Inclusion Means All of Us: Ratna Omidvar

February 3rd, 2011

Inclusion Means All of Us
Opinion by: Ratna Omidvar, President, Maytree Foundation

There are numerous organizations engaged in the struggle for justice and equality, and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to lead one such group. Maytree is a small, private foundation dedicated to promoting diversity and fighting poverty, with a particular focus on migrant integration and inclusion. While it normally takes one or two generations to reap the benefits of migration, it is Maytree’s ambition to do it sooner, faster and better.

Every successive stream of migrants enriches our communities. The sooner migrants are both integrated and included in society, the sooner our cities and our country can benefit.

Integration is not an accident
As a relatively new country, Canada is not hindered by a long history of ethnic conflict or strife. Canada does have a history of civic tension between French and English, and between both of them and our First Nations. However, over time we have learned to accommodate those tensions in increasingly peaceful ways and have reached a level of tolerance for difference which has helped us develop a number of constitutional and legal frameworks to encourage migrant integration.

Our immigration successes, significant as they are, are clearly in the mid to long term, as signified by the number of immigrants who buy homes, intermarry, take up citizenship and send their children to university. But it is success in the short term that alludes us. Canada, whilst being the most tolerant and successful multicultural society in the world, a model to all, is not yet an inclusive society. Inclusion is our next challenge.

From integration to inclusion
Integration and Inclusion are not the same, although they are very closely linked. Integration sets out to ensure that the immigrant fits in, speaks the language, obeys the law, works, pays taxes and votes. Inclusion goes a step further, where the immigrant is an active partner in shaping and changing institutions and society. Think of one as participation, the other as ownership. In integration, the onus is for the greater part on the immigrant. Whilst integration asks a great deal of the migrant, inclusion asks the host society to change and shift. Neither integration nor inclusion can happen accidentally or wishfully, they require the discipline of intentions, instruments and investments.

But it is inclusion that will guarantee equality of opportunity, belonging and contribution. It has the power to turn “me and you” into “us and we”.

Maytree has developed an international project, Cities of Migration, which showcases good practices on integration and inclusion from cities around the world. By describing their accomplishments, we show that cities can be successful with the right inputs and under the right conditions. We also demonstrate how good ideas can be replicated. And, perhaps most importantly, we show that the aspirations of inclusion can be grounded in reality. After finding and publishing more than 85 ideas from cities around the world, we can say a few things about the integration and inclusion of migrants with confidence.

First, place matters. While migration is a national or regional phenomenon, integration and inclusion are uniquely local experiences. The local welcome is a living example of whether a country’s migration system succeeds or fails.

Second, inclusion is a two-way street. Just as the migrant must change and adapt, so must society and its institutions. In Toronto today, we are building more cricket pitches than baseball diamonds.

Third, cities can chart their own path, even if it is contrary to national sentiment, national media and national policy. The sheer necessity of living and working side by side and getting on with the business of daily life is a natural driver for solutions, arrangements and compromises.

Finally, everyone is an inclusion actor – the postman, the business down the street, the teacher, the unionist, the politician, the migrant. Each has a role that can only be accomplished with the active participation of the other. And each benefits from the diversity and shared prosperity that migration brings to their cities.

On January 17, Ratna Omidvar, President, The Maytree Foundation, delivered the second Martin Luther King Lecture, at the Stiftung Koerber in Hamburg. This Opinion excerpts Ms. Omidvar’s views on: Inclusion: The Next Dream.

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