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August 13, 2021

Lena: A Social Fellowship for a good cause in urban planning

Hello, my name is Lena and I’m a Senior Consultant in the Frankfurt office. I started at Roland Berger around three years ago after I finished my Master in Management. Since joining the firm, I have been mainly working on innovative digitization and business model optimization projects in the Financial Services industry.

This year, my goal was to invest my time in a good cause while getting to know a different type of industry. Thus, I was looking for an interesting social organization and eventually I applied internally for the Social Fellowship. It’s a 12-week fellowship financially supported by Roland Berger to dedicate my time to a project in the field of equal opportunity. After having convinced the management team, I started to work for the IBA Heidelberg.

In Germany, the International Building Exhibitions (IBA) initiate and develop novel solutions for challenges in urban planning. IBAs can be set up by municipalities or entire regions. The IBA Heidelberg, whose motto is "knowledge-based urbanism", advises and supports institutions or civil groups that want to conduct long-term urban planning or drive architectural projects for equal opportunities and a knowledge-based society.

I first learned about IBA Heidelberg during their midterm presentation in 2018 where they exhibited the initial results. They impressed me not only in terms of their grasp of urban planning and architecture but also because they are trying to answer urgent questions arising in today's city planning. In some projects, the IBA's role is about empowerment, i.e. helping citizens and associations with a great idea realize their projects and managing the bureaucratic jungle, in others it is more to find sustainable and innovative solutions. I felt that I could learn a lot there and that, given my consulting experience, I would also be able to contribute to their projects.

Urban planning and construction projects in Germany often have to juggle cutting-edge innovation on the one hand, and heaps of bureaucracy on the other. One of my key projects is developing the business model for a Muslim academy, a not-for-profit organization which aims to establish in Heidelberg.

The object of the ‘Muslim Academy Heidelberg’, which came together in spring 2013 under the programmatic name ‘Teilseiend e.V.’, is to assume responsibility for shaping the society out of their faith. Since then, the academy has been active in civic education and also in planning an urban representation. They would like to build an architecturally sophisticated and representative building, an academy. The academy’s institutionalization would be the first one nationwide under Muslim sponsorship, and therefore it paves the way for overcoming the social polarization of Islam and Muslim life.

My current task is to drive the academy’s construction project while developing their business model. Questions I am dealing with include: What are the requirements for founding a non-profit foundation? Which people sit on the foundation's board of trustees? What does the target group look like? What are the drivers for income and expenses? What does the cash flow look like? How will the academy be financed? What are the architectural requirements for the academy? Which politicians should be contacted and how?

In addition to this project, I help to develop a workshop series for politicians and representatives of scientific institutions about the impact of innovative ecosystems on urban development and the prerequisites these ecosystems need. I also support the preparation for IBA's final exhibition in 2022 through the acquisition of sponsors.

What I have learned so far from my fellowship is that urban development depends heavily on political decision-making. I was already aware of politics playing an important role. However, I didn't expect this to be the case to such an extent. The IBA needs to involve and convince politicians for every project decision, for example regarding properties, citizens referendums, building permits, funding and much more, otherwise these issues become showstoppers.

To conclude, I was able to peek into a totally new industry, while supporting a group of people to reach equal opportunities in society. I am grateful to have worked with such an innovative and motivated team and I looking forward to the results presented in the IBA’s final presentation in 2022.

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