Conference Café: Beyond Welcoming

June 2nd, 2014

Coffee and Bradenburg GateEmbracing diversity and creating inclusive communities is the way forward from being merely a welcoming place for immigrants.

Expect to hear new ideas and strategies for moving beyond welcoming as the second panel on day two of the International Cities of Migration conference discusses an action-oriented agenda for building an inclusive society.

As you can expect, everyone on the panel has walked the talk on this issue, beginning with keynote speaker Rita Süssmuth,  former president of the German federal parliament; moderator Ulrich Kober, Director of Program Integration and Education Bertelsmann Stiftung; and panelists Naika Foroutan,  Head Researcher of the HEYMAT project, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

Wanted: More head scarves

When asked about a good idea in integration he would most want to see implemented in his home city of Berlin, Ulrich Kober picked Sweden’s National Diversity Plan. He recalled being stumped by an answer from a school principal in a Stockholm neighborhood populated mostly by refugees from Afghanistan.  Asked if she had problems with head scarves in her school, she said “Yes, we need more head scarves, especially among teachers.” In stark contrast, some German provinces exclude teachers with head scarves.

The Stockholm principal’s answer is an illustration of the exemplary implementation of the diversity plan in Swedish schools. The city of Malmö offers a good case study on the plan’s implementation. The city’s efforts were recognized in 2008 when it was shortlisted as a nominee for the Carl Bertelsmann Prize.

‘A job for all’

Like the principal in Sweden, Berlin researcher Naika Foroutan is also optimistic about transforming attitudes towards ethnic integration in Germany, her home country.

For instance, after Muslims pushed for the right to offer religious education in schools on par with other religions, the government took steps to promote German Islamic education.

On how to counteract negative attitudes that persist, Foroutan says it is a job for all Germans. In an interview, she said “We need alliance partners who change our visions of what it means to belong. They can be found in politics, in academia and in the media – but also in sports clubs and schools. Many children and young people are given the impression that they do not belong and are not wanted here. Once these prejudices have been eliminated, we will also succeed in developing a common language.”

RBC’s Zabeen Hirji will have much to share with Foroutan coming as she does from Toronto, a city with “Diversity is our strength” as its official motto. Hirji says her bank’s diversity strategy, in place for many years, is grounded in being both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.  “We now look at it as diversity and inclusion. Having diversity is interesting but it’s only when you do something with it that it becomes powerful,” she said in a recent media interview.

More such powerful ideas are sure to fuel a robust question and answer session at the amazing Beletage Conference Centre.

More coffee, anyone?

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