Award-winning project Neighbourhood Mothers

Berlin, Germany

Neighbourhood Mothers is an outreach programme for disadvantaged migrant families.

Many integrative projects in disadvantaged neighbourhoods suffer from the fact that some groups can barely be reached using traditional measures. Empowerment is thus difficult if not impossible. In the case of some Berlin neighbourhoods or districts, immigrants (and people with an immigrant background) are among these often referred to as ‘hard to reach’ groups.
Learning from Utrecht, Netherlands, in 2004 the Berlin district of Neukölln started to train 28 neighbourhood mothers - all unemployed and with an immigrant background. These neighbourhood mothers act as contact and resource persons for families and in particularly for women in the neighbourhood (for instance by working in schools or by visiting families in their homes). 
The aim of the project is to:
  • 'open doors’ for integration, 
  • strengthen parents, 
  • encourage language acquisition by motivating individuals to visit day-care centres and attend courses in German, 
  • inform people about child upbringing, education and health, 
  • arrange specific support for families in the district.  
Award-winning project

This project was awarded the 'Metropolis Award' in 2008. Learn more about the award.


City information

Size and population development
3.670.000 (December 31, 2016)

Population composition
12,6% non-German, the majority come from (in order) Turkey, Poland, Italy, Serbia and Kosovo, Russia

Main functions
Capital City of Germany and one of the 16 German states

Main industries / business
Service industries, tourism, higher education, creative industries, IT and media

Political structure
The Senate of Berlin is the executive body governing the city of Berlin. The Senate is composed of the Governing Mayor of Berlin and up to ten Senators appointed by the Governing Mayor.

Administrative structure
Berlin is governed by the Senate Government and 12 District Governments.

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Background and objectives

Many families have multiple problems and are hard to reach by the official institutions. The ‘Neighbourhood Mothers’ project aims to reach migrant parents through home visits by women from similar backgrounds. The neighbourhood mothers are of non-German origin and contact families, mainly by reaching out to mothers at schools, playgrounds, doctors, mosques, and shops. Once an appointment has been made, the mothers provide information on topics relevant to problems experienced by the target group such as: migration, German, work, law, raising children, etc. (The neighbourhood mothers undergo a six month training programme to be educated in these topics.)The intention is not to intervene in the family, but support families in raising their children and finding their way in German society. A total of 4,200 families have been visited so far.

Early 2010, about 166 previously unemployed women started working as a district mother since the start of the project, and 110 of them are active today in Neukölln. The neighbourhood mothers come from immigrant backgrounds or are immigrants themselves. They speak both a foreign language of the target group and German. Most neighbourhood mothers and beneficiaries of the programme are Turkish or Arabic migrants, although Polish, Russian, and Eastern European neighbourhood mothers are also active.


The Neighbourhood Mothers programme relies on female migrant volunteers with Turkish or Arabic backgrounds who speak German. The mothers receive half year long training, and receive a small remuneration for their commitment. The training educates the mothers in physical and mental child development, the German education system, healthy nutrition for children, and parenting skills. 

Once the training is complete, the women go into their respective neighbourhoods and spread their knowledge with other families. In this way the programme is able to reach families who have no knowledge of the German language. The women also help families learn the German language and culture. The programme has also empowered migrant women to take on active roles in their communities. Between 2004 and 2010, a total of 223 women completed training. Of these, 63 are still active as Neighbourhood Mothers. Women are able to work as neighbourhood mothers for a three year period, in order to allow other interested migrant women to take active roles in the programme.

The aim of the project is to :

  • ‘open doors’ for integration, 
  • strengthen parents, 
  • encourage language acquisition by motivating individuals to visit day-care centres and attend courses in German, 
  • inform people about child upbringing, education and health, 
  • arrange specific support for families in the district. 

The neighbourhood mothers volunteer to visit families and educate them in ten fields:

  1. Day-care centres and school systems
  2. Healthy food / health care
  3. Children´s rights / non-violent rearing
  4. Bilingual education
  5. Dealing with media
  6. Development of fine motor function
  7. Physical development
  8. Sexual development / gender roles
  9. Drug prevention
  10. Prevention of accidents. The education takes place over a period of 10 family visits. Each visit is one and a half to two hours long. The mothers are given informational material from the training to help them, and provide reading material for the families to go over and discuss with one another after. The neighbourhood mothers also meet weekly with one another to exchange information, strategies, and discuss problems they encounter.

From 2004 to 2009, the programme focused on families with young children six years and younger. After the large success of the programme, the age has been extended to families with children twelve years or younger. 

The Neighbourhood Mothers are able to open doors for families that have withdrawn into their own communities and hence have little or no access to local childcare or the education system and cannot be reached in other ways. Close cooperation with the local childcare centres, ‘parent cafes’, school based youth centres and teachers are essential for the success of their work. Close cooperation with early education professionals and teachers facilitates cooperation with the parents.

Between 2004 and 2010, Neighbourhood Mothers visited around 4,200 families. The target for 2011 and 2012 is to reach another 3,000 families through home visits. They also hope to train an additional 50 Neighbourhood Mothers.


Financing and resources

Funding has come from local and regional government levels. The programme was first renewed after the pilot phase, and again in 2009.

The Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment used cross financing measures with other government offices to provide 15% of the programme’s budget.  

The district office Neukölln, the Senate Department for Urban Development and the Environment, the Senate Department for Integration, Labour, and Social affairs, and the JobCenter Berlin-Neukölln have committed to providing funding until 2013. Due to great success, the programme still continues into 2014. The project’s sponsor is Diakonisches Werk Neukölln-Oberspree e.V. (DWNO). Total expenditure since 2007 amounts to around €9.2 million (approx. $12.5).

Results and impacts

After several periods of evaluations, the programme has shown great success. Since the beginning of the programme in 2004, interest has rapidly grown. More and more women become interested in receiving training to become a neighbourhood mother, and more families enjoy the benefits and education provided by the neighbourhood mothers. Children were enrolled into early education programmes, and mothers were educated about the importance of early childhood development. Mothers received training on games to play with their children to foster positive growth. The programme has extended beyond Turkish and Arabic minorities to Roma families from Romania and Bulgaria.

The initial target groups were reached even though initial numerical goals were not met until later into the project. The programme has changed attitudes towards local government, and increased cultural understanding and language abilities of a hard to reach population.

The programme had great success empowering women. Both the neighbourhood mothers and the mothers of the families receiving the education greatly benefited in terms of confidence building, information, and value. The Neighbourhood Mothers also benefited by receiving a small income and gaining status in the community.

The programme has opened a hard to reach section of society to local government. Trust and faith in local government has increased amongst immigrant communities. Finally, the programme has contributed to the overall integration of families into Berlin and Neukölln. 

Barriers and challenges

The Neighbourhood Mothers programme faced many challenges. Although volunteers were influential mothers in the communities, encouraging citizens to sign up for the programme was difficult. The programme aimed to sign up large families and families with children yet enrolled in early education. These families keep distant from public administration and distrusted the programme.

The programme also faced difficulties meeting its goals. Originally, the Neighbourhood Mothers programme hoped to sign up 2,000 families during the pilot phase, but by even after lowering their goal to 1,600, by the end of the pilot phase in 2008, the programme only signed up 1,457 families.

Lessons learned and transferability

The programme is easily transferable. The original idea for Neighbourhood Mothers was inspired by Utrecht, Netherlands. The programme has already been transferred to other areas of Berlin, and has experienced great success.



- Stadtteilmütter: Approaching Integration Through Education in Berlin-Neukölln, Ally Brantley, Michelle Cho and Ruth Langer in Humanity in Action

- Neighbourhood Mothers Leading the Way in Neukölln, article in "Citiies of Migration", 17.04.2013

- Vom Modellprojekt „Stadtteilmütter in Neukölln“ - gestartet durch das Programm „Soziale Stadt“ – zu einem erfolgreichen Berufsbild, Franziska Wozny, Quartiermanagement Berlin (german)

- Integrated Urban Governance Manual

(see links below)

External links / documents