Loubna Messaoudi and Creating an Authentic Safe Space with BIWOC Rising 

I started BIWOC* Rising because I needed a workspace for myself in Berlin after leaving my previous job due to a racist experience, and I knew I wanted to create something impactful. It was clear to me that it had to be an intersectional feminist project. As I searched for a place to work, I gravitated towards coworking spaces because I loved the concept of a new, more inclusive work culture. However, I struggled to find a space where I could feel at peace, be creative, and engage with like-minded individuals. It wasn’t that people weren’t friendly, but culturally and methodologically, we just didn’t align.

Inspired by welcoming coworking spaces for women in New York, I began to research and found a few  women-only spaces in Berlin. However , these spaces felt very elite and privileged, predominantly serving white women. While I felt somewhat more at ease there, something was still missing. These spaces lacked a true sense of community, merely having people sit at desks without fostering genuine connections. This experience underscored the need for a dedicated space created by women of colour, for women of colour—a professional, community-driven environment where we could inspire and support each other.

IDEA and a change in coworking

In the coworking industry, terms like inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) are often used very loosely. Many spaces claim to foster these values, but upon closer inspection, it’s clear that they haven’t put in the required work to make them a reality. Creating a genuinely inclusive and diverse environment takes a lot of effort and commitment. It’s not enough to simply  talk about community and safe spaces; these concepts must be actively cultivated and maintained. From my research , I realised that there wasn’t a single coworking space in Berlin created by women of colour, for women of colour. This gap made it evident that a dedicated professional space was needed, one that wasn’t just an add-on to existing work but a central part of our professional lives.

My epiphany came when I attended a session specifically for women of colour, and I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and self-esteem. It was a moment of realisation: this is what it feels like to be in a space where you see yourself reflected in others, where you don’t have to constantly explain your experiences. This experience underscored the importance of having a safer workspace designed for us. IDEA in the coworking industry means more than just having diverse faces in a room; it means creating spaces where everyone feels inherently understood and valued. It means building environments where equity and accessibility are prioritised, and where genuine community and support are at the core of the experience.

A safer space 

Creating a safer space for women of colour, trans people, intersex, and non-binary people of colour is incredibly important. It sounds like a simple concept—just put people together in one room who share common experiences and understand each other’s struggles. However, because we don’t often have these spaces, it’s easy to overlook their necessity. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, it’s essential to recognise that merely including people in environments not designed for them is superficial. True inclusion requires us to dig deeper and create spaces that genuinely cater to and support the unique needs of marginalised groups. This was the initial thought behind BIWOC* Rising, and through brainstorming with my network, it became clear that the space needed to be inclusive of all marginalised identities.

Since founding BIWOC* Rising in Berlin in 2019, my goal has been to build a community where Black, Indigenous and people of colour who are women, trans*, inter* and non-binary can work without facing microaggressions and discrimination. While we can never eliminate these issues, we strive to create an environment that minimises them as much as possible. By fostering a community committed to learning and growth, we can use this space as a lab to examine and combat the biases we aim to eliminate. None of us are free from racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination, but together, we can support each other and create a workspace that empowers and uplifts everyone. This commitment to a safer, more inclusive workspace is at the heart of BIWOC* Rising.

Biases and recognition 

Addressing biases within our coworking space starts with a commitment to educating ourselves and our members. At BIWOC* Rising, we recognise that creating a truly inclusive environment is a continuous learning curve. To support this, we have made workshops mandatory for all members and established a comprehensive code of conduct. These workshops help ensure that everyone is working towards our principles and understanding the same definitions of key concepts like intersectional justice. When incidents occur where someone does not feel safe, we have a plan in place to address these situations constructively. The goal is to hold ourselves accountable and learn from these experiences without placing the burden on those most affected by discrimination.

Maintaining the diversity and inclusivity we are aiming for requires constant reflection and adaptation. We know we cannot make everyone happy, and some people may feel our space is not right for them. That’s okay, as it’s crucial to acknowledge that one solution cannot fit everyone’s needs. Criticism and praise are both part of our journey, and we use them to refine our approach. We also recognise that our definitions and understandings of concepts like intersectionality may not align with everyone else’s, which is why clear communication and education are key components of our workshops. This helps us ensure that our team and members are on the same page, as we navigate the contradictions of operating within a system we seek to dismantle.

A significant aspect of our community is co-creation, where members contribute to shaping our space. We understand that not everyone has the time or mental capacity to be deeply involved, and that’s perfectly fine. We need to provide a network where members can rely on each other, even if some can only engage minimally. We have a dedicated community manager to facilitate this, acknowledging that building a thriving community cannot be an afterthought or an additional burden on our work. By having a core group of committed members and a supportive structure, we ensure that everyone feels included and valued, with the reassurance that help and support are just a message away.

The BIWOC* Rising community

Last year, our BIWOC* Rising community grew to 120 members, but we realised that it wasn’t working because there was too much anonymity. Without knowing each other, we couldn’t truly call ourselves a community. So, we changed our approach and asked our members to reflect on their commitment. We wanted to avoid the “gym contract” scenario where people sign up but rarely participate. We encouraged members to consider if they truly needed the space and could contribute to it. As a result, some members left, and our numbers dropped to between 50 and 60 dedicated members. We are growing steadily, with new people joining every month, creating a more engaged and connected community.

The future of BIWOC* Rising 

Looking to the future of BIWOC* Rising, I hope that it becomes a sustainable and permanent part of Berlin’s community. Right now, we’re still grappling with financial uncertainties, which can be quite limiting and stressful for everyone involved. I envision a time when we are financially secure, and able to confidently say that BIWOC Rising will continue to be a sanctuary for as long as it’s needed. Achieving this stability would allow us to focus more on our core mission and less on the day-to-day worries of funding and resources.

Another aspiration is to cultivate a community so united and self-sufficient that we no longer need a paid community manager to keep things running smoothly. Ideally, our members would step in with their skills and expertise, supporting each other and maintaining the space collaboratively. It doesn’t have to remain the same people, but a collective effort where everyone contributes in their own way. This unity would mean that the community could sustain itself, fostering an environment of shared responsibility and mutual support.

Creating an authentic space 

If you’re thinking about how to design or improve your space in an authentic way, my advice is to start by asking yourself why you want to do this. It’s important to move beyond the idea that it’s just the politically correct thing to do or just a checklist item. Write down your reasons in a few sentences to clarify your perspective. Educate yourself thoroughly on the issues at hand. Remember that you can’t design something for others without including them in the process. It’s commendable to want to use your privileges to lift others, but you can’t make assumptions about what others need. Instead, invite those who will use the space into the conversation and let them guide you. They know what their needs are , and their input is invaluable. This approach ensures that the space is truly inclusive and meets the needs of all its members. 

At the same time, marginalised people should never be asked to contribute like this with free labour. If you need to invite them, then they need to be paid fairly and according to their expertise, otherwise you are just exploiting them for your benefits.

Scroll to Top