Lanna Idriss and Gyalpa

In case you’re wondering: yes, it is possible at the same time, at least for anyone with as much energy and determination as Lanna Idriss.

von Annika Reich

Lanna Idriss meeting producers. Lebanon, November 2014. Photo: Jesco Denzel

Lanna Idriss came up with an idea that seemed both obvious and adventurous: she wanted to give Syrians in the middle of a war zone or in the adjacent refugee camps an opportunity to make their own living.

And she focused her idea on women and girls, because they are the ones who look after children in situations where men have either been killed, are on the move or on the front. Idriss didn’t stop at the idea stage – she set up a social enterprise to put it into practice: Gyalpa.

Gyalpa found women’s collectives and civil society groups in Syria and Lebanon and now buys handbags and shopping bags, embroidered handkerchiefs, cushion covers and other products from Syrians, at the company’s own risk and in large volumes, so as to sell the products via the website www.gyalpa.com.

Gyalpa is the outcome of a conflict that had struck Lanna Idriss for a long time when it came to displacement and paid work. Aid projects reliant on donations are too unpredictable for her. She also finds promoting independence a far more sustainable approach: “We don’t give hand-outs, we pay a fair price for good work” – that’s her motto.

Produzenten im Libanon, 2014. Foto: Jesco Denzel
Producer in Lebanon. November 2014. Photo: Jesco Denzel

Lanna Idriss is a bank director, an art connoisseur and has excellent contacts within the Syrian exile community. She has a Syrian father, spent a while living in Syria after she finished school and has since paid numerous visits. As a young girl she wanted to be secretary general of the United Nations when she grew up and settle the Israeli-Palestine conflict. During her politics degree she found that the UN was not the political organ she had imagined, however, and changed her career plans. Instead she studied law and literature, soon noticed that she worked well with numbers during internships and became a bank director fairly quickly. Since she and other volunteers founded the charity Gyalpa e.V. in 2013 and then Gyalpa UG in May 2015, she has also been a social entrepreneur.

In case you’re wondering: yes, it is possible at the same time, at least for anyone with as much energy and determination as Lanna Idriss. And yes, fortunately she has retained something of her youthful megalomania, except that it’s now coupled with crystal-clear pragmatism.

In an interview with taz journalist Ines Kappert, Lanna Idriss answered the question of what surprised her most about working with Syrian women: “These women’s energy – I hadn’t expected that. It’s staggering.” There’s no condescension there.

Kappert, moved on to a post as head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Gunda Werner Institute, was so convinced by Idriss that she started a cooperation with Gyalpa and launched the pilot project Open Studio Berlin-Moabit in conjunction with the foundation’s educational section, empowering women in particular. The goal is for the project participants to register their own small businesses. Again, the focus is on independence. Migrants are addressed as experts both here in the Berlin workshops and in the refugee camps, rather than as charity recipients in need of aid.

"Open Studio" im zk/u in Berlin-Moabit, Foto: Gyalpa/zk-u Berlin
“Open Studio” in the zk/u in Berlin-Moabit. Photo: Gyalpa/zk-u Berlin

The first Open Studio workshop took place from 30.11. to 19.12. and the products made using mosaic technique were successfully sold at the ZK/U’s Christmas “goods market”: http://www.zku-berlin.org/. The proceeds go to the participants. In the medium term, Gyalpa UG plans to offer the products for sale. In addition to the mosaic-technique workshops run by artists with a refugee background, the project offers training courses on tailoring, design and other handicraft techniques.

Gyalpa UG and Open Studio have a common goal: to accompany and coach women and girl refugees in particular so that they can position themselves on the German labour market. Only through independence can participation work.

As I write this text I’m drinking my tea out of one of the upcycled green glasses for sale at www.gyalpa.com and enjoying the deep colour, but I’m happiest about the fact that there are women like Lanna Idriss and Ines Kappert, who not only come up with ideas and put them into practice, but are also active in our “We’re doing it” alliance.