SINGA: Connecting Community, New and Old
What if we saw refugees as part of the solution to strengthening our communities?
Connecting refugees to their new city and community. Can such a simple idea spawn an organization that inspires a community and creates a global movement for change? Enter SINGA.
In 2012, the Paris-based founders of SINGA were not content to simply create better integration outcomes for refugees. They wanted to create social inclusion, value the contributions, talents and presence of refugees, and change the discourse around refugees. SINGA seeks to change the role refugees typically play, from receivers of services, to a focus on their human and social capital. This is where SINGA excels. Co-founder Guillaume Capelle: “In a nutshell, we’re forging a community where people are able to offer each other something – whether that offer comes from a host or a refugee.”
SINGA’s work is practical, grounded in the local, focused on identifying and resolving challenges refugees face. Refugees are part of the solution, playing a key role in the creation of new ideas, solutions to problems they and others face. This was illustrated at a 2015 hackathon. SINGA worked with the technology community, service providers, interested citizens and refugees to create digital solutions to barriers to integration and inclusion. Like SINGA, a hackathon treats everyone in the room as an integral part of the solution. Refugees are equal partners.
SINGA also works to ensure that refugee inclusion is mutually beneficial. According to SINGA co-founder and director Nathanaël Molle, “Listening is everything.” Refugees don’t know what to do, where to go or how to express their knowledge or skill to locals. It can be difficult for locals to figure out how to benefit from their presence. SINGA creates a bridge to that understanding. It brings people together who have an interest in creating better neighbourhoods and neighbours. The entire community benefits.
Participation of enthusiastic locals is essential for SINGA’s success. They know the community, its nuances and niches. They can help accelerate refugee settlement and inclusion, whether through housing, mentoring, playing, shopping or working together. They are the “unusual integration actors” we increasingly see in Cities of Migration good ideas. Not experts in refugee resettlement, but community members interested in finding ways to contribute and solve problems.
The result? A growing number of ideas and projects at work in cities around the world. Local SINGA organizations create local solutions. They also look to others for inspiration. StayCALM (‘Comme à la Maison’ – ‘Feels like Home’), is a web and mobile app that matches refugees looking for housing and host families in France. Modeled on a project from Australia, SINGA not only leads, but is a willing learning organization, replicating other good ideas.
Building an innovative, supportive community
SINGA is an organization. But one that functions as a community. Members bring ideas, energy and the desire to create an inclusive society. Although started in Paris, France, SINGA is active and growing in other parts of France, and in Berlin, Brussels, Montreal, Rabat and Sydney. The objectives are the same. Each community focuses on projects and approaches that work locally. SINGA is the community hub, the facilitator, connector and enabler. Change happens because a broader community forms around SINGA’s ideals and objectives.
Sima Gatea, Founder, SINGA Germany, calls SINGA a package: “A solution that allows you to make social and professional connections which, at the end of the day, is the best way to promote integration on the ground.” SINGA is creating broader community change, building welcoming cities and actively changing the discourse around refugees.
SINGA is making a deliberate effort to impact the language used to talk about refugees. The word refugee has been divisive, with negative connotations, linked to ideas such as the other, alien, illegal, queue jumper, without status, a cost to the host society.
Changing the discourse that surrounds migration is important. SINGA wants people to look at refugees in an entirely different way.
The move is not towards integration – come, emulate us, learn how we do things and do them that way. But, towards inclusion. Yes, come and learn our ways, but what have you brought, what do you have, what can we learn from you that benefits us all? How can we work together? Gatea’s aspiration is that, in the same way “new Canadian” regularizes newcomers of all types, thinking of refugees simply as “new French”, “new German” could contribute to needed local cultural and attitude shifts.
Sima Gatea, Singa Deutschland, at COM2016 in Toronto
The lens is long term for SINGA. Refugees are an opportunity for societies if we decide to see them that way; if they are included, supported, and able to contribute. According to Capelle, “In 10 or 15 years, we want society to look at refugees in an entirely different way, and that takes time.” The result will create better pathways to inclusion for all newcomers.
SINGA’s founders have clearly tapped into something and have found an idea that is spreading to communities that want to do more to support refugees among them. Gatea says that when she was looking for an inclusive approach to building community, which also connected refugees to economic opportunities, such as entrepreneurship, it became clear that SINGA was what she needed. Is SINGA what you might be looking for in your community?
Making it Work for You:
- Making it work for you: • See refugees as untapped sources of talent, ideas, and innovation.
- See the local community as the catalyst, amplifier and champion for refugee inclusion.
- Give interested and enthusiastic locals an opportunity to connect with newcomers and share their expertise with them.
- Ensure approaches to serving refugees include them in the process of finding the solution.
- Be solutions-driven.
- Adhere to SINGA's inclusive values and implement the types of projects that are needed in your community.
- Be nimble. Nurture your community and volunteers, be open to and make it easy for them to pitch new and innovative projects.
- Partner broadly with organizations, businesses, government, grassroots groups and others that have a shared interested in community building and improvement.
- Look into how technology can enhance sharing, cooperation and innovation to include refugees in solution seeking processes.