Social inclusion is a two-way street
Cities can offer many different resources (language classes, job readiness programs, counseling, etc.) to help marginalized groups establish a place in society. But it’s not enough to ask people in these groups to adapt. Inclusion also means changing perceptions and practices among established residents, business leaders, and other stakeholders. For example, employers may not know that they can find exceptional talent in unconventional candidates; or, migration officials may need to relax language requirements that prevent recent immigrants from finding work.
The job training program Good Malmö works with many companies in the Malmö region to connect them to young people ages 18-30 who are entering the job market for the first time. Good Malmö offers job seekers training on writing a CV, navigating the job market, and other skills needed to find work. But just as important is Good Malmö’s work with HR directors to help them see the talents they’re looking for in candidates they might otherwise overlook.
Take your time
In many cities and communities dealing with rapid demographic change, there’s an urgent need to encourage social inclusion. But it takes time to establish trust among strangers, or to understand deeply ingrained ways of thinking or unconscious biases in people from very different backgrounds. To make real, lasting impacts, city officials, philanthropies, civic organizations all need to plan for long horizons and sustained engagement, as well as short-term progress.
For the Opportunity Space Festival, the design firm Meshworks worked with a group of job-seeking and newly arrived designers to create temporary benches for festival visitors. The project began five months before the festival opened, with members of the group meeting with established mentors and local stakeholders to learn about the park where the festival was being held, and develop and refine their design ideas. This process allowed the group time to establish professional networks (all of the newly arrived participants found jobs or internships), and gain confidence in completing a complex, multifaceted project. The benches the group produced were wildly popular, but the process to create them produced the bigger long-term impact.
Make the process of inclusion visible
Hate groups, fake news outlets, and other entities that demonize marginalized groups have become increasingly prominent online and in public. Meanwhile, the hard to work to create more socially inclusive cities mostly takes place out of sight, in countless church basements, classrooms, and employment agencies. Bringing social inclusion activities out into public space, and giving them highly visible platforms such as the Opportunity Space Festival’s temporary pavilion, achieves multiple goals. For instance, greater visibility makes it easier to attract people to participate.
Researchers have found that to change people’s behavior, their perceptions of social norms are more important than their personal beliefs. If city government is prominently involved in creating public spaces that promote social inclusion, it can send a clear message to everyone about that city’s values and priorities.
To foster social inclusion, look to the mundane
Social inclusion is not a mysterious process; it can start with participating in simple, everyday activities and rituals. For instance, the Red Cross in Sweden offers a Biking School class to recent immigrants of any age, providing a bike and helmet, and safe places to learn to ride.
What makes riding a bike important for social inclusion? In Sweden, where bicycling is considered a birthright, many recent immigrants come from places where bicycles are much less part of everyday culture; these new arrivals may not own a bicycle or know how to ride. Learning this skill is not simply about making it easier to get around, but about becoming part of a shared culture that established residents take for granted.