Carlsberg Taps The Next Big Beer Market (Really): Women
BY PAUL GLADER|
DECEMBER 14, 2012
Carlsberg Group CEO Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen says in spite of gimmicky “innovations” in beer marketed to women, they remain a huge untapped market. But catering to them requires a new approach in management, strategy, and product innovation.
COPENHAGEN—Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen, the CEO of brewing giant Carlsberg Group, says the big beer industry has grown stale when it comes to innovation, and altogether too comfortable with its staple consumer: sports-loving dudes.
“The beer category has been suffering in terms of image. In the last 10 to 15 years, it is often connected with drunken people on the street sitting with beer cans,” he says. While the craft beer trend has been injecting new life into the beer market, it is also still too male-oriented. Men still buy 74% of lager beers, according to Datamonitor. For Carlsberg, men buy 80%. “We can and we must come up with more products that are appealing to females,” Rasmussen says.
That task is first product development, followed by smart marketing, he believes. And neither of those are easy, as women have traditionally been more interested in wine than beer-style brewed drinks. So Carlsberg is dipping its toe in the market, inventing a few new female-friendly products and marketing them carefully and organically in small, highly developed markets like Sweden and Switzerland.
The alternative drink laboratory is sticky-sweet and littered with failure. Beer companies have tried beer in slim-line cans, light beers, and beers so fruity they might as well be wine coolers. Brewers have tried low-carb, low-calorie, and caffeine-fused drinks. Some “malternative” and “alcopop” brands like Coors’s Zima were hot for a time, but ultimately discontinued. Some wine coolers switched from wine-based drinks to malt-based mixtures and took a precipitous slide in sales in the 2000s. The Alizé cognac-based liquors became an urban product rather than high-end.
But beer industry veterans haven’t given up hope completely. Rasmussen and others still think product innovation and marketing brewed drinks toward women is possible. Increasingly, women know about different, palate-friendly beers like Abbey Ales, fruit lambics, ciders, ginger beers, and dark stouts—as well as about the more varied glassware they require and how to pair them with foods. Women want “a less bitter, non-bloating beer that does not give you a malty/hoppy aftertaste and breath,” says Carlsberg spokesman Ben Morton. “Flavor proliferation has become a key feature of beer innovation.”
Furthermore, it’s a key way forward when sales and profits in mature markets like the U.S. and Western Europe have plateaued and Carlsberg and the other top 4 beer companies in the world are facing competition on all sides from rival beverages ranging from Red Bull to wine to whisky. “If you look back at the last 10-20 years, and you think about what has been done in terms of innovation in the beer category, yes, you have some but not enough,” he says. “We are focused on doing more innovation to make this category more attractive and to get more consumers to engage.”
Rasmussen thinks a future round of innovation should start with product innovation rather than marketing the same old stuff in a different way. As CEO, he centralized innovation at Carlsberg, combining the R&D center with consumer insights and innovation marketing teams. The company doesn’t disclose R&D figures. But he has made “female drinks” a platform inside the company, identifying it as a major initiative on par with “health and wellness” innovation. He’s recruited female executives, researchers, and marketers to lead the brainstorming for these new “brewed” drink categories.
The idea, he says, is not to create wine coolers or non-beer products geared to women. Rather, he wants to come up with new types of drink recipes that can be made in Carlsberg-owned breweries but are lighter in alcohol, refreshing in taste, and perceived as healthy enough to take on wine, champagne, and other drinks vying for women’s dollars. “In a brewing facility you can do non-alcoholic products, sweet products, color products,” he says. “You can do more or less everything. It’s a very obvious question leading to a very obvious opportunity: We must be able to come up with more ideas and concepts for women.”
Instead of rolling the new drinks out worldwide, Carlsberg is testing beverages in small, trend-setting markets such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. If successful with women in some of these most developed countries, the theory goes that the drinks might work in other larger markets.
Carlsberg has developed several concepts, launching one called Eve, a light, fruity, sparking alcoholic drink that is low in alcohol and calories but beer-based. It has expanded Eve’s launch market of Switzerland to Russia. Company marketers say the drink should be served “in a Champagne glass to emphasize its aspirational qualities.”
More recently, Carlsberg launched BEO, a healthy, juice-like drink low in alcohol content. It’s “a brewed soft drink” based on natural ingredients but made with brewing equipment. It was tested in Sweden this year and the company plans to roll it out nationally there in 2013, expanding more broadly if sales perform well.
A third attempt by Carlsberg is on a minimalist, design label for a light beer called Copenhagen, a name intended to evoke fashion and design. “Many young people aren’t keen on the bitter aftertaste of beer,” said Kirsten Ægidius, VP Marketing. “We have created a highly drinkable beer with a balanced taste, a real alternative to white wine and champagne.” The product and brand is being tested in Nordic markets.
Several other companies are also working on products. Molson Coors Brewing Co. launched a BitterSweet effort in 2009 aimed to “remove the gender imbalance that exists around beer consumption” and boost its sales to women, which amounted to a meager 17% of sales in the past. Its U.K. and Ireland offices launched the Animée drink last year, which has 4% alcohol and is a lightly sparkling, finely filtered brewed drink in three flavors: crisp rose, zesty lemon, and clear filtered. The company’s marketing says it is aimed to “dispel the perception among women that all beers look and taste the same.” It said 79% of women in the U.K. never or rarely drink beer and, after many surveys, they hope Animée changes that objection without being patronizing.
Rasmussen, who spent most of his career at consumer products companies such as Duracell, Gillette Group, Mars, and Unilever before joining Carlsberg, wants to re-balance the customer gender base from 80% men and 20% women toward a 50%-50% split. When he oversaw Northern Europe for Gillette, he observed the brand bending of shaving products into the female market. That move helped expand the overall market for shaving products as women started buying more expensive, heavy-duty shavers (the type that men normally bought for their faces) to use on their legs instead of cheap plastic ones. Similarly, he remembers supermarkets 20-30 years ago only selling personal care products like lotions to women, while men just bought deodorants and shaving products. “Now, when you go into a supermarket, the number of products for male personal care is enormous and a fast-growing category.”
“We don’t know where it is going to end,” Rasmussen says. “I think with any piece of innovation, sometimes you get it exactly right to begin with. But, more often, you have to go back and do some more work and rework until you finally have the successful product.”
By Paul Glader, Special For USA Today
Some in Greece believe entrepreneurs can help save the Greek economy in ways bailouts and austerity programs cannot by selling to the world what only Greece can offer — the Aegean diet.
Published Dec. 9, 2012
CHIOS, Greece — Four years ago, Evangelos Xydas decided to leave his job at a hotel to open a small specialty food company on an orchard on the Greek island of Chios.
He knew he was taking something of a risk given that Greece was entering an economic downturn and debt crunch that would make it the epicenter of the current European financial crisis. But the hotel offered work only in the summers and was vulnerable to the ups and downs of the tourism industry.
“This is year-round work,” he said, leaning against a lemon tree in a courtyard in the village of Kambos.
Today his company Citrus produces 120 products, including delicacies such as almond delights and smoked feta. And some in Greece believe entrepreneurs like him can help save the Greek economy in ways bailouts and austerity programs cannot by selling to the world what only Greece can offer — the Aegean diet.
That means focusing on specialties that have been part of the Greek culture for millenniums, including olive oil, citrus products and mastica, an evergreen resin used to make strong drink and other products.
Inspired by the global success of Greek yogurt brands such as Fage, Athenians are leaving urban life, where opportunities are getting scarce, and moving to rural towns and island villages to start an agrarian lifestyle as farmers, factory workers and food entrepreneurs.
Some believe Greeks haven’t aggressively pursued an unmet global demand for their food and drink. Derided by northern Europeans for an alleged lack of ambition and work ethic, Greek Mediterranean culture is prized in the minds of many as simple, healthy and pleasant.
Food and agriculture are two of five Greek industries consulting firm McKinsey & Co. highlights as having greatest potential for future growth.
The firm predicts food manufacturing and agriculture in Greece could go from $27 billion in revenue and 710,000 jobs in 2010 to $42 billion and 970,000 jobs by 2020.
That has potential to make a big impact in a small country of 11 million people, more than 25% of them unemployed (a rate that is double among the younger labor force age group of 15 to 24-year-olds). Xydas employs 12 people, up from four in 2008.
“We didn’t grow but we didn’t see revenues go down — so we feel good about it,” he says, giving a tour of the kitchens where workers are rolling out massive sheets of dough to make almond cookies. “We think our future will follow Greece’s future.”
Xydas had to drop prices 20% in 2012. And the kitchen is operating at 70% capacity. But he says he plans to expand capacity so he can export to other countries.
This orchard, like others in estates in Kambos, was planted by Genovese settlers from Italy in the 14th century. Oranges from Kambos were once sold as exotic delicacies, wrapped in gold-embossed paper and exported to Europe.
But Chios’ merchants withered with the invention of the telegraph, which improved communication between the United States and Europe and led to an influx of citrus products from America to Europe.
Chios’ oranges became commodities rather than luxury goods, and many of the roughly 200 citrus estates became hobby groves. Xydas and others are trying to revive the industry.
Chios Fruits was begun in 2009 by Chios Citrus Cultivators, an association of growers who bought a juice factory from a shipping family and modernized it to make premium juices marketed as coming from the one and only Kambos orchards.
Ariousios, a winery, opened near the Amani village in Chios in 2008 with modern wine-making facilities and tasting rooms. Four years later it is producing 150 tons of wine per year and plans to expand its production to 300 tons per year.
Farmers and industry associations for dairy, yogurt and olives, are jumping on the trend as well.
Greeks here also see a big chance to market mastica, the sap from the Pistacia lentiscus. The small evergreen grows almost exclusively on the southern coast of Chios, and its resin has been used for centuries in foods, soaps, chewing gum, medicines and liquor.
Ancient Greeks are said to have chewed a gum derived from the tree’s bark, and the Chios Mastiha Growers Association is working to find markets for the product worldwide.
Ilias Nik. Smyrnioudis, a production manager for the association, said more Greeks are moving back from Athens to cultivate the mastic trees of Chios, and that mastic production has been steadily increasing 15% a year and is up to 150 tons annually.
The association aims to expand exports in the Middle East for its gum. It’s funding medical research that purports to show that mastica is good for the digestion and dental health. And it’s expanding product lines in mastic soaps, sweeteners, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and as an ingredient in foods and liquors.
MastihaShop boutiques have opened in New York, France, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus, and others are being considered for Dubai and London.
The store, in which the association is part-owner, “is designed to make mastica known around the world,” Smyrnioudis said.
McKinsey says world markets are primed for the foods of Greece, so it may just be a case of improving capacity as well as better marketing and distribution to grow an economy that has been in recession for years and hampered by growing public sector employment over private.
“Local conditions (weather, soil) contribute to the production of very flavorsome products of high demand in international markets,” says Peggy Velliotou, a partner at KPMG in Athens.
Greek food companies such as Vivartia, dairy company Fage S.A., and mineral water company Souroti say they are forecasting strong growth. Greek Yogurt in particular is growing much faster than other yogurt brands, so much so that some say their brand is being subjected to competition from knockoffs. Fage has sued U.S.-Turkish rival Chobani to bar it from using the “Greek Yogurt” label in its marketing.
Seeing the trend, food entrepreneurs in Greece are developing wine, beans, pea lentils, chickpeas, even snails.
“Small entrepreneurs, farmers, and co-ops are and will be a key part in the recovery and growth of this industry,” Velliotou says.
Gregory Antoniadis, president of the Greek Olive Oil Packers Association, said olive farming in Greece generates $1.3 billion of income in rural areas and has an effect on 350,000 farming households. But one problem is that nearly 150,000 tons of the highest-quality extra-virgin Greek olive oil is exported annually to Italy and Spain where it is remarketed as Spanish or Italian olive oil.
“Greece is the third-largest olive oil producer worldwide and exports 60% of its output to Italy in bulk, yet in doing so allows Italy to capture an extra 50% premium on the price of the final packaged product,” the McKinsey authors noted.
Antoniadis’ olive organization is stepping up marketing in the Americas, North Europe, Russia and China to take a greater share of the high-quality olive oil market. He says they have seen annual growth of about 15%. The group doubled its exports in the past seven years and aims to double them again in the next five years.
“We have quality in excess but a gap in marketing,” he says. The key he says is not expanding production but hiring marketers to brand more of the product as “Greek Olive Oil” rather than selling it to Spain and Italy.
“As a society, we did not capitalize on the benefits of entrepreneurship and globalization — quite a few of us relied on the state or European Union support and lost touch with what was happening in the markets,” Antoniadis said.
The painful economic situation may help Greeks “restructure our economy, regain competitiveness and re-establish our entrepreneurial mindset,” he said.
“We shouldn’t forget that this nation has based its economic existence and prosperity along the centuries by being good traders, sailors and visionary entrepreneurs.”
(Source: USA Today)
Extremely Effective Breast Exams, From Blind German Women
The Discovering Hands program employs sightless women to give careful breast exams when doctors’ schedules don’t give them time. Does their heightened sense of touch make them the ideal candidates?
By Paul Glader
One day in 2006, Dr. Frank Hoffmann was taking a shower and fuming to himself about the German medical system’s new reimbursement rules on mammograms and how it meant doctors had less time—just 1 to 3 minutes for non-mammography breast exams of patients. Then an idea hit him: What if you could train blind women, with their heightened sense of touch, to perform in-depth breast exams on patients for 30 minutes?
Six years later, he’s got an organization called Discovering Hands that’s developed government-approved training techniques and has patented special equipment such as a braille-enhanced, tactile tape measure for the blind women to use as a guide for their hands to traverse the patient’s breast in search of atypical, cancerous nodules.
He’s trained 20 blind women in the intensive course as Clinical Breast Examiners (CBE) and has found paying jobs with livable wages for 14 of them so far, who work at 17 different locations around Germany and have scanned 8,000 breasts for cancer. A large-scale study at a renowned gynecological hospital in Bavaria is currently in the process of being launched, financed by a German charitable foundation. For now, he says an initial study they did of 451 patients showed blind women can detect lumps 6 to 8 millimeters in diameter. Doctors often only find those over one centimeter in diameter.
The organization is an example of several within the social entrepreneurship space that aims to create employment for people traditionally considered “disabled.” “We transform their perceived disability into a capability,” says Stefan Wilhelm, Hoffmann’s project manager. For example, Pia Hemmerling in Hamburg was wondering what to do after she was diagnosed with glaucoma at age 21 and began to lose her sight. The travel agency where she worked said she could keep working there but she didn’t feel comfortable doing so. “I knew that to work in an office was not in my future,” she said, realizing that she couldn’t peruse catalogs and book flights quickly anymore without getting headaches and eye aches. “I couldn’t do it.”
If you can’t find a CBE, perhaps a nearby doctor will soon be equipped with one of these robotic hands that will make detecting breast cancer much easier.
So she started working part time as a waitress at a Hamburg restaurant where blind servers deliver food to seeing customers who dine in the dark. She heard about Discovering Hands and enrolled in the training in 2008 and landed a job at a women’s clinic in Hamburg shortly afterward.
“I like to work with people,” she says. “I do something very important and I like it. I can help someone.” She’s found tumors in several patients already. She appreciates that patients remember her and are glad to talk to her when they are in the clinic. “I feel like a psychologist sometimes,” she said.
Hoffmann and Wilhelm believe the women’s presence in a doctor’s office actually calms patients and offers a rare human touch not often found in medicine anymore. “Nowadays, in medicine, the doctor doesn’t touch you as often as they used to. Many patients really want a physical contact between the person who treats you and you, says Willhelm. “The German word for treatment is Behandlung. The word hand is involved. Centuries before, it was normal to go to a healer, you would be touched in the real sense of the word. It’s not that common anymore.”Nowadays, in medicine, the doctor doesn’t touch you as often as they used to.
Hoffman’s goal is to train 60 CBEs who can scan 53,000 breasts per year in Germany, a number that would make their business model financially sustainable. That would also be enough volume to feed a large-scale clinical study to confirm their view that this method leads to better detection of smaller cancer cells. After that, Hoffmann thinks the prospects of blind breast scanners get really exciting.
“Maybe in underdeveloped countries it would be even more interesting than in Germany and the U.S.,” he muses. “Pakistan and Africa are full of blind people. They also don’t have as many medical devices and equipment to offer mammography to all the people.”
They want to contract with more insurance companies to pay for the treatment instead of patients paying out of pocket for the exams. In Germany, because of new rules in 2005, insurance companies don’t pay for regular mammography scans until women are older than 50, unless doctors suspect a lump. Radiation fears in the U.S. have also ratcheted back mammograms.
But what do the big makers of mammography equipment—GE, Phillips, Siemens—think of this venture which might cut into their business more than insurance and government rules already have? “As a matter of fact, we didn’t ask them,” says Hoffmann.
Siemens, Philips, and GE declined to comment on Dr. Hoffmann’s project. But Siemens’ health insurance (and other German health insurance companies) actually pay for female patients to undergo the scans by the blind women, according to Hoffman. The American Cancer Society also didn’t offer a comment on the project.
Hoffmann doesn’t care what the medical scanning and cancer research organizations think about his project. “We want to improve the medical situation,” he says, in a deliberate, Werner Herzog-like voice. “We want to make early detection better. We want to create a totally new working field for vision impaired people.”
05/25/2012 05:11 PM
Parliament Watch Gives Voters Access to Politicians
By Paul Glader in Hamburg
Pacing past computer desks in an office scattered with ferns, Gregor Hackmack explains that he’s on a quest to bring more democracy, direct democracy precisely, to Germany. But he’s also expanding and exporting his findings to other places such as Luxembourg, Slovenia, Ireland, Austria and, soon Tunisia.
Staff members work the phones and volunteers filter in and out of his crowded office flat in a Hamburg walk-up, where he’s involved with several NGOs responsible for doing just that:Abgeordnetenwatch.de (Parliament Watch), kandidatenwatch.de (Candidate Watch) and Mehr Demokratie e.V. (More Democracy).
His primary project, Parliament Watch, has grown into a fixture of the German political and media scene. It’s a forum where citizens can ask direct questions of political candidates and elected officials in Germany and of Germany’s delegation to the European Union.
The forum has proved popular, generating 350,000 unique visitors per month. It has partnerships running with several media organizations including the daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, public broadcaster NDR, and SPIEGEL ONLINE, which help draw questions from voters to the site and use some of the answers and data in their reports.
Ninety-Five Percent Participation
Because of the site’s popularity, the lawmakers are essentially forced to answer the questions from constituents, and to maintain a basic profile on the site. Those who want a premium profile with a picture and a platform integrated into Twitter or Facebook must pay an annual fee of €129 ($161).
“That’s how we get politicians to contribute to the project,” Hackmack says. “If there is competition before the election, there is a clear incentive” to buy the premium profile. The rest of the financing for the project comes from donors and partnerships.
Roughly 95 percent of the members of parliament participate on the site, and they answer 80 percent of the 100,000 questions that have poured in from voters. The questions are stored in archives as a public record, which voters can later use to hold politicians accountable. The site also can sort and slice data and responses. For example, it shows graphically how responsive each of the major parties in Germany is to questions.
For example, Carola Reimann, a member of parliament with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has paid for an extended profile and has answered nearly all 77 questions that constituents have asked her, including one about legalizing marijuana.
“I do not see the current rules for the use of cannabis as leading to a dead end,” she said in her answer, noting that cannabis use has declined since 2004. “This trend confirms the effectiveness of a multi-layered approach of prevention, counseling and treatment.”
Plans for Expansion
In Germany’s political system, voters largely elect a party rather than a candidate directly, meaning that many politicians take office because of the will of the party and not necessarily the will of the voters. Many German voters don’t know the politicians very well.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have direct democracy on a national level,” Hackmack says. Parliament Watch is rolling out coverage for all 16 German states and will include 92 community-level governments as well. It recently received funding to expand its platform to Tunisia, Slovenia and Ireland. “All three countries are on course,” he said. “We hired a country manager for Ireland and have a (financial sponsor) commitment for Tunisia.”
Parliament Watch is also mulling a possible expansion to the United States and is considering a program where citizens, stakeholders and investors can question executives at banks and large publicly traded companies. Organizers say it’s just a matter of creating a new version of the same infrastructure Parliament Watch uses and hiring managers to build participation, moderate and maintain a new site.
Influenced by Protest Movements
Hackmack grew up in a middle-class family in a part of Germany that was famous for its nuclear transports each year. As a teenager he observed the anti-nuclear movement. “That’s how I got involved in movement politics,” he says. “I realized how much you can do with a few people.”
He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the London School of Economics (LSE) in the late 1990s, at a time when the globalization movement was picking up steam amid the anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle in 1999. Hackmack and peers helped organized events at LSE and brought Naomi Klein to some meetings for peace-related gatherings.
He recalls 2 million people marching in Hyde Park to protests wars and points to it as a key moment in his political development. “That doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “Not even in the United Kingdom.”
A week or two later, the British Parliament voted by a landslide majority for war “even though 85 percent of people were against going to war,” he said. “I started thinking, how can it be in a representative democracy that parliament isn’t listening to the people? It’s almost like (the novel) ‘War and Peace.’”
Hackmack says when he moved back to Hamburg after finishing his studies, he didn’t want to become a banker or consultant like many of his friends. So he went to law school in Hamburg and financed himself by doing market research projects and got involved with the Hamburg branch of the 6,000-member grassroots organization More Democracy.
At the University of Hamburg, Hackmack met Boris Hekele, who was living the same kind of life, supporting himself with web design projects, while studying computer science.
In 2004, they organized a student strike against increases in student fees. Hekele built a web platform similar to MeetUp.com in a matter of hours, which helped organize the strike of about 5,000 protestors. At the time, “there was no Twitter, no Facebook or social web,” Hekele says. “It was completely new.”
The university increased its fees anyway, but Hackmack and Hekele realized they had the makings of a good startup team. They wondered how voters, with an opportunity to vote for a broader range of candidates, could compare the options. They came up with a website that lists members of parliament, their voting records and creates a platform where voters can question their politicians and candidates.
“It’s like giving a job interview,” Hackmack says. “You want to see who you are hiring.”
Hackmack dropped out of the law studies program and Hekele quit his computer science program at the university as well. “I came to the conclusion that this is the key to change things in society,” Hackmack says. “To make sure the will of the majority is implemented in the political process.”
In the Hot Seat
The initial abgeordnetenwatch.de won media awards for its work in Hamburg, suggesting they were doing a service that German media and citizens appreciated. So they expanded the site to the national level just in time for the 2005 national elections. Since then, they have put several politicians in the hot seat, including Carl-Eduard von Bismarck, of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), Bundestag member Siegfried Kauder (CDU) and European Parliament member Silvana Koch-Mehrin, of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP).
Koch-Mehrin was stripped of her doctorate title after a plagiarism scandal in 2011, and was found to have skipped committee meetings for nearly two years. A few politicians, such as Merkel and former German finance minister Peer Steinbrück, are listed on the site but do not respond to citizens’ questions.
Politicians have taken note of how the site has changed the electoral process. Alexander-Martin Sardina, a member of the Hamburg state parliament, wrote in 2008 that Parliament Watch often was a topic of discussion in the CDU parliamentary group meetings: “The mood in the spring and summer of 2005 was that only the party speaker should answer for their respective issues. … There was also a group of representatives that insisted that the only proper forum for debate was parliament, not an independent Internet site.” Sardina writes that staff attorneys for one state parliament even had to advise members if Parliament Watch could be held legally liable for generating bad publicity.
But slowly their opinions changed. Sardina and others suggest that many politicians now enjoy interacting with the public on the site. “It is one of the only chances to get to know the people in my constituency,” said Bundestag representative Rüdiger Kruse. “There are 187,000 people (in my district), and you cannot meet and greet (all of them).”
Drumming Up Donations
In the Hamburg office, a yellow sign with movable numbers lists the number of monthly subscribers to the Parliament Watch newsletter: 1,180. To further boost financing Hackmack attended the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland this year, and is pitching investors to support the expansion of the site. “It would be great to cover more countries and to be an enabler for other organizations,” he says, adding that he would love to one day have a presence in Saudi Arabia or China.
He says it is not the website itself, but people who can topple dictatorial regimes. “We don’t expect to change the world but to provide a piece of the puzzle to help change the world,” he said. “Hopefully we provide tools to allow people to help develop democracy.”
Neo-Nazi Rehab: How Do You Change The Mind Of An Extremist?
By Paul Glader
Judy Korn, who works with violent offenders from Germany’s far-right-wing party, has developed techniques that she says can be used with Muslim fundamentalists and young gang members.
How do you rehabilitate a young Neo-Nazi behind bars?
“You talk with them,” says German social entrepreneur Judy Korn. In the past, German prisons showed films about Hitler and the Holocaust to try to reach such extremists. But Korn says re-integrating the young men happens with personal communication, not by showing them passive media.
And it turns out that helping Neo-Nazis change their ways requires the same five principles (see the sidebar below) that work on Muslim extremist youth and others who end up behind bars for violent or hate-motivated crimes. The chief skill to teach them: empathy.
“If you work with violent people, you can be sure at one point in their biography, they stopped having the ability to feel empathy for other people,” says Korn, who has worked with right extremists since she was a teenager. She said most Neo-Nazis her team of trainers work with in 10 of Germany’s 16 states come from abusive homes with alcoholism and other problems. “If you train people to feel empathy for themselves, you can train them to be and feel empathetic for another person.”
Korn’s organization—Violence Prevention Network—has worked with 500 such cases of incarcerated young skinheads, Neo-Nazis, and Muslim extremists in Germany since 2001. Her records show recidivism rates for the young men they work with is 30%, compared to 80% for all juvenile offenders in Germany. Her team of trainers can work with about 100 young people a year, but she would like to expand to work with more than 300. Other projects like Exit Deutschland also helps shuttle Neo-Nazis out of the scene, offering a witness protection type of program to young people who might fear violent retribution when they quit an extremist movement.
Germany tries to combat its National Socialist past by funding many nonprofits and government agencies to keep a close eye on far-right groups. It even plants thousands of undercover agents inside the extreme right, 6,000-member NPD political party, which sometimes hosts music and other events that recruit young people into extreme ideology. Political leaders in the country set up various government initiatives to monitor extremist behavior. Roughly 50 million euros from the European Union and German government go to funding prevention and deterrence programs in Germany each year, according to Korn. Other nonprofits such as The Nazi Documentation Center in Cologne present history so that German people, especially school children, know what happened in the past. Last summer, the group Exit Deutschland used a stealth campaign at an extremist rock concert in Thuringia. The group handed out free extremist T-shirts to 250 of the 600 people at the concert. When washed, the T-shirt had a message (“What your T-shirt can do, so can you.”) and gave contact information for Exit Deutschland and encouraged the wearer to leave the group.
But the prevention efforts are not perfect. In November, two young right extremists committed suicide in the city of Zwickau and police found evidence that showed the men were responsible for murdering nine immigrants and a police officer in recent years. In 2010, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, estimated there were roughly 25,000 right-wing extremists living in Germany. That office counted nearly 16,000 politically motivated crimes by the far right that year, including 762 violent crimes. At the same time, Germany struggles to integrate the growing number of Muslim immigrants in Germany, a small percentage of whom turn to extremism. Germany faced a wake-up call after it was discovered that some of the 9/11 terrorists, like Mohammed Atta, had spent time in Germany.
Korn, an Ashoka Fellow in Germany, says some of this prevention and marketing work is good. But she thinks more money and time should be spent talking with Neo-Nazis behind bars, debating Germany’s right-wing NPD political party in public, and confronting the right-wing views on a human-to-human basis. Her organization has created standard training to deal with extremists, and her trainers learn debate-style skills in which they let the young extremists talk and then ask them questions that reveal the lack of knowledge or logic on which their views are based.
For example, she said a young Neo-Nazi recently told his trainer that the global financial crisis was caused by “Jewish bank executives.” The trainer asked the young man to do research and back up that claim with analysis. He poked holes in the homework the young man did, proving his anti-Semitic assertion was unfounded. “We show when they are not well informed,” Korn said. “We keep on asking questions.” Similarly, an imam accompanies trainers in discussions with Muslim extremist youth and, with superior knowledge of Islam and a peaceful interpretation of the Koran, counters their assertions and backward notions.
Young men in German prisons can enroll in the voluntary “anti-violence” personal growth program for five months and meet with a personal coach once a week as well as in groups. They join the program, Korn says, because they are bored in prison and realize they are missing dimensions of self-control in their lives. Countering their extremist political, racial, or religious views is a secondary benefit.
“In prison, they are at a point where they are vulnerable,” she says. Neo-Nazi leaders are often past the point of reform. But young men age 16 to 18 in the movement often find themselves socially trapped in their gangs and unable to control their violent responses. Korn’s program offers civic education discussions in democracy, human rights, gender, and other topics.
The organization, funded by government grants and private foundations and donors, follows up with them for one year after they leave prison and aims to help them find a high school degree, an apprenticeship, a job and self-confidence. It encourages and aims to help them relocate away from their previous city to avoid the old friends or family influences. Many of the young men have sad life stories. And 80% don’t have a high school diploma she says.
“They talk to you in a very unemotional way about their behavior,” she said. “It’s like talking to a five-year-old boy and training their vocabulary.” One key point for each young man is to talk through the crime that put them in jail, reconstructing the event in minute detail, and discussing their actions in a way that shows them the perspective of the victim, their responsibility for the crime, and the impact it made on society.
Would the same principles and approach work for drug-dealers and gang members in America’s juvenile justice system? “Absolutely,” she says. “The reason most people become violent criminals and part of extreme scenes,” is the same she says. “You find young guys who don’t feel like they have any worth, are unable to build relationships, and are at risk of gangs.”
But, she cautions, “To do this kind of work, you have to understand the local culture” of a place. A teacher in Northern Ireland, for example, should know the history and culture of the region. Similarly in Sweden, the former Neo-Nazi Kent Lindahl started a group called Exit that helps extremists there leave the scene.
Rightist movements are on the rise in several European countries at the moment, causing increasing concern by officials. The EU recently created the Radicalization Awareness Network after Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people last summer. It will spend $28 million in the next four years to help prevent extremism in Europe. While Germany has its share of ongoing problems with extremist communities, she worries about the right-leaning rhetoric coming from the political class in some Western European countries.
“In Germany, because of our history, we have a more respected movement against extremism. I don’t see the same in the Netherlands, Denmark, or France,” she said. “In Germany, it’s not common to be educated and to have right wing, extremist opinions as freely as in those other countries.”