-the-ground conservation.Read More
Salil Tripathi T’85 became interested in human rights as a teenager in Bombay, when the government declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution for 21 months.Read More
Debi Brooks T’86 didn’t set out to become a leader in the fight against Parkinson’s disease, but she recognized a unique opportunity to make a difference.Read More
Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor Jr. T'88 founded Intercorp to make Peru the best place in Latin America to live and raise a family. Today, business is thriving and the future of Peru's emerging middle class has never been brighter.Read More
A new book on design strategy by Deepa Prahalad T'00, daughter of management guru C.K. Prahalad, was rated by Fast Company as one of the 13 best design books of the year.Read More