Together in the same direction
The Council of Tenerife
A network of community groups and associations builds trust and confidence in the city’s integration agenda
For the Spanish island of Tenerife the recent growth of its population by migration and the diversity of cities like Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a new phenomenon. While its location 210 kilometers off the northwestern coast of Africa may suggest migration by perilous sea journey, the reality is more similar to the experience of other Spanish cities than most media reports would have you believe.
Fortunately for Tenerife, the great majority of immigrants are attracted to the island’s economy and thriving tourist industry (5 million visitors a year). Like Spain, which welcomed 650,000 migrants a year at the height of its construction boom in 2005 (and 650,000 more when the government called an amnesty for illegal immigrants with job contracts), Tenerife’s newcomers include a mix of Spanish-speaking migrants from South and Central America, Europeans, as well as immigrants from Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Korea and Russia. Since 2001, the foreign-born population has doubled. In 2010, one in four residents of the tiny Canary Island was born outside of Spain.
Tenerife’s vibrant tourism industry and the local economy depend on a friendly workforce and safe, attractive neighbourhoods and communities. With an application to become a World Heritage site in the works, social cohesion is a top priority for local government.
However, when Tenerife’s Council registered the significance of the current demographic trend, they were concerned about how little interaction existed between the many different immigrant groups. Few were represented by formal community associations, and Council members were not always sure who to contact when community participation was needed to support the city’s integration efforts.
To overcome the situation, in March 2010 the Council’s Economy and Competitiveness Department launched a project to create a network of immigrant associations and community groups with the goal of fostering social cohesion through improved communication and opportunities “to know each other better.”
Adding “Togetherness” Together in the Same Direction
The Council’s emphasis on networking immigrant associations representing countries of origin or specific ethnicities was based on the assumption that immigrants themselves would ‘best represent the voices of new citizenship’ and support the city’s efforts to encourage integration.
Originally named “In the Same Direction,” feedback from the network of immigrant associations encouraged the Council to include “together” in the project’s name to reinforce the idea that this was not merely a top-down initiative, but a true participatory process.
Today the project is called Together in the Same Direction (Juntos En la misma dirección) and is a network consisting of immigrant associations, government agencies, social organizations and others. The network is supported by the Tenerife Immigration Observatory (OBITen) and the Universidad de La Laguna.
Voices of New Citizenship
The objectives are simple: to improve the civic engagement of the immigrant associations, increase their organizational capacity through training workshops, and allow for better communication between the various actors in the field through an online forum and island round tables. The work also includes five working groups focused on issues of community concern: social services, violence against women, co-development, social participation, and communication.
Although the project is relatively young, the feedback it has received from participants has shown it has great promise. Training sessions on conflict-resolution have received praise from newcomer groups while the publication and distribution of a guide to all the immigrant associations on Tenerife (also available online) has been useful to the municipal agencies.
Other gains included a feeling of empowerment from participating in the project, improved relationships with other associations, and all groups recognizing that they are working together on a shared agenda for integration and social cohesion.
Future plans involve diversity training for public and private organizations, improved communications strategies that speak to a multicultural population, and more collaboration between immigrant groups around community development.
Tenerife Council’s decision to focus on communication strategies and community participation as the first step towards improving the integration of the island city’s newest residents has made important inroads, especially in terms of networking across the associations – they no longer feel so isolated.
Julia Milián, the president of the Socio-Cultural Association for the Integration of Women in Tenerife, who is originally from Peru, says that Juntos En la misma dirección has “brought together immigrants from everywhere, and dispelling the fear we have of making contact with others when we arrive in a new country.”
For Carmen Navarro, formerly Tenerife councillor responsible for immigration, Together In the Same Direction has opened doors to new associations and allowed mainstream politicians a new perspective on the settlement and integration experience of immigrants in Tenerife.
“It’s great to feel we’re not alone,” says Navarro. “Being able to work as a network and support each other has been really helpful.”
Making it Work for You:
- Participatory processes work best when participation (inclusion) starts at the planning stage.
- Empowering local communities through consultation and shared decision-making builds trust, loyalty and will result in smoother implementation and greater long-term success.
- Share the outcomes of community consultations with media to broaden awareness of the role diversity plays in good decision-making and its benefits to the whole community.
For this Good Idea contact:
Vicente Zapata Hernández, Cabildo de Tenerife
Plaza de España, 1
Santa Cruz de Tenerife , Tenerife, Spain,
0034 922 317 762 / 747