A social start-up aims to improve support structures for victims of domestic violence

Hertie MPPs Ba-Linh Le, Babatunde Williams, and Lena Wagner tackle the problem through the work place and other peers.

Sometimes, meeting the right person at the right place can get you engaged even with mammoth challenges. This was the case for Ba-Linh Le and Lena Wagner, who met during their graduate studies of public policy last year at the Hertie School. While analysing public management solutions, Le and Wagner realised they both shared an interest in a major societal problem: domestic and partner violence. One year later, the two are on the brink of founding their own social start-up, together with two other partners: Frontline 100.

“Frontline’s goal is to build community responses to domestic violence,” co-founder and Master of Public Policy student Lena Wagner says. “Community response means that the close environment of victims, such as online groups, places of worship or the workplace, can support them,” she explains. As the working environment can be a safe space that is removed from violence committed in relationships or at home, Frontline develops trainings that enable co-workers and other peers to recognise the signs that come along with it. With the help of the community approach, the social start-up’s founding team of Lena Wagner, Ba-Linh Le, Abigail Branford, and Babatunde Williams (also MPP alum) addresses the subject from a new angle. Although support systems for victims of domestic violence, such as women’s shelters, already exist, according to Wagner, “they only reach a small percentage of victims and usually at a point where violence has already escalated, because partner violence increases in both frequency and intensity the longer it goes on for”. Approaching broader society and peers could therefore be the support that the support system needs.

For their mission, the co-founders rely on a data-based approach. “According to a survey we commissioned and which was conducted by YouGov, one out of five German executives and human resource managers condones physical violence against an intimate partner under certain circumstances,” says Ba-Linh Le, who is in charge of Frontline’s data analysis. “When societal consent is this high, it is no wonder that domestic violence remains a problem in Germany,” she says. Frontline’s findings align with other recent data. According to a study from the Federal Ministry for Women, every third woman in Germany experiences physical or sexual violence during the course of her life, independent of her socio-economic background. What is more, compared to other OECD countries, Germany exhibits the highest share of women stating that a partner or husband might be justified in hitting or beating their significant other.  

In order to raise awareness for this bias and to support victims even before they reach out for help, Le and Wagner are conceptualising trainings and their rollout. In doing so, the Frontline team is reaching out to survivors of domestic violence and drawing from their experiences. Both co-founders say that next year they will have a busy schedule: “In February and March, we will enter the pilot phase and implement our trainings with real employees,” Wagner explains. In April, the team plans to register Frontline100 as a company under German law. If all goes well, they want to approach groups who have the most contact with victims of domestic violence at a later stage, such as medical staff and police officers.

Asked about which takeaways from the Master of Public Policy programme were most useful for Le and Wagner in shaping their start-up, both named concrete skillsets. “Coming from a business administration background, I was kind of geared toward starting my own company”, Wagner says laughingly. “But only at the Hertie School did I learn how to put this knowledge into a broader context, to communicate data in an accessible way, and to speak my opinion,” she explains. “Le had a similar experience: “The interdisciplinary approach to societal challenges is unique,” she says. “And in the end, if it wasn’t for the Hertie School, Lena and I would never have met.”

Learn more about Frontline 100 on their webpage or support their crowdfunding campaign.

Join an event with Ba Linh Le and Lena Wagner on 25 November 2021, 6:30 pm CET. Learn more


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