A Change Of Plans Turns Successful For One Berlin Working Mother Anke Domscheit-Berg has risen to the top of prominent firms McKinsey and Microsoft Germany as a consultant and IT strategist. But this wasn't always the Berliner's plan. Domscheit-Berg had intended to become an artist in East Germany, and then the Wall fell.
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A Change Of Plans Turns Successful For One Berlin Working Mother

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A Change Of Plans Turns Successful For One Berlin Working Mother

A Change Of Plans Turns Successful For One Berlin Working Mother

A Change Of Plans Turns Successful For One Berlin Working Mother

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134738701/134739843" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Anke Domscheit-Berg is the German Ambassador to the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India. The college educates women to become solar engineers. They also provide night schools with solar lights. Fotografa/Berlin hide caption

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Fotografa/Berlin

Anke Domscheit-Berg was born in a small village in Brandenburg, East Germany. She studied textile art and envisioned a quiet life on a farm in the countryside working as an artist.

And then the Berlin Wall fell.

Domscheit-Berg says even though the fall of the Wall was the greatest incident that occurred in her life, it came with some unintended consequences.

"In East Germany, artists would have never been rich, but they wouldn't have starved either. Right after the Wall fell, they would have starved because the economy was breaking down. So I had to think of something else. I worked for a couple of years, and then I studied again, international economy and foreign languages."

Instead of becoming an artist, the 43 year-old became a consultant and IT strategist. Domscheit-Berg made it to the top of prominent firms like McKinsey and Microsoft Germany. She's also a working mother.

She contributes part of her success to the way she grew up in East Germany.

"In East Germany, it is just totally normal to work and have kids and not consider it as such a gigantic change it puts on your life," Domscheit-Berg says.

When she wanted to return to work three months after her son was born, she went directly to her boss and they figured out a re-entry position.

But she says she encountered a lot of criticism from colleagues.

"I got so many feedback, vocal feedback from managers, from co-workers, who were explicitly telling me, not only that it was unusual, that it was bad for my kid. 'It's damaging his social developing,' but I have seen when I grew up that it was so normal, that it could never hurt me," she says.

To this day, Domscheit-Berg says women from the East are more likely to reach a top level position than women from the West.

"Young East German women are the one demographic group right now with the highest education and the highest degree of mobility. Girls in the state of Saxony in 2008, 87 percent of them did their A-Levels, and the average in Germany is something like 40 percent."

The Dalai Lama hands Anke Domscheit-Berg's photo book to 12 year-old Neraj. Bata Burji hide caption

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Bata Burji

The Dalai Lama hands Anke Domscheit-Berg's photo book to 12 year-old Neraj.

Bata Burji

Anke Domscheit-Berg's focus on gender equality was awarded last year with the Berliner Frauenpreis. But her interests and accomplishments aren't restricted to Germany alone; she is the German Ambassador to the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India.

"What it's doing is educating rural women, illiterate women, mothers and grandmothers to become solar engineers. Sounds like a stupid and crazy idea, but I have seen it with my own eyes, and it does work."

These female engineers also provide solar lights for the night schools in Rajasthan where kids who have to work during the day get a chance for education at night. Domscheit-Berg is deeply impressed with 12 year-old Neraj.

"She can be very serious when she talks about her parents not wanting her to go to school after 5th grade, and she really wants to become a teacher. So I hope she can achieve that, and I will support what I can to reach that."

She made a photo book of Neraj, which was presented to the little girl by none other than the Dalai Lama, in an effort to impress her parents and hopefully change their mind toward Neraj's wish to become a teacher.

Empowering women is Domscheit-Berg's main cause- the one she feels is the closest to her heart. A couple of months ago she left her position as the director of government relations at Microsoft Germany to become self-employed.

Now she wants to teach other women what she has learned over the years.

One thing that has stayed the same throughout her career is that she loves wearing the color red.

"It's an energetic color. It's the color of power, but also the color of love and emotions, so it's a very interesting combination."