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How the CUCULA project is helping migrants in Berlin

One of three winners of the 2016 EU social innovation competition, Corinna Sy speaks about her project CUCULA. 

Cucula is a practical workshop and an educational program created for and together with refugees and migrants in Berlin. It designs, manufactures, produces and sells products, providing technical qualifications with a focus on furniture production. It also runs an education program that includes German language classes, legal advice and additional support for CV writing, job applications, and daily life in Germany.

We realised refugees don’t need to be given furniture- they need access to work and education.

CUCULA began in the winter of 2013 when some of our founders invited refugees protesting at a refugee camp in Berlin to come and create furniture to take back into their makeshift homes at the camp. We soon realised that the refugees didn’t just need furniture to improve their situations- they needed access to work and education. 

Our product designer Sebastian asked Italian designer Enzo Mari if we could use the designs from his ‘do-it-yourself’ furniture book ‘Autoprogettazione’. Published in 1974, it was a milestone in the contemporary design history. Now, CUCULA uses this method as the basis for our workshop and trainee programmes for refugees.

CUCULA is a practical workshop and an educational program created for and together with refugees in Berlin. We design, manufacture, produce and sell products, providing technical qualifications with focus on furniture production. 

Our workshops are a collaboration between refugees and designers and pedagogues, capturing the ideas of our trainees to develop new, intriguing objects with an added value.

Linked to the trainees requirements we provide a variety of traineeships, internships, scholarships, permanent appointment and voluntary positions to give a platform for education, while also helping link up our trainees to job opportunities or apprenticeships following their time at CUCULA. We currently have 8 Trainee positions available in the workshop.

We also run CUCULA-Education, a program that includes German language classes, legal advice and additional support with the CV writing, job applications, and daily life in Germany. This forms the platform for interdisciplinary exchange with partners such as language schools and voluntary supporters. The educational program currently supports another 15 refugees.

The Integrated Futures Competition has inspired and motivated us immensely. The mentoring academy was very helpful for us to bring our work to a more strategic level, breaking down our project and getting a clear picture of what we want for the future of CUCULA. Taking the time to prepare budgets and a long-term strategy.

It was inspiring to meet all the other projects from this year’s competition, and to see that we are all going through the same process collaboratively, all facing similar struggles and issues.

Our plan for the future is to become financially independent with 100% of our income coming from trading sales. We’ll invest in product development and we are also looking to expand our consultancy service to share our experience, to reach more people and to ad a source of revenue. We want to advise companies who are thinking of employing refugees but don’t know how, or whether they can make it work. Furthermore we want to involve people with refugee background in the management.

We are proof that it can work, and believe in empowering and working with refugees to actively shape their futures through an autonomous and independent way.