Various forms of anonymous job application procedures have been tried in many places around the world, including in the public sector – for example, in the local governments of Helsinki (Finland) and Gothenburg (Sweden). Both Canada and Belgium prohibit the inclusion of personal information on applications for public sector jobs. And it is a particularly welcome innovation in German cities.
In Germany, job applicants traditionally list a number of personal characteristics in their applications that are not related to their qualifications, such as place and date of birth, nationality, and marital status. In addition, it is common practice to attach a photo, which makes characteristics like race, gender and age quite obvious to potential employers.
In 2010-11, the city of Celle was one of eight public and private sector employers that took part in a pilot project initiated by the federal government’s Office Against Discrimination. The pilot project aimed to test how anonymous job application procedures could reduce biases in hiring.
Previous research conducted by the Office Against Discrimination indicated that bias in hiring was most likely to happen in the initial stages of the hiring process. Often, a brief glance at an applicant’s name, gender or age was enough for human resources staff to discard an application. In particular, these biases affected people with a migrant background, women with children, and older workers. This confirmed studies conducted in other countries showing that employers are influenced by these types of biases. The pilot therefore focused on the initial stage of hiring – the job application.
During the pilot, the participating employers tried a variety of methods to try to prevent these biases from influencing the review of applications – including blacking out personal details such as name, age, gender, and marital/family status, or using standardized application forms developed for the project. In the end, using standardized forms proved to be the most efficient method.
“The anonymous application process means that whether you will be invited for an interview depends only on your qualifications and not looks, gender, age or background,” says Christine Lüders, head of the federal government’s Office Against Discrimination.
Indeed, this pilot showed results similar to those conducted in other parts of the world – ethnic minorities and women are demonstrably more likely to be invited to an interview. “I was skeptical at first,” says Jockel Birkholz, the head of Celle’s human resources department. But he admits, “In the traditional process, I glanced at the photo, the CV, the marital status – there were biases despite all attempts at objectivity.”
Anonymous job application procedures are being credited with improving the hiring process. Mayor of Celle, Dirk-Ulrich Mende says, “We are now looking more at qualifications during the hiring process. This is the case for both leadership and apprenticeship positions. Many people who we’ve hired [with anonymous job applications] wouldn’t have been chosen before. And all of them have succeeded.”
It has been embraced by the human resources department, which finds the process more efficient. The standardized application forms make it easier for human resources staff to review the applications. “We can narrow down the candidates faster because we concentrate on a few important criteria,” explains Birkholz. This has become increasingly important as the city is often flooded with job applicants. Mayor Mende believes this is because the anonymous procedures have helped the city improve its reputation as a good employer.
The pilot was so successful that the city of Celle decided to continue using anonymous application procedures after the pilot ended. And this good idea has now spread to Göttingen, Hannover, Mainz, Mannheim, Offenbach and Nürnberg and to eight German states.
“The anonymous application process clearly leads to more transparency, objectivity, and equal chances during the decision-making phase and is an important building block towards a workplace without discrimination. We will continue with this process,” pledged Mayor Mende.]]>
Since almost 50% of Cologne’s youth have a migrant background, it was important that this message reached them and their families. For the most part, young people are not aware of the range of career options available in public service. However, the youth recruitment issue was addressed by an innovative support program introduced by the city in 2007 and it’s been a great success so far. There has been a steady increase in the number of trainees with a migrant background, and by 2012 they accounted for 34.5% of all newly recruited staff. This roughly reflected the composition of Cologne’s population.
Starting with 22 youths, the pilot “Integration of Youths with a Migrant Background in City of Cologne Programs” was kicked off in 2008 as part of the EQUAL Communities Initiative funded by the European Social Fund (2000-2008) to address employment inequalities. The core components of the program include targeted, individual supervision; the elimination of language deficits; and an initial assessment of training needs. Applicants have the opportunity to prove themselves in a six-month trial period across a wide range of vocational fields. Each placement is formalized in advance with a Letter of Intent between the Cologne Job Centre and the City of Cologne to ensure that, wherever possible, these young people are recruited from unemployment benefit programs such as ALGII (U 25). The Job Centre covers the cost of living (via Basic Security Benefits for Job Seekers SGBII) during the trial period.
Following a successful qualifying test and orientation assessment, the applicants are offered a six-month practicum and then receive help in finding a job that suits them. For some it’s customer service, for others traffic control. The choices are broad enough to meet every interest.
In addition to technical and vocational training, academic classes are held once a week at the Rheinisches Studieninstitut für kommunale Verwaltung (Rhine Institute of Municipal Administration Studies). Here, the emphasis is above all on German language proficiency, an essential workplace competency. Other subject areas include administrative and municipal (public) law and legislation, as well as organizational management, decision-making and essential social and communication skills. Weekly lessons also include sessions tailored to individual learning needs on topics ranging from self-help to conflict resolution.
“What is also especially encouraging is the number of young people who no longer have to rely on ALGII support thanks to entering training measures offered by the City of Cologne,” says Beate Blüggel, Director of the Regionale Arbeitsstelle zur Förderung von Kindern und Jugendlichen aus Zuwandererfamilien (RAA – Regional Section for the Support of Children and Youth from Immigrant Families) and Managing Director of the Zentrum für Mehrsprachigkeit und Integration (ZMI – Centre for Multilingualism and Integration). In 2011, out of 19 participants, 10 young people were taken on for training as office administrators; another as a surveying technician, and another as a road maintenance worker. Not every trainee continues with the city but all benefit from the training experience, including the city of Cologne. “While the young migrants get the opportunity to prove themselves in the profession of their choice during the six-month practicums, Cologne, as a multicultural city, can gain from the language potential and knowledge of cultural backgrounds that the young migrants are able to provide,” says Beate Blüggel.
Putting language skills in context
Intensive public relations activities and outreach ensure public awareness of the recruitment project. Project co-ordinators work with job centres, vocational officers at schools, through community and intercultural centres and with parents. Presentations and promotional activities target vocational orientation sessions, training exchanges and trade fairs as well as other events run by the City of Cologne’s Council on Integration Affairs.
Although migrant status is declared on a strictly voluntary basis, Cologne’s Human Resources Department has been developing testing procedures for applicants with a migrant background since 2005. Vocational assessments are made independent of language proficiency testing since many applicants are still in the process of learning German. Instead, results are adjusted for the “average increase” in language proficiency that can be expected by the end of the training program. “In this manner, our assessment compensates for disadvantages arising from migration itself, whatever the language skills. We are currently assessing whether the entry requirements can be opened even further,” says Ina Beate Fohlmeister, former Director of the City of Cologne’s Intercultural Department.
In addition to the special focus of the project “Integration of Youths with a Migrant Background in City of Cologne Programs,” large numbers of young Germans with migrant background also apply to the city’s youth training programs in the “conventional” way. Out of 4,065 applicants in 2011, 1,103 were submitted by young Germans with a migrant background, accounting for 27% of all applications. Of special note is a steady increase in the training rate among migrants, rising from 29.5% in 2010 to 30.4% in 2011 and 34.5 % in 2012. Maybe this is the secret to the program’s success; it builds awareness and sends a message about inclusion however one chooses to apply to the city’s training programs.
In 2007, Cologne became the first municipality to sign the “Charta der Vielfalt” (European Charter of Diversity), an initiative led by four major German enterprises, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche BP and Deutsche Telekom, to promote diversity in businesses and create a work environment free of prejudice. By becoming a signatory to the charter, Cologne has declared its commitment to promoting integration and diversity at all levels, ages and backgrounds. Programs like Cologne’s youth employment initiative are putting good policy to work.]]>
Since 2001, non-EU Parisians like Yoba have had a voice in the affairs of local government through the Citizens Council of non-EU Parisians (Conseil de la citoyenneté des Parisiens non-communautaires, CCPNC), known today as the Assembly of non-EU Parisians (Assemblée des citoyens Parisiens extra communautaires, ACPE). Launched by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, the Citizens Council aims to correct what Delanoë referred to as “democratic injustice,” by promoting the political participation of non-EU Parisians who live, work and pay their taxes in France –even if participation does not include the right to vote.
The Citizens Council, initially made up of 90 members and chaired by the Mayor himself, has over the years advised Paris City Council on issues as diverse as access to services, fundamental rights, economic development, youth, culture and political participation. This deliberative assembly is an innovative way to raise the profile of a community who is otherwise politically excluded and has contributed to increasing their sense of belonging to France’s capital city.
Political participation as a means of integrating migrants
Shortly after coming to power in 2001, Paris Mayor Betrand Delanoë found an ingenious way of circumventing the law that excludes non-EU citizens from the right to vote at municipal elections. He did so by setting up an advisory council made up of non-EU Parisians that could act as an intermediary channel between these residents and municipal leaders. Aiming for balanced representation, the Council membership ensured gender and age balance, as well as the regional representation of the citizens’ countries of origin.
Under the motto, “All Parisians, All Citizens” (“Tous Parisiens, tous citoyens”), the Council advises the Mayor on issues that were of particular relevance to life in Paris for migrants and non-nationals. In its first 10 years, Council activities focused on a wide range of topics, including campaigning for the right of non-EU citizens to vote at local elections, ensuring adequate housing for migrant workers as well as improving public transportation at night, since the majority of the bus and metro users are migrant workers who tend to work outside traditional working hours, and often live far from the city centre or their place of employment.
Citizenship of residence versus citizenship of nationality
Paris’ Citizens Council was originally meant to be a temporary measure put in place until the right to vote for third country nationals was legislated. Although voting rights have been a political commitment of successive Socialist governments in France since the 1980s, it has yet to be implemented and is regarded by some politicians as contrary to the principles of the French Republic which enshrine individual rights over that of la collectivité (community). While the Citizens Council may challenge the traditional link between citizenship and nationality by promoting the concept of a citizenship of residence, the Assembly is part of a wider trend by the Mayor to improve participatory structures at the municipal level and is one of a series of councils (local residents councils, youth councils, etc) that highlights the Mayor’s intention to increase direct participation of people in decision-making at City Hall:
“Our city’s identity should not be reduced to an origin, a religion, or a territory – but should rather be associated with the notion of tolerance, justice and generosity.” Bertrand Delanoë
(“L’identité de notre ville, n’est pas réductible à une origine, à une religion, à un territoire – elle correspond à une idée de la tolérance, de la justice et de la générosité” Bertrand Delanoë)
The success of the Mayors’s Citizens Council resulted in a majority of Parisian districts (arrondissements) taking the decision to set up their own local councils. To consolidate this widening base of community support, in 2011, the Paris Mayor decided to restructure the Council into an Assembly made up of representatives of the local district councils. With the local branches comes a diversity of perspective and recommendations for action on a wide range of local issues, making the Assembly more effective and more useful to the Mayor as a conduit of the interests and needs of his constituents, including the non-EU nationals that call Paris home.
In the 20th district for instance, the local authority has taken on board many of the Assembly’s suggestions, including the organization of an annual fair on the theme of “a mixed and secular Republic” (Fête de la République laïque et métissée”), and the publication of a welcome guide for newly arrived migrants in Paris, translated in six languages. “Some of our suggestions have even been voted by the municipal council!” says Yoba proudly.
Today, the Assembly remains a consultative body, with the power to influence decision-making rather than to execute any real power. However, it carries the weight of mayoral voice, the will of the people and offers a good platform to advocate for the right to vote for non-EU citizens, sending a strong signal to the 10% of non-EU Parisians that their issues and voices are taken into account.]]>
This “intercultural dilemma” is the kind of experience discussed within an innovative workshop model designed for city staff in Botkyrka, a district within the larger municipal region of Stockholm.
Botkyrka is Sweden’s most ethnically diverse municipality, with the highest percentages of first and second generation immigrants in the country. More than 50% of Botkyrka’s population has roots outside of Sweden. In one neighbourhood, 90% of inhabitants come from a migrant-origin background. The urban-rural split in the region’s diversity is especially striking, “so different and distant that they might as well be on different planets.”
These disparities became a matter of concern to Botkyrka’s civic leadership when they learned that many residents with a migrant background did not identify with Botkyrka as “home” but as a “place of transit.” Overcoming this divide was essential to the district’s future outlook. The city needed an integrated strategy that respected diversity and could ensure that all Botkyrka residents felt part of the same community and could work together to realize its vision of equality and opportunity for all “boys and girls, women and men who have Botkyrka as their home, regardless of social and ethnic background.” The district-wide strategy must also recognize the relative youth of Botkyrka’s population as an important asset (average age 36) within the larger regional development plan.
Bringing interculturalism to Botkyrka
Botkyrka has a history of forward thinking. It established the first “one stop shop” for government services in Sweden. And it elected Sweden’s first foreign-born mayor in the 1970s. In 2010, Botkyrka joined the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities movement to bring its intercultural strategy home under the slogan, “Botkyrka, far from average.”
Yet introducing interculturalism would be no easy matter. One of Botkyrka’s challenges was to translate its aspirations into an action plan that could deliver results. A 15-year plan was developed with short- and long-term goals at each five-year marker. Importantly, the plan begins with the city government itself. As first responders and service delivery agents, the district’s administration employees and managers had to buy into the intercultural strategy in order to apply it effectively. City authorities recognized it is one thing to introduce an intercultural approach and another to have residents and civic employees understand it.
“One of the goals of the Intercultural Strategy is to narrow, and not increase, the distance between people with immigrant backgrounds and people with traditional Swedish backgrounds,” says Helena Rojas, Director, Division for Democracy, Human Rights & Intercultural Development.
Playing games with intercultural intelligence
The Botkyrka Intercultural Strategy’s first goal was to incorporate a non-discriminatory and intercultural approach as a core competency for district managers and employees. To make sure the strategy was understood within the civil service, the district offered “Intercultural Dilemma Workshops” where participants could analyze situations of intercultural conflict and learn how to overcome them. The aim is to break down stereotypes and accept differences within the workplace while developing the intercultural ‘intelligence’ needed to respond appropriately to one’s own implicit bias in new or unexpected situations.
“We have an expectation from our employees,” says Rojas, “You can’t bring your preconceived ideas about people to work.” For Rojas, this means finding ways for the librarian to understand her biases. Botkyrka’s Dilemma Workshops offer city employees a trusted space and trained professionals with whom to build the intercultural awareness and competencies they need to do their job.
Launched in mid-2011 across all eight divisions of the public service, each half-day Dilemma Workshop begins with an introduction to the concept of interculturality. The main exercise is to discuss a number of real-life case studies from within municipal departments, including examples offered by participants themselves. Participants are placed into groups where they are encouraged to walk through the case study scenario or describe their own experience, and then analyze and discuss how intercultural skills, or a lack thereof, affects the outcome. Next, workshop facilitators help participants look at the impact of “structural conditions,” such as language barriers, cultural differences or institutional culture on the situation as well as explain what needs to change for the situation to improve. The aim is to create a safe space for intercultural learning that includes room for debate on the pros and cons of different solutions. The question governing any proposed solution is: how will this outcome reflect on Botkyrka and its services? Will it help the city achieve its goals? Finally, the group plans coming steps (short-term and long-term) and how to support individual employees.
Essential to the success of the workshop is the ability of the facilitator to provide a trusting environment. Participants need to be able to speak freely about situations they have experienced where misunderstandings, biases or prejudices may have had a negative impact on communication with colleagues or the public. Without that sense of safety, tough questions and issues, such as the case of the library encounter, would remain unanswered.
“One of the keys to the success of the dilemma workshop is to create trust, and an environment where people can share their experiences without feeling like ‘I am not good.’ You have to create that atmosphere for people to tell their stories and not be ashamed of these things,” says Rojas.
From the individual employee and section head to the wider organization and public, the intercultural workshop aims to develop a continuous support structure that results in systemic change. “The individual always has responsibility [for him- or herself] but the district also has a responsibility to support the individual. That’s the Dilemma Workshop. Everyone has a share of the responsibility,” says Rojas.
In the case of the librarian, the department was able to start a working group where employees could bring such issues up for discussion with colleagues. The Dilemma Workshops have proven to be one the key tools to incorporate interculturalism within the district government: 12 workshops have already been held within 8 departments. Botkyrka’s Dilemma Workshop model has been recognized as a best practice by the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities program.]]>
Attracting and retaining immigrants has become a key strategy in St. Louis’ mission to remain prosperous. In fact, the Greater St. Louis region wants to become the fastest growing U.S. metropolitan area for immigration by 2020.
And they have the business case they need to support their ambitious goal. Jack Strauss, an economist at Saint Louis University, released a 2012 fact-finding report on how the mid-western city could boost its regional economy over the next decade. His analysis clearly demonstrates that the region’s relatively small immigrant population makes a significant, positive impact on St. Louis’ economy.
Immigrant asset vs. immigration deficit
Strauss notes that the St. Louis Region, while 19th in the nation in population, is 43rd in immigrant representation and has suffered from the lack of more immigrants. His study reveals that St. Louis immigrants are better educated, earn more, and start businesses at a faster pace than the native-born population. The data made it easy for local leaders to see that immigration is intimately linked to healthy growth in employment, income and wages for all residents in St. Louis.
“Immigrants bring work skills, add to our neighborhoods, pay taxes and buy goods in our region. And, we need new residents to add to our own multicultural perspectives, so our regional enterprises can compete effectively in the widening global market,” said Mayor Francis Slay (National Welcoming Week).
To realize its vision for St. Louis’ future prosperity, the city looked for strong initiatives that could both attract immigrants to St. Louis and retain those who are already here. To ensure its success, first steps included engaging a powerful cross-section of city leaders and local stakeholders to help put good ideas into practice. Under the leadership of the Mayor’s Office, the St. Louis County Executive and the St. Louis Regional Chamber, steered by the International Institute of St. Louis, this enterprising coalition would work together to build a broad consensus across the whole community.
Enter the St. Louis Mosaic Project
On June 19, 2012, the 18-member St. Louis Regional Immigration and Innovation Steering Committee was launched, representing a diverse mix of regional business, civic, economic development and academic leaders. A year later, vision and action came together as the St. Louis Mosaic Project, under the slogan, ”Regional prosperity through immigration & innovation.”
Engaging the local business community and helping them understand the value of diversity is key to making the Mosaic Project a success: “Few St. Louis organizations provide services targeted at the local business community. This includes both services directed at helping local business hire immigrants and services to help immigrant entrepreneurs. This is a key area to attract and retain immigration. Efforts to increase services in this area could be tied to efforts to retain foreign-born college students by assisting local businesses in the process of sponsoring work visas and internships.”
Getting the local population on board would be equally important. So far, the project that has done most to generate enthusiasm among the local population is the Mosaic Ambassadors. The Mosaic Ambassadors Program is a low key but high impact strategy for better educating and connecting immigrants with native-born St. Louisans. Ambassadors are citizens who make a simple commitment to share information, visit at least three immigrant restaurants or businesses in the area and, importantly, make that important message of welcome real by inviting a new immigrant home for dinner. Other Ambassadors operate “pop-up” sites at local corporations with large numbers of immigrant employees where they promote St. Louis’ welcoming and integration services and distribute helpful information.
The appeal of the Ambassadors has been magical. Within weeks of its announcement in June 2013, hundreds of St. Louisans had expressed an interest in participating. Mosaic surpassed its initial goal of recruiting 50 Ambassadors with over 200 applications in the first three weeks.
Welcoming Cities Initiative
Immigrants “create opportunities and make the pie bigger,” said Betsy Cohen, project director. “We need to look at things we can do as a community. We need to become more welcoming and figure out all the points we need to connect services and resources so that when people come here they can immediately plug in.”
While Mosaic Ambassadors roll out the welcome mat and explore the contribution of immigrants within the local population, St. Louis is laying the important groundwork for its Welcoming Initiative, a campaign to recruit and retain immigrants with a clear message about services and opportunities in St. Louis. Building an inclusive community model has been a priority from the outset, according to Betsy Cohen: “Hundreds of immigrants have also been sought out for their input and assistance in achieving the St. Louis Mosaic Project’s goals. Project staff and members are highly visible at local meetings, social gatherings, and with the media to share the St. Louis Mosaic Project’s story and goal.”
Insight from local experts was available from the beginning, but learning from other cities is an essential part of their plan for success. Strauss was commissioned to identify immigrant ‘welcoming’ and integration best practices elsewhere and to offer recommendations for St. Louis immigrant population growth. The St. Louis City Mayor and St. Louis County Executive have also signed on to the Welcoming Cities and Counties network run by the national Welcoming America.
Charting a path to future prosperity
Mosaic is also tapping into good ideas from outside the country. The highly successful Halifax Connector Program, developed by the Greater Halifax Partnership and replicated in cities across Canada, has been identified for Mosaic’s ongoing work to bring business and new immigrants together.
Access to employment is the number one concern for new immigrants, and a significant strand of St. Louis’ Mosaic strategy. A Career-Path initiative, initially focused on health and engineering sectors, is underway to support labour market integration of immigrants to the St. Louis region.
There is also a special focus on retaining international students in St. Louis, a valuable asset in this high density educational corridor. Betsy Cohen: “We have thousands of talented international students from all over the world at our top institutions. Keeping these students will add both talent and cultural diversity to our community. One program announced recently has our Regional Business Council of company leaders opening their influential Mentor program to international students for the first time. In the new [mentoring] class, 11 of the 136 students are international to help them connect with local leaders so we can retain them.”
Mosaic’s early successes include the support of the Mayor’s office and city executive, recruitment of top public and private leaders, blending of business and social justice priorities without one being sacrificed for the other, financial commitment of seed funds from St. Louis County to hire project staff with other project funding from other regional sources, and major, substantial and sustained local and national media coverage.
We asked Betsy Cohen for the secret to Mosaic’s success. She didn’t hesitate: first, the evidence that makes for a believable vision, and then leadership for the passion it inspires about getting the job done.]]>
Beryl Randall, Director, Employability Forum, London, United Kingdom
Beryl joined Employability Forum from Reed Executive in May 2001, where she gained extensive experience of the recruitment and welfare to work sectors. She was appointed Employability’s Director in 2008 and co-chairs the Refugee Integration Working Group with the Home Office. She is a Trustee of Student Action for Refugees (STAR), has founded a peer support group for leaders in the voluntary sector and is a keen allotment gardener.
Christine Roddewig-Oudnia, Head of the Centre for Integration, Education and Cultural Diversity, Municipality of Wuppertal, Germany
Christine Roddewig-Oudnia is the Head of the Centre for Integration, Education and Cultural Diversity, within the Immigration and Integration Office at the Municipality of Wuppertal. She has had over twenty years of experience in the field of local integration and immigration work. Prior to her current role, she was the team leader of the Wuppertal’s Office for Refugees and a social worker at Social Office’s Service for Asylum Seekers. Christine Roddewig-Oudnia has a degree in Social Work from the University of Düsseldorf.
A little girl received her free eye glasses this fall at a school in Scarborough. Before placing the glasses on the child, the optician asked, “What do you see out the window?” The little girl replied, “I see a tree.” After fitting her glasses, the optician asked, “Now, what do you see?” The little girl almost shrieked, “Oh! I see leaves and their different colours! I see the tree trunk! And, oh, I see a bird. Look! I see a bird in that tree!” She promptly hugged the optician and the school community support worker, and began to dance!
One six-year-old boy stopped at the doorway of the hearing screening room, “Do my parents have to pay for this?” he said with his hands up in front of him in a “stop” gesture. “No? Well, okay then, I’ll sit in your chair.”
(Toronto Foundation for Student Success)
Families in high needs neighbourhoods, many of them newcomers, often find it difficult to access health care for their children. Barriers include a lack of medical insurance coverage, lack of accessible transportation, inability for parents to take time off from work, lack of family financial resources to follow interventions prescribed by health care providers, and a lack of confidence in navigating the health care system due to cultural and language barriers.
This means many children may be going to school with undiagnosed and untreated health issues that prevent them from learning to the best of their ability.
Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS): 2010 winner, CBC Toronto Vision Award for Immigrant Inclusion from TRIEC on Vimeo.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the largest school board in Canada, serving approximately 260,000 elementary and secondary students; 75 languages are represented in approximately 600 schools. Teachers, principals and parents had already raised concerns about the pressing need to help students who did not have access to health care resources that directly impacted their school day. This led to the establishment of a pilot project which checked the eyesight and hearing of students in the TDSB’s Parenting and Family Literacy Centres.
Through the TDSB’s charitable foundation, Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS), financial and in-kind supports were secured from philanthropists and private institutions to allow the program, now called the Sprott Asset Management Gift of Sight and Sound, to be expanded to help tens of thousands of students in low-income communities. Parents are notified that their child has been identified as having a possible vision or hearing problem to facilitate further examination by a specialist. Follow up procedures are set up so students can receive appropriate care and be given free glasses and hearing aids as required.
Critical to the program’s success is the use of on site clinics at individual schools. At first, students and families were expected to obtain further services, eye wear and hearing devices on their own, but only 50% obtained the appropriate follow-up. In the case of visiting specialists such as audiologists, fewer than 10% of families referred made it the downtown clinic due to transportation and language barriers. The introduction of extra clinics in schools has resulted in 90% of children receiving the eye glasses and hearing aids they require.
“This is a fantastic initiative to help level the playing field for our inner city children in order to help them reach their full potential,” explains one teacher. “Students have access to formal eye exams and the opportunity to receive a free pair of glasses. Parents are grateful for the early detection and feel that their child’s medical needs are supported. They also are learning to navigate the Canadian health system.”
Accreditation and work experience for new Canadians
Health care professionals from the Canadian Hearing Society and immigrant doctors who are seeking accreditation in Canada travel between schools to hold clinics. Donors help pay the cost of the clinics and even fund the costs of the doctors.
Six International Medical Graduates (IMG) are currently part of the program – each one able to provide 100 vision screening clinics. Not only can they obtain valuable Canadian experience, they act as role models to newcomer students.
This integrated initiative has delivered a key service to a vulnerable population in a trusted part of their local community: the local neighbourhood school. What’s more, students who had been identified with a history of low academic performance or had been referred to Special Education programs were able to be enrolled into “regular” mainstream classrooms.
Over the past several years, over 45,000 students in high priority neighbourhood schools, from junior kindergarten to Grade 12, have received selected vision and hearing procedures in the school locations. Next steps for the project include procuring universal screening, inspiring policy change and obtain permanent, stable funding. The TDSB is requesting government funding for a three-year vision and hearing screening clinics program at all its Model Schools for Inner Cities which serve up to 60, 000 students.
The Gift of Sight and Sound project has paid other dividends including a better understanding of the barriers to health care facing students and families in inner city neighbourhoods. Over 80% of children in need of another hearing assessment did not have a family doctor while 11.5% of children were without a valid health insurance card. A new pilot project at the TDSB, the Model Schools Pediatric Health Initiative, now aims to introduce medical clinics in priority neighbourhood schools.
In 2010, the Gift of Sight and Sound received the CBC Toronto Vision Award for Immigrant Inclusion in recognition for employing international doctors – by giving them Canadian experience for accreditation and providing alternative careers in healthcare.]]>
But Kacey Akpoteni’s experience suggests that, with a helping hand, people from ethnic minority backgrounds can leap forward to be local and national leaders.
A resident of Birmingham, Akpoteni had always been interested in playing a leading role in her local community. But it wasn’t until she joined the newly launched West Midlands Civic Leadership Program in her neighbourhood, that she received a fast-track education in the road ahead to becoming a local leader.
To become a councillor or local official, she would need to hone practical skills such as budgeting and political administration, as well as build professional networks. As an ethnic minority woman, she would probably need to work twice as hard to overcome the barriers she was likely to face. Luckily for Akpoteni, the six-month Civic Leadership Program aimed to give her a head start towards ultimately achieving her goals.
School for Civics
Operation Black Vote (OBV) launched the West Midlands Civic Leadership Programme in April 2013. Founded in 1996, OBV has long-standing experience of running projects to support democratic participation among ethnic minorities. Its recent work builds on the past work of running shadowing and mentoring schemes to include practical skills training aimed at giving participants an even better chance of success.
For OBV Deputy Director Francine Fernandes, the Civic Leadership Programme tackles an important set of issues: “The UK population is set to be increasingly diverse, and we have to make sure that our civic leadership reflects that. There have been so many barriers in the past, but OBV’s work shows that when minorities are supported to step forward in public life they can really challenge the gap in representation.”
The Civic Leadership Programme works by introducing 40 potential ethnic minority leaders in Wolverhampton and Birmingham to the reality of public life in four main areas over a six month period:
Participants shadow officials for up to ten days over the course of six months, supported by additional practical training provided by OBV and by mentoring support to regularly assess their progress.
Fernandes explains: “We set up the program through a tried and tested methodology, selecting 40 outstanding individuals from an open call for applications. Now the program is nearly finished, we’ve been thrilled by the early feedback. One Birmingham councilor who worked with two of our participants described them as “exactly the quality of individuals which civic governance requires [and]… a model for every aspirational civic leadership model that there could be.”
A promising future
So how has Kacey Akpoteni found the Civic Leadership Program since she began in April 2013? She has shadowed a local councilor, sat in on committee hearings and meetings, and received training aimed at accelerating her learning. Akpoteni has already been appointed to sit on a major local funding committee and plans to stand as a council candidate in the next local elections.
Reflecting on her experience so far, Akpoteni says, “So far a lot of ‘myths’ have been busted for me about civic leadership in the UK. I’m certainly going further in civic life after the program. Ethnic minorities aiming to enter politics need to step up to the plate.”
The first session of the West Midlands Civic Leadership Program finished in October 2013; its impact is to be evaluated after that. Outcomes from previous OBV civic leadership schemes across the UK suggest that it will have impressive results. A 2012 OBV scheme similar to the Civic Leadership Program in London saw 50% of participants taking on a leadership role within their community within six months of completing the program.
OBV had a similar result with its MP Shadowing Scheme, launched in 1999 in partnership with the Department for Communities and Local Government to promote the importance of increasing the low levels of BME representation in parliament and local authorities. The Scheme has produced over a dozen councillors, MP’s assistants and its first MP, Helen Grant.
Equally important, many of these “shadows” have moved on to local constituency offices and community centres around the country to play an important role as Parliamentary Ambassadors helping to raise awareness amongst BME communities about the value and importance of positive engagement in democratic institutions. Programs like these are giving emerging young leaders like Kacey Akpoteni the tools she needs to promote the fundamental benefits of an equal and representative governing body to all communities.
The success of OBV’s civic leadership programs has attracted numerous political awards including the Local Government Chronicle Award, the Channel 4 Political Award and the Ebony Business Recognition Award.]]>