In many countries immigration is an urging topic – in each of them civil society organizations shape solutions to enhance inclusion. The program “Shaping Inclusive Societies” connects leaders on inclusion from Morocco, Canada and Germany. In our interview three of them explain how this international cooperation fosters their work.
How would you characterize the immigration societies in Morocco, Canada and Germany – and what solutions are you working on?
Omar Assou: I work in Morroco, in the city of Agadir, which used to be a country of transit for lots of sub-saharian people going to Europe. But now many of them stay here, work on farms and create their own communities. That’s a new experience for us – in my opinion it’s enriching the society because it brings in new perspectives of people who don’t necessarily share the same values. But we still have to make room for this mindset within the Moroccan society. Therefore, we are working within the fields of civic engagement and the promotion of employability. For example, we are working with a mixed group of young people who are studying in Agadir – Moroccans and newcomers. They build projects together and create common solutions to what they experience.
Laura Branner: In contrast to that Canada has a long history of inviting immigrants from many places in the world. Nevertheless, as our economy is slowing down, people tend to become more defensive, so we really need to work on connecting different groups: I coordinate a project called “Lethbridge Local Immigration Partnership”. One of our primary goals is making our city more welcoming and inclusive. Employment of foreign educated professionals is one of the major issues we face, especially when it comes to recognizing foreign credentials and work experience.
Tülay Ates-Brunner: I recognize similar patterns in Germany. Augsburg, where I work, is a very diverse city in a rather conservative setting. Nearly 50 percent of the population has an international background. One of the biggest challenges we are facing is the shortage of skilled professionals on the one hand and groups of immigrants without the right profession on the other hand. The issue of recognizing foreign qualifications is a central one in our work. Beyond that, of course, the question of how we can shape coexistence in such a diverse society is extremely important. That is why, for example, we are working on a project to change the way diversity is portrayed in the media and in public space.
International cooperation: The teams participating in the program "Shaping Inclusive Societies".
How does “Shaping Inclusive Societies” foster your work?
Tülay Ates-Brunner: It has been really empowering for my work. Meeting and connecting with people who share the same values and work on similar issues has given me so much to reflect on. For example, when I came back from a meeting, I completely reshaped an idea me and my team had about creating a social media campaign for different religions to show their holidays or rituals. Talking to the other participants I had realized this campaign might end up recreating stereotypes instead. I appreciate the experience very much.
Laura Branner: I feel the same way. Every time we met I came away with something new and an opportunity to challenge my perspective.
Omar Assou: I also admire that people are giving their time to share their thoughts and help someone else build his or her reality. This exchange within the “Shaping Inclusive Societies” program has helped my projects to grow from small initiatives to cooperating with like-minded people in different countries. When I came back from a retreat we had within the program in Essaouira I started applying what I had learned there. Before having that perspective, we were in a small box but now the sky is the limit. This really improves the impact our projects have.
Tülay Ates-Brunner: We even thought about forming an alliance between Canada, Germany and Morocco. We had a virtual meeting a couple of weeks ago. We live in a global world: So what happens in Morocco will affect Germany or Canada. For example, a law passed in Germany on the immigration of skilled workers can influence the decision of many people in Morocco, for which country they decide to immigrate as a skilled worker. In the fields we work in it's very important to be connected internationally.
An impressive atmosphere for international exchange: During a retreat in Essaouria (Morocco) the participants developed new solutions for their projects.
Cultural diversity can be a great opportunity for societies, but it is also associated with problems. What is the biggest challenge towards building truly inclusive societies?
Tülay Ates-Brunner: Changing some narratives within societies and balancing them out is challenging. For example, we are trying hard to delete the narrative of racism – but it still exists. In my opinion this has to do with an imbalance within societies. In my work I witness that often immigrants don’t have the same standing as people who have been living in the country for decades. To shape truly inclusive societies people have to be open to a different mindset and to giving up privileges.
Laura Branner: I agree. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood whit lots of different nationalities, accents and skin colors. Thinking back on those years I don’t recall any racism or stereotyping, just people living, working and helping each other. What I experience in my work today is very different – and it was a shock to me how people treat it other. In order to create inclusive societies we have to keep initiating difficult conversations, keep educating and creating more opportunities for people to connect in meaningful ways.
Omar Assou: We need to embrace our similarities and celebrate our differences. Therefore, we have to acknowledge that we do not need to be a “copy paste”-version of each other, but to live with the differences we have and try to turn them into the things that make us unique as individuals.
„Shaping Inclusive Societies“ supports the design of truly inclusive societies in which all people can realize their full potential. The program connects leaders on inclusion from Canada, Germany and Morocco who are committed to addressing local challenges with a global perspective in mind. The program aims to strengthen local cross-sectoral teams that are working to address challenges related to inclusion, equality and connection among newcomers and locals. “Shaping Inclusive Societies” is administrated by SINGA Germany and funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.