I-House Berkeley Alum Patrick Thelen on “doin’ good”

Every year, I-House receives a generous grant through Davis Projects for Peace that is awarded to a resident for designing a grassroots project that addresses the root causes of conflict. Patrick Thelen (IH 2016-17) won the 2017 Davis Projects for Peace, and has since gone on to grow the impact of his winning project. Patrick, who is from Germany and currently lives in Canada, chatted with the Program Office to share what he’s been up to since leaving International House.

Helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon to live a more humane life

You won the Davis Projects for Peace Prize for a proposal that has since expanded to become “doin’ good,” a full-fledged and growing non-profit. Could you share how the idea for this initiative first came about?

Patrick: When I was in Berkeley, it was the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis and I had heard that many refugees do not have access to education. At this time, I was spending a lot of time in the Makerspaces in Berkeley and really enjoyed building things. Since the living conditions in many refugee settlements are terrible, a few classmates and myself wanted to see if the makerspace concept could also work in refugee settlements and if we could use this space to provide vocational training while at the same time empowering refugees to improve their living conditions by building things they could use in the settlements.

Malte, Meike and Patrick from the doin’ good team during their time in Lebanon

Malte, Meike and Patrick from the doin’ good team during their time in Lebanon

Your team’s resolution is to provide refugees with a “makerspace.” Could you explain this concept and help us understand the impact of building a makerspace in a refugee camp?

Patrick: Our makerspace is a training room with tools for woodworking, electrical work and sewing classes. Local instructors, who are professionals in their field, come in and teach participants the basic skills in each topic and then help them to build things they can use in the camps immediately. In the carpentry classes for example, participants could build a closet or a bed for themselves or their children; in the sewing classes they learn how to make backpacks or clothing and also fix any clothes. While these items help to improve the living conditions immediately, the skills that participants learn also set them up for a better future and give them hope, especially because they were able to make things with their own hands.

Workshops in Lebanon

Participants learning to sew in a makerspace workshop

Where would you like to see “doin’ good” in the next five to ten years?

Patrick: My hope is that doin’ good continues to grow and that we can leverage the makerspace approach to provide vocational training to underserved communities across multiple geographies. Our vision is to provide access to better education to thousands of people and empower them to improve their living conditions. In the next five to ten years, we plan to combine the makerspace approach with other offerings, such as mentorship-programs and support / funding so that participants can start small businesses. One of our goals is also to raise awareness for education as a powerful tool to overcome socio-economic disadvantages and we hope that we can get more and more people to get involved and fight for this cause.

Your work is highly globalized — how did I-House prepare you to engage and communicate effectively across cultural differences?

Patrick: My time at I-House made me much more appreciative and aware of cultural differences (but also cultural similarities) and how my cultural background has shaped my values. This has taught me to be mindful how I interact with people from different cultures to make sure that everyone feels heard and included, for example in all of our projects we seek the dialogue with future participants early on and include them during the setup of the project, rather than coming in with an outside perspective and not taking into consideration the local context.

Do you have any advice for I-House residents interested in launching a social enterprise?

Patrick: Just start! There are so many topics out there worth pursuing and so many social causes worth working on – pick one that is close to your heart and start speaking with people from the target group to deeply understand what would bring value to them and how they want to be engaged. Also, at I-House you are surrounded by brilliant people from all walks of life – by discussing your ideas with them, you will probably get great input and  inspire others to join your cause.

Patrick with the woodworking trainer Skye and program coordinator Mohammad

Patrick with the woodworking trainer Skye and program coordinator Mohammad

Empowering refugees through hands-on education

Empowering refugees through hands-on education


Learn more about Doin’ Good at www.doin-good.com/
Also see: Patrick Thelen: Building hope for Syrian refugees

Learn more about Davis Projects for Peace.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the interests of safety and health for all, all Projects for Peace grants for 2020 have been cancelled. We remain hopeful that circumstances will allow for these grants to be rolled forward to 2021.

About Laurie Ferris

As the Communications Strategist for International House at UC Berkeley, I share stories online and in our I-House Times Newsletter. I created this blog for alumni, residents, and staff to share the I-House experience with the UC Berkeley community and beyond. If you would like to contribute a guest post, please contact me at lferris@berkeley.edu. Share the I-House love! ♥
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