Welcome Ability

By Ayse Özbabacan, Policy Officer, Department for Integration Policy, City of Stuttgart

Ayse Özbabacan
Policy Officer, Department for Integration Policy, City of Stuttgart

Welcome to Stuttgart, the III City: International, Integrative, and Inclusive

A strategy to welcome and embrace newcomers into local communities and their new homes.

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an African saying that municipal offices devoted to welcoming and embracing newcomers into a society have long been aware of –and well before the refugee movements of the past three years.

Why? Well, metropolitan cities, and cities with strong economies, in particular, attract people from all over the world. Across the globe, some 200 million people born abroad currently live in cities on both sides of the Atlantic. Demographic mobility and mass migration can substantially change the composition of the local population, creating the challenge for cities to integrate highly heterogeneous and culturally diverse groups into the local community.

The impact of (geo)political developments in the refugee movements in 2015 to Germany, right wing extremism and rising xenophobia have greatly influenced the discourse on immigration, security, and integration policies, influencing public attitudes and the communication between political leaders and immigrants. This is a challenge but at the same time a great opportunity to further the societal development of cities by reflecting on existing integration, diversity and welcoming policies towards newcomers in order to build a new narrative.

We Are All Stuttgarters

The narrative of the city of Stuttgart as the iii-city: international, integrative, and inclusive Stuttgart is an international city. Thanks to the migrants, Stuttgart has been able to maintain its population size of 600.000 inhabitants over the past years. 25 percent of the inhabitants are foreigners, and another 20 percent are naturalized migrants and their children. Hence, in total 45 percent of the Stuttgarters have a so-called migration background. This high share has always been an asset for the city, a richness and diversity that the city is proud of. Moreover, among Stuttgart children and youth below the age of 18, this proportion increases to 60 percent- a share that will shape the future society. In addition, the city has received more than 8,000 refugees, newcomers accommodated in community housing, most of them come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stuttgart is an integrative city. Integration of immigrants has long been a key issue of the city hall. Since 2001, Stuttgart has followed a holistic strategy, its seminal Pact for Integration, to promote the integration and participation of the migrant population in the main living areas in line with the German population.

The Stuttgart Pact formulates the goals and fields of action of Stuttgart’s integration policy ranging from language support over education to intercultural dialogue and refugee integration. Major issues such as education and economic integration can only succeed through the cooperation between different actors and institutions. This approach is called intercultural orientation of the municipal administration and its partners include charitable organizations, businesses, foundations, and voluntary work.

No successful integration without cooperation!

One key element of the pact is to use the talents and potentials of our migrant population for the development of the society. In the economy, through culture, sport and civic engagement, they are partners and co-producers of our integration work, actively shaping our society. In the context of the current refugee integration work, it is the migrants and their organizations who are the experts in designing measures and activities to accelerate the integration of refugees in Stuttgart.

The diversity of our society is our strength: a driving factor unlocking potential for science, economy, culture and everyday life. Integration work on the local level is people work. People assist newcomers as bridge-builders upon arrival and help them integrate into their new communities.

Stuttgart is an inclusive city. “Everyone who lives in Stuttgart, is a Stuttgarter”, regardless of his or her passport and ethnic background. This slogan aims to embrace newcomers from all over the world and make Stuttgart their new home. And a good Stuttgarter takes on responsibility for a peaceful and productive living together. Local residents support children and youth from socially disadvantaged families through mentoring at school, in sports and cultural clubs, or volunteering at German language courses offered in refugee housing sites. Currently more than 2,000 mentors in the education sector and more than 3,500 volunteers in the area of refugee aid are helping out as sports buddies, job buddies and welcome buddies to support and guide newcomers around working and living in Stuttgart.

To requote the African saying, “It takes a whole community to raise a child,” is to affirm the approach of the Stuttgart Pact. A broad alliance of committed partners are essential to welcoming and integrating newcomers into public life and society.

The following selection of good practices, help tell Stuttgart’s story of welcome, integration and inclusion:

Welcome Center Stuttgart: Visit – ask – get a perspective for your future

The word ‘Welcome Culture’ (Willkommenskultur) became popular and influential in Germany in recent years – but what is the content that is hidden under this term? Welcoming newcomers is not just saying hello to someone. Welcoming is also about creating a welcoming environment, and therefore also welcome structures.

Back in 2014 the city of Stuttgart and the Stuttgart Region Economic Development Corporation established the Welcome Center Stuttgart initially as a point-of-contact for advisory services for newcomers and skilled professionals from Germany and around the world about living and working in Stuttgart. It promoted Stuttgart as a place where people feel respected and are recognized but also a place where people receive the opportunity to get involved and contribute to social life. The idea to establish a welcome center was inspired by the exchange with US and Canadian cities, the so-called one-stop shop for settlement services in cities like Toronto.

The Center offers services in 12 languages and works on topics ranging from entry and residence requirements, to learning German, to employment, job search, housing and access to community organizations, civil society, associations etc. This is a real asset as it actively involves migration advice services with local employment agencies and other partners, and the expertise they offer on how to match newcomers’ talents with the skills needed by local companies. The formula is simple: Visit – Ask – Get a perspective on your future. The Center also hosts information events, has established a new citizens club and trained about 100 welcome buddies to support newcomers. Since October 2014, the center has provided services to around 10,000 clients.

The Stuttgart Model of Refugee Integration

Stuttgart has lots of experience regarding the reception and integration of refugees, called der Stuttgarter Weg (the Stuttgarter Way). In the 1990s the city received more than 10000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia. And since the refugee crisis of 2015, Stuttgart has received more than 8000 new refugees. New Stuttgarters regardless of the duration of their stay in the city, these newcomers enrich our society. The reception and accommodation of refugees is seen as a humanitarian task and responsibility.

Der Stuttgarter Weg of refugee integration is characterized by diverse and combined measures and is based on four pillars to accelerate the integration and empowerment of refugees and prevent social exclusion:

  • Housing: Decentralised accommodation in collective premises and apartments spread around the city to provide a good infrastructure and promote social and economic integration on the spot.
  • Social services: Appropriate services related to daily life issues, education and employment, as well as dedicated support of refugees through welfare organizations that provide housing management and care basically under one roof.
  • Volunteer work: Support of voluntary activities (Flüchtlingsfreundeskreise): 41 friends’ circles comprising more than 3500 volunteers work with refugees.
  • Counseling: Special counseling for returnees

Empowerment of Refugees: Stuttgart Refugee Dialogues

The German government and many institutions have developed and published information and guides and apps to help refugees settle in Germany and find their way through the bureaucracy jungle. A variety of integration strategies also exist to bring people from different social segments together to assist refugees.

However, there is little experience with starting a real dialogue with the refugees about their expectations around living in Germany and the daily challenges they face. To quote Heinz Bude, a German sociologist:
„To understand the social setting one needs to make people talk about their experiences.“

Open dialogue platforms are designed to create spaces where people can come together, talk and get to know each other and learn about their respective life experiences – refugees, volunteers and especially inhabitants and neighbours of refugee homes. The Department for Integration Policy established conversation circles to promote dialogue and empower refugees to take ownership of their lives in Germany. The Stuttgart Refugee dialogues bring together refugees, social workers, administrative staff and volunteers to talk about daily life expectations and integration measures on the same eye-level. The dialogues are facilitated by professional moderators and interpreters and provide all parties with opportunities to participate and actively reflect on the quality or shortcomings of available integration strategies. The Stuttgart Refugee Support Group was established to provide volunteer activities and opportunities to refugees and neighbourhood locals to accelerate the integration of refugees i.e. interpreting services, language courses in Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish, Tigrinja etc., cultural and sports activities, catering etc.

What is the benefit of the Stuttgart Refugee dialogues?

  • Get-together of different groups, talk and listen to each other.
  • First-hand information on living in Germany
  • Cooperation with trained intercultural dialog moderators and interpreters
  • Appreciation and psychological relief and stabilization
  • Development of intercultural and communicative skills
  • Community building through dialogue approach
  • Dialogue on equal eye footing instead of assessment and instruction
  • Learning and living democracy through positive experiences not only through information/calls
  • Improvement of mutual cultural understanding in mixed dialogue groups.


The Author

Ayse Özbabacan is Policy Officer, Department for Integration Policy, City of Stuttgart  where she is responsible for the implementation of the integration policy concept the “Stuttgart Pact for Integration” with the focus on intercultural opening of the city administration, migration and women, migration and health and persons with special needs and refugee resettlement.

She is also in charge of the coordination of a German city network on local integration policies working with 30 German cities. From 2006 to 2012 she was in charge of the project coordination of the European Cities Network for Local Integration Policies for Migrants, a network to promote the exchange of innovative best-practices on local integration policies among 35 European cities. Ms. Özbabacan is multilingual, speaking six languages. She has degrees in European studies and law, and a master’s degree in European culture from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She has spent a one month public policy fellowship at the Transatlantic Academy of The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington DC studying local integration policies in selected U.S. cities and is an alumni fellow of the Transatlantic Forum on Migration and Integration



  • Story telling-builds your (new) narrative
  • Reflect on existing integration and diversity policy approaches and adapt to the current setting
  • Capitalise on the competencies, skills and talents of the network partners
  • Promote empowerment of refugees and involve them as partners in their integration process
  • Welcome culture is good but establish also the necessary structures to embrace newcomers


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