Hamburg's social start-up "Redezeit für dich" listening up

Start-up's trained coaches volunteering time and a friendly ear in battle against loneliness
18 May 2022
Mann und Frau sitzen auf Bank

An old adage goes "talking is silver, listening is gold".  Yet, people rarely listen to each other, according to founder Florian Schleinig. This lack of attention prompted him to set up the start-up "Redezeit für dich" (literally "Speaking time for you") when the pandemic broke out in 2020. Two years later, around 390 coaches and psychologists are now on a mission to alleviate this situation by volunteering their time and offering those in need an opportunity to talk online. 

Boosting resilience in crises 

Around 25 per cent of people experience anxiety disorders at least once in their lifetime, a survey by Statista has found. And the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Loneliness is a big problem, not only for the elderly and can make people ill in the long run. And as the song "People" made famous by Barbra Streisand goes, "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world" and need a sympathetic ear. "Everyone should be aware of their personal limits and be able to talk openly and without being judged," said Schleinig, who works full-time for Hamburg Marketing in addition to his job as a coach. In late 2019, he and his fellow coaches Ute von Chamier, Annika Reiß and Christian Stegeman hit on the idea of simply listening and reaching as many people as possible, but without replacing psychotherapy.

The start-up became a non-profit company in January 2021 and now consists of 12 volunteers who offer their services in German and English and possibly in Turkish, French and Polish later. The initiative recently joined forces with the "Alliance for Ukraine" organisatin to ensure basic mental health care for refugees. The start-up also works with other organisations to train volunteers in dealing with trauma and in the Ukrainian and Russian languages, among others.


Florian Schleinig, joint founder of "Redezeit für Dich"
© Hamburg Marketing
Florian Schleinig, joint founder of "Redezeit für Dich"

"Sidewalk Talks" - from the street to the net

The idea behind "Redezeit für dich" is not entirely new. Schleinig and his fellow founders were inspired by the "Sidewalk Talks" movement in San Francisco. Members set up chairs on pavements and invite passers-by to linger and talk about what's on their minds. The Hamburg-based start-up was originally intended as an analogue meeting space, but then coronavirus struck. Yet, the founders were not deterred and went online in 2020: "There was no real concept at first. We reacted rather than planned. We didn't have a website either - just our own social media channels at first," said Schleinig. However, the idea proved successful as the pandemic had made people acutely aware of the need to talk and the response was positive. After just two weeks, around 150 trained coaches had joined the initiative and agreed to volunteer their ear and time.

© Redezeit für dich

Pro bono offers

Meanwhile, the website has been set up and gives an overview of the coaches, whose skills range from stress management to career guidance and helping families. Appointments can be made online similar to a telephone counselling service. All the coaches work on a pro bo basis and there is no money involved. "The coaches have to sign an agreement outlining our attitude and values to which they commit," said Schleinig. The volunteers must have completed training, for instance, as a coach or psychotherapist. For quality assurance purposes, "there is usually a one-on-one meeting with us before a coach joins us," he stressed. In return, the start-up offers the volunteers free workshops in active listening or social media marketing.


Corporate health management as a business model

Schleinig and his colleagues also offer company health management. Well-known companies such as Vaude, Urban Sports Club and Gebr. Heinemann now give their employees an opportunity to consult the service in a bid to cope better with changed work conditions in the wake of the pandemic. "We want to become a more established tool of workplace health management and to drive social change in future. I would like society to relearn active listening," said Schleinig as de-stigmatising and lifting taboos around the topic of mental health is the initiative's top priority.