Welcoming Innovation through Transnational Exchange

February 28th, 2017

dan-wallace-photoBy: Dan Wallace

Earlier this year, local officials from the United States and Germany took part in the inaugural year of the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange, an opportunity to share ideas and promising approaches to welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into communities on either side of the Atlantic. This exchange, organized by Cultural Vistas in partnership with the Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America and Welcoming America, is rooted in the idea that many of the core challenges and opportunities of migration are shared among nations, but also that assumptions about what works best in each country should be tested and examined with fresh perspectives.

And they have been. On a recent webinar, several of the participating U.S. officials—just back from a brief visit to the cities of Mannheim, Stuttgart, and Dresden—shared the ways in which their thinking had been challenged by what they witnessed in Germany, and how they are already beginning to plan new initiatives or refine existing ones based on some of these lessons.

Betsy Cohen, Executive Director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, found inspiration in the blend of arts, culture and volunteerism in integration efforts in Germany. She shared that Mosaic will work to bring long-term residents and refugees together when the St. Louis Symphony performs concerts at the International Institute of St. Louis.

Now, the Welcoming Communities Transatlantic Exchange and the ideas it sparked are helping to inform a new exploratory project—supported with seed funding from the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Ashoka, and Welcoming America—to examine the different approaches to welcoming in the U.S. and Germany and how to further an exchange of ideas between two countries both grappling with rising social anxiety about the influx of refugees.

Strategies for Successful Integration

Addressing apprehension about newcomers within receiving communities in these and other nations experiencing demographic change will be critical to successful integration. But the strategies for doing so—including the values to which local officials, often on the front lines of integration, appeal—may look quite different. Since 2010, for example, the number of civic, business and political leaders in the U.S. employing economic arguments to further the debate about the value of immigrants and refugees has grown tremendously. Reports citing the economic benefits of immigrants as entrepreneurs, workers, taxpayers, students, and homeowners have sprung up everywhere from national academic journals to local newspapers to White House policy reports. These arguments have been made by Democratic and Republican policymakers, business executives and farmers, mayors and non-profit advocates alike. A study by the Pew Research Center found that Americans’ views of the impact of immigrants on U.S. workers have grown more positive over the last 10 years, not less. And yet the role that fear about immigration played in the recent U.S. election is undeniable. In other words, this argument alone has not moved the American debate about migration far enough.

On the other hand, the commitment to a humanitarian responsibility towards refugees in Germany remains strong even as social anxiety is on the rise. And, due to the nature of the challenge here, as well as the different legal and policy framework within the country, arguments about the economic benefits of migrants and refugees remain nascent. A more extensive social welfare apparatus and deeper public sector investment in those arriving, in addition to perhaps higher barriers to entrepreneurship for those struggling to enter the labor force, call into question some economic arguments now taken for granted in the United States. Despite this, communities across Germany, like the U.S., face a demographic cliff resulting from their aging populations that is unlikely to be mitigated without the arrival of newcomers.

The questions of how to reach and engage receiving community members who may be fearful or apprehensive about migration in both societies have new significance in the aftermath of the U.S. election. They will be the primary focus of the exploratory phase of this new project, which has just begun. What has already become clear is that we cannot answer these questions alone.

Dan Wallace is a Project Consultant with Welcoming America and the Bertelsmann Stiftung. He holds a M.Ed. in Community Development and a B.A. in Political Science from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, the birthplace of Welcoming America.

 

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