Aug 28 2014

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Photo credit: Sheryl Nadler

The refugee system in Canada has undergone big changes in recent years. It’s now harder for asylum seekers to be accepted in Canada, and more difficult for them to get on their feet when they arrive. Cuts to health care for refugees was part of the reform, now making headlines because a Federal Court judge called them “cruel and unusual treatment.”

Not surprisingly, serious policy changes like these are also complex. They’re hard to talk about. The issues are hard to engage with.

We want to engage Canadians on this topic. How? By telling human stories. We document the stories of 30 refugees who arrived in Canada after an extraordinary journey of flight, in Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada. These individuals, a mix of men and women from over 20 countries ranging in age from their early 20s to early 90s, give a detailed account of the events that caused them to flee their home countries, and the decisions that brought them to Canada. Forged passports, thousands of dollars, human smugglers, armed guards, drifting at sea, starvation, rape, death, survival – these are some of the pieces of escape, and a backdrop to a question posed at the end of the book: Would they get in today?

Peter Showler, lawyer and former chairperson of the federal Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), answers the hypothetical question by analyzing how the cases would be handled under Canada’s new refugee system. By telling stories first, the policy discussion turns tangible. The loss of appeal for certain categories of asylum claimants, for instance, is not a legal labyrinth of Convention rights and government responsibilities – it’s a simple wrong.

It’s wrong that Sabreen would not have the right to appeal if she lost her asylum case today. But a few years ago, she did have that right, and she successfully appealed a negative decision to become a status refugee in Canada.

Storytelling simply works, on many levels. It’s a book you won’t want to close. The experiences of all 30 characters will break you down, their equanimity will pull you back together.

The release date is set for 2015. Sign up for updates here.

We look forward to sharing our work,

Ratna and Dana

Related:

Aug 21 2014
“Toronto is a beautiful picture of diversity," says Maroun Aoun, the CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs, while on a quest for ideas to promote diversity and integration in business.

“Toronto is a beautiful picture of diversity,” says Maroun Aoun, the CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs, while on a quest for ideas to promote diversity and integration in business.

He was a like child in a candy shop. For Maroun Aoun, CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs, Canada’s largest city presented a sensory overload of things to take back home.

“Toronto is a beautiful picture of diversity. And it is not just confined to the subway. I see it everywhere; in offices, in businesses and in homes with mixed-race families,” said Maroun, not too worried that his quest for diversity and integration ideas was gnawing into holiday time with family while on a private visit. He was busy checking out the various initiatives in the Greater Toronto Area that aim to put the region’s diversity to work.

“Equal opportunity increases growth” is the IFS motto that guided Maroun on his mission. “It is a truism. A lot can be accomplished when the doors are opened for people with initiative and they are given the chance to realize their visions,” he said during an informal chat with members of the Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs), an initiative of TRIEC.

Economic imperative

Maroun was impressed by ideas like TRIEC and PINs, and the presence of many ethnic chambers of commerce and associations that are active in pushing the business case for diversity. He was also full of praise for Canada’s structured approach to integration and inclusion that is more grassroots than Sweden’s top-down approach. “Unlike Canada’s multi-cultural approach, many in Sweden want immigrants to assimilate,” he said. “Either way, economic integration and prosperity should come first.”

It is this economic imperative that made him keener to focus on jobs and entrepreneurship rather than on how to “integrate” immigrants. “Let’s talk about the reasons why immigration benefits Sweden in the long run, and that the country needs a rather large number of newcomers to function.”

Maroun pointed out that in 2020 Sweden will have two million seniors. “To meet the consequent labour shortage, we actually need to open our borders even more. And we will have to compete with other countries for attracting people that we today tend to see as a problem.”

Sweden should be learning from North America, he said. “I would say that it’s not that the conditions in North America have been so much better than in Sweden. It is the attitude that has been different, and they have benefitted tremendously thanks to immigration.”

Need to attract immigrants

Hailing Canada’s attempts to attract immigrant workers and entrepreneurs, Maroun said Sweden too needs to do its best to attract immigrants and allow them to flourish, work, innovate and build more enterprises. “Entrepreneurs with a foreign background are often a key to international markets. Knowledge of business culture and language along with networks in other countries removes many barriers to exports. I have personally experienced the power of the mix of Swedish and Iraqi contractors on a trip to Kurdistan.”

Staying with Iraq, a country from which a large number of Sweden’s immigrants originate, Maroun held out the example of Namir Zetali. A successful entrepreneur of Iraqi heritage, Namir arrived in Sweden with his entrepreneurial instinct intact. Today he and his brothers run several businesses that together employ over 100 people and have sales of over 200 million kronor (around $30 million).

But despite the many successes among them, would-be immigrant entrepreneurs face unforeseen hurdles when it comes to contacting financiers and raising capital. This happens mainly because they fail to present their business concept and plan in a convincing manner.

Founded in 1996 to help immigrants overcome these barriers, Maroun’s IFS aims to stimulate and increase entrepreneurship and raise competence among individual business owners. It also initiates projects to create networks between migrant businesses and mainstream businesses and organizations in Sweden.

Ideas from Canada

But what were the ideas he intended to take back from Canada? “I would be taking back at least three ideas that would be of help for newcomer entrepreneurs,” said Maroun. The three ideas are:

  1. The Connector Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia that helps newcomers to build professional networks by connecting them with established community, business and government leaders.
  2. The Next 36 project that aims to solve Canada’s deficit of high impact entrepreneurs and nation-building business leaders. It plans to do this by turning the country’s top students into its most successful future business leaders and innovators.
  3. The Newcomer Centre of Peel, a multi-service agency that assists the entire newcomer family to settle down, including getting them ready for jobs or starting a business.

Maroun was confident these three ideas can be replicated well in a country still coming to terms with immigration. “It is a new phenomenon for many Swedes. They do not understand why people move,” said the first-generation Swede of Lebanese heritage. “It may be because the country has been ethnically homogenous for so long and does not have a significant colonial legacy unlike other immigrant magnets.”

Jul 24 2014

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By Liz Weaver, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement

Community change efforts are complex and messy. Typically they are designed to tackle a vexing problem such as: poverty, homelessness, environmental degradation, or educational achievement, where often only limited progress has been achieved.

Successful community change efforts bring diverse partners into agreement around a common agenda, determine the shared measures that will show progress and leverage those activities which will be used to drive forward change. This is the essence of a collective impact approach.

But it is not enough to do the work collectively. Measuring progress is essential to assess the progress that the collaborative table is making over time. FSG, authors of Collective Impact, have recently released a Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact. This series of three publications provides practical advice, tools and case studies for individuals working on collective impact efforts.

Guide 01: Learning and Evaluation in the Collective Impact Context focuses on the critical importance of valuing learning for continuous improvement into collective impact initiatives. This enables CI practitioners to both embrace complexity and also be adaptable as the community changes and evolves.

In Guide 02: Assessing Progress and Impact, FSG provides a useful framework for designing and conducting performance measurement and evaluation of collective impact efforts. This framework details the different stages of collective impact efforts: the early, middle and late years and the action and evaluation approaches best suited for each stage.

Guide 02 also provides some interesting case studies of collective impact initiatives across each of the stages. Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities is profiled as a case study example of a late years approach for effective evaluation practices.

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In Guide 03: Supplement: Sample Questions, Outcomes and Indicators, FSG lists a number of key takeaways for evaluating collective impact. These include:

  1. Continuous learning is critical to collective impact success.
  2. Collective impact partners should adopt a two part approach to measuring progress and evaluating effectiveness and impact.
  3. The collective impact change process typically involves three stages of development, each of which requires a different approach to performance measurement and evaluation.
  4. Performance measurement and evaluation bring indisputable value to a collective impact initiative and should be given sufficient financial and logistical support.

Practical

Perhaps the most practical of the guides is Guide 03. Included in this guide are strategic questions to consider in the design and implementation phases of a collective impact initiative. There are also sample outcomes and indicators for each of the five conditions of collective impact.

In addition, the guide provides sample outcomes and indicators for related functions of a collective impact approach which include: the learning culture of the collaborative effort; capacity; behavioural change from both professional practice and individual behaviour perspectives; and measures for systems change; including funding flows; cultural norms; and, advocacy and public policy. This guide provides a comprehensive list of measures that will surely help every collective impact effort understand and measure its impact.

The Guide to Evaluating Collective Impact is a useful and timely resource. Evaluation and shared measurement are amongst the most challenging of the conditions of collective impact, particularly when the collective effort is shifting and changing in response to interventions. FSG has provided useful tools and food for thought that will undoubtedly enhance collaborative outcomes and continue to build the case for investment in collective impact efforts.

Learn More:

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.

Jul 23 2014

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Maytree’s award winning DiverseCity onBoard program continues to make an impact on the global scene. Building on the momentum generated by the first DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange convened in Toronto in 2012 to address growing interest in adapting this Maytree idea to diversify leadership, a second such exchange co-hosted by Citizens for Europe, Bertelsmann Stiftung and Maytree was held in Berlin, Germany in June.

Sixty-five participants from 25 cities including Auckland, Copenhagen, Calgary, London, Luxembourg, Stockholm and New York were in attendance to share and learn from each other practical ideas of how to make their communities more inclusive by increasing cultural diversity in leadership.

In her keynote speech at the event, Ratna Omidvar, Maytree President, explained why diversity in leadership matters and how we must go beyond mere representation to true inclusion. “If you view diversity through this lens, you will reap the diversity dividend. If you think of diversity as a mere demographic presence and do nothing with it or about it, you will likely reap the diversity deficit.”

Participants also heard about the power of replicating good ideas, and the importance of building evidence and forming partnerships to effect change.

After the Berlin event, Ms. Omidvar and Cathy Winter, Project Leader for DiverseCity onBoard, held several meetings and a Roundtable on Diversity in Leadership in Stockholm. This resulted in plans for a pilot DiverseCity onBoard program in the Swedish capital soon.

Canadian Community of Practice

DiverseCity onBoard is also deepening its roots across Canada. Maytree convened a meeting of the six Canadian cities (Calgary, Hamilton, London, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver) represented at the Berlin Learning Exchange to form a Canadian Community of Practice. An important outcome of the meeting was the development of an operating model and agreements between the cities and Maytree on how the program is replicated in Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Montréal and Vancouver. Discussions are also underway to establish the program in Calgary. Stay tuned for more information on the national expansion.

Related:

DiverseCity onBoard Newsletter – July 2014

Ratna Omidvar’s keynote, part 1

Ratna Omidvar’s keynote, part 2

Jul 17 2014

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By Desmond Cole, project coordinator of City Vote

Just over a year ago, Toronto city council asked the province to let permanent residents vote in municipal elections. It was a big victory for advocates like myself, and for the thousands across Toronto who believe local elections need to be more inclusive and representative. We called that campaign I Vote Toronto, and gathered dozens of community organizations and thousands of residents under its banner.

Since that historic vote, Torontonians may not have heard much about the city’s request, which the province received and promised to consider. But in fulfilling its local mission, I Vote Toronto also inspired municipalities across Ontario and the country to begin debating and considering the idea of permanent resident voting in local elections. Our success has inspired others to imagine change where they live.

Last fall, city staff in North Bay, Ontario, recommended that permanent residents be included in its municipal elections. The city of about 65,000 residents is one of few places in the province where immigration rates are on the rise. Advocates like Don Curry of the North Bay and District Multicultural Centre believe those residents should be voting. “They are paying their share but do not have a voice,” Curry told the North Bay Nugget in September 2013.

In March 2014, a group commissioned by the City of Kitchener also recommended that permanent residents receive local voting rights. “Why not give people that are committed to coming to our country a chance to be part of the process,” councillor Dan Glenn-Graham told the CBC. Glenn-Graham is now running for mayor of Kitchener, and he and other local allies can bring this issue to voters on the campaign trail.

The city of Saint John, New Brunswick, added its voice to the cause in January 2014, when the Common Council formally asked premier David Alward to extend the municipal vote to permanent residents. A letter from Saint John mayor Mel Norton stated that extending the vote would make his government more democratic and accountable. In an exciting turn of events I could not have anticipated a year ago, New Brunswick may even grant the extension before Ontario does.

Every municipality that has taken up this issue in the last year has made reference to the successful vote at Toronto city hall. We made an important stride towards change, but we are by no means alone in our desire to give newcomers a stronger voice in their local communities. There are several important ways we can continue to build on this momentum.

Bid to unite campaigns

First of all, we must unite these local campaigns, all of which have sprung up organically through the work of concerned community organizations, advocacy groups and elected officials. To that end, we have created City Vote, a campaign to support advocacy for permanent resident voting in municipalities all across Canada. We will share resources, ideas, stories, and updates on this movement as it continues to grow.

We must also take advantage of the upcoming municipal elections across Ontario. Candidates for mayor, city, council and school trustee will be knocking on doors in their communities. Of course, we hope they will endorse the growing calls for permanent resident voting. But at the very least, we will urge them to inform residents who cannot vote about City Vote. By the end of this year, we will have identified residents from all corners of the province who want to make our elections more inclusive.

Finally, we must connect with and support groups who are currently engaging other critical advocacy for newcomers. Earlier this year, the city of Hamilton proclaimed itself a sanctuary city – in other words, the city committed to ensure that every resident, regardless of immigration status, has access to city services. It is no coincidence that a similar proclamation in Toronto preceded the successful motion on permanent resident voting. City Vote must situate itself within the broader movement to ensure newcomers have equal rights and opportunities in Canada.

Thankfully, the campaign has a history of strong partnerships within this larger newcomer-serving community. Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, a multi-service community hub in central Toronto, incubated the campaign in 2008 and helped it grow. Maytree has been supporting policy development and hosting forums on the issue since 2007. Groups as large as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and as small as warden Woods Community Centre have offered their time, energy and support. The foundation for growth is solid and diverse.

You’ll hear from me again soon for the official launch of City Vote. Meanwhile, I’ll be working to solidify the new connections I’ve made in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and all across Ontario. What a difference a year makes!

Jul 09 2014
Karl Subban, father of Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban, says “playing together supports my belief that sport has the power to unite, embrace cultures and enrich communities.”

Karl Subban, father of Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban, says “playing together supports my belief that sport has the power to unite, embrace cultures and enrich communities.”

Maria, a new Canadian citizen from Romania, is an avid tennis fan. On settling down in Canada, she was thrilled to have a tennis club across the street from where she lived. But it took her two years to work up the courage to join it.

“Because they were looking so, you know, so Canadian, so [at ease] in their own thing there. I never dressed in a skirt, for example. Just cultural difference, you know? Every woman had [a] short skirt and equipment, very nice equipment, and I usually play like, not so well dressed,” Maria told a focus group of a national study exploring new citizens’ participation in sports.

Her hesitation to take part in sport is one of the insights uncovered by the study Playing together – new citizens, sports & belonging (PDF) released by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) on July 8, 2014. “This study sheds light on the important role sports can play in effective integration if we focus our attention on removing the structural barriers to new citizens’ ability to participate in Canada’s sporting life, ” said Gillian Smith, ICC Executive Director & CEO. “The earlier, the faster we start playing together, the more inclusive and better our society would be.”

With immigration rapidly changing Canada’s demographic profile, it’s more important than ever to listen to new citizens’ perspectives on how Canada can accelerate their path to full inclusion, said Smith. “Our study is focused on new citizens rather than new immigrants because they have more bandwidth to engage with their new country after the initial frenzy of settling down. They now simply want an invitation to play.” The survey includes firsthand accounts from more than 4,000 new citizens collected online and through focus groups.

Closing the gap

The ability of sports to speed up the process of being part of a national conversation was also reemphasized by Karl Subban, father of Montreal Canadiens star P.K. Subban. “An airplane moved us to Canada and hockey moved us from new Canadians to Canadians,” said Subban, who was present at the launch event to share his family’s remarkable story. “Hockey has defined my family as individuals and as Canadians. Playing together supports my belief that sport has the power to unite, embrace cultures and enrich communities.”

Subban said new Canadians must put in the extra effort to know more about the national passion for hockey without having to give up their passion for other sports. “The earlier we are able to fit in, the more productive we are as individuals and as a society. We simply need to get in the game.”

Survey respondents said that sport, as a natural and universal connection point, was more welcoming than many other social structures, including the workplace. It also helped them learn the Canadian social landscape and soft cultural skills, while offering access to informal, but vital, social networks.

Locker room wisdom

For many, sport was the starting point for deeper discussions about politics, culture and history. As one survey respondent put it, “[The] locker room is a great place to learn about Canada!” Some others joked that you “score points” with Canadians if you get enough “hockey sense” to pretend to know what you are talking about. Others wanted to participate for the sake of their children’s integration. A participant in a French focus group said, “I want to participate, to go to a hockey game…for my kids to know, to understand what hockey really is about and for them to really have a taste of what being a Canadian athlete truly means.”

Among the new citizens surveyed, 69% of those who played sports within their first three years in Canada believed it helped them learn about Canadian culture. They recognize hockey’s connection to Canadian identity and 71% had “some interest” in watching the sport. Approximately one quarter said they don’t follow baseball or football because they aren’t familiar with the rules. Running (39%), swimming (32%), cycling (26%), soccer (18%), badminton (12%) and tennis (11%) are the top sports they regularly played. More than half have tried a new sport once and are open to playing Canada’s winter sports.

While 44% of survey respondents have children who play organized sports, only 6% have their kids in mainstream Canadian sports like hockey or baseball/softball.

New citizens love Team Canada as more than half watch the Summer and Winter Olympics. In the survey they also shared their ideas about how Canada’s sports organizations can get them into the game, suggesting opportunities to try winter sports for free and creating a Canadian sports welcome package.

Citing the ICC’s Cultural Access Pass that provides free admission to many of Canada’s cultural treasures as a model, Smith said her organization was more than willing to broker free or subsidized sporting opportunities for Canada’s newest citizens. “This study shows us just how easy playing together could be if we remove the assumption that everyone knows how it’s done,” she said citing lack of clear information about how one gets involved in organized sports as one of the systemic barriers new citizens face.

Related:

 

Jun 25 2014

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The lack of diversity among superior court judges in Canada that made headlines recently has been flagged before by several studies. In reported comments, Peter MacKay, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, has been anecdotal on why there is a lack of women on federally appointed court benches while being silent on why the number of visible minority judges is so low.

Minister MacKay’s inability to offer insight into an opaque process that produces a demographically skewed judiciary may stem from lack of official data. While we know that female judges account for 382 out of 1,120 federal judges, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs does not track the numbers of visible minority appointees. The Canadian Bar Association, in an assessment of the procedures for the appointment of judges, has identified the lack of data about representation of visible minorities in the judiciary as a major barrier to progress.

According to a Globe and Mail and University of Ottawa analysis, in the past five and a half years Ottawa appointed just a handful of non-white judges out of the nearly 200 first-time justices it has named to the bench. Improving Representation in the Judiciary: A Diversity Strategy,  a study released by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute in 2012, revealed that while some progress has been made with female representation, it remains stalled in the case of visible minorities. Just 2.3% of the federally appointed judges analyzed based on a sample of 221 were visible minorities.

There is a higher percentage of visible minority judges among Ontario’s appointees. In a sample of 138, 10.9% are visible minorities compared to 15% of practicing lawyers in the province. The better representation could be partly attributed to the differences in the appointment processes between the federal and provincial courts.

More open and transparent process

While not perfect, the Ontario Court of Justice requires a broadly constituted appointments committee that reflects the diverse population of the province, the Diversity Institute study said. The process is also made more open and transparent by announcing and advertising vacancies and reaching out to communities. In contrast, the study found the federal process appeared to be less transparent, with decision-making more concentrated in the hands of politicians.

The Diversity Institute research, part of a large multi-year study, builds on an earlier examination commissioned by the Maytree-Civic Action DiverseCity Counts project. That report, released in 2011, showed just 6.8% of leaders in the Greater Toronto Area legal sector were visible minorities, relative to 49.5% of the population studied. Judges, justices of the peace, governing bodies, law school leaders, partners in the top 20 law firms and crown attorneys in the area were included in the study. It reinforced an earlier report that showed only 14.4% of practicing lawyers in the area were visible minorities.

Previous research also suggests that barriers to entry persist in law firms. The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers has said legal professionals from the community do not have equal access to articling and post-call positions in corporate and commercial law firms. Immigrant lawyers, particularly visible minorities, also find it difficult to get their credentials recognized. They face barriers to advancement and are frequently offered non-permanent contract positions with fewer leadership opportunities.

As judicial appointments are inherently political processes relying heavily on informal networks for nominations, visible minorities are less likely to have access to them. This very lack of diversity throughout the path makes the likelihood of finding visible minorities in positions that lead to judicial appointments more difficult.

What this implies is that not only does the problem increase as we move up the value chain, but lower down, the reservoir of talent that supplies the federal courts doesn’t reflect Canada’s changing demographics, either.

Diversity at the top of the legal profession is a social imperative as lawyers and judges are in the forefront of advocacy and social change. The federal government should take the lead to ensure fair representation in a sector that is critical to our democratic society. It could start by establishing clear diversity goals, tracking the number of diverse appointees, and establishing a more open and transparent process.

Jun 23 2014

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Adrian is proud of his eight-year old son’s facility with English and his general ease in adapting to the ways of his new Canadian surroundings. “He is now our family’s interpreter when we visit our doctor,” says the newcomer father from Romania. What he doesn’t know is that his case is not unique. His son is among the horde of children doing a task they shouldn’t be doing.

Health care providers and managers say this is not an ideal situation as children might be getting exposed to health information about their parents that they either can’t comprehend or isn’t appropriate for them to know.

With various studies conducted over the past few years indicating that language is an enormous barrier for many newcomers when accessing healthcare, iamsick.ca, a social enterprise, has come up with a solution to bridge the gap. “With the support of the broader community, we are leveraging Canada’s diversity to reduce barriers through web and mobile technology,” says Ryan Doherty, its president and co-founder.

Using publicly available data, the site provides a curated listing of all emergency rooms, urgent care centres, walk-in clinics, and pharmacies. It also helps you find physicians and pharmacists who speak your language. The service, currently available only in Ontario, has a database of healthcare providers who can speak 25-plus languages other than English or French.

“Translation can be expensive and not accessible. It’s common to have children of immigrants translating for their parents on medical issues,” Dr. Meb Rashid, clinical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star. “You do need a more sophisticated command of the language. Something like this, that acknowledges the difficulty in language access, is a tremendous help.”

Expanding into British Columbia

Fresh from a crowd funding campaign that raised over $3,000 but fell short of the $9,000 goal, Ryan, a University of Toronto Medical Biophysics doctoral candidate, was optimistic of expanding into British Columbia by July. The west coast province was selected as it received most votes from supporters of the fundraiser.

“While reaching our funding target would have allowed us to expand quicker, it isn’t holding us back from our vision of leveraging technology to help everyone access healthcare in Canada,” says Ryan.

He and his multi-disciplinary team, that includes tech advisor and co-founder Sherry-Lynn Lee, are now looking at establishing more partnerships with healthcare providers and organizations.

“Later this year, we will be piloting a few new features that focus on access beyond just awareness. They are related to family medicine and will improve same-day and after-hours access to family doctors.”

One-stop resource

Initially the online guide was just a locator for nearby health facilities with information on opening hours. The team came up with the idea in 2012 when some of their fellow University of Toronto friends complained about not knowing where to go when the campus clinic closed.

Even as a simple locator it had its uses. “It was a one-stop resource for answering ‘Where?’” says Jemy Joseph, a University of Ottawa medical student, from her clinical experience. “Even during a rotation in Moose Factory [a very remote island in Ontario], I was able to tell my patients when the pharmacy was open!”

It was only this spring that the language filter was added to the website. Ryan estimates a potential audience of more than 700,000 users across Canada who could use an interpreter due to language barriers in healthcare.

Apart from language and the dangers involved in using children and youth as interpreters, there are other gaps the iamsick.ca project could help bridge. These include cultural differences brought about by ethnicity, a care provider not knowing how to use an interpreter appropriately, a lack of reliable professional interpreter services, and lack of printed information in the patient’s first language.

Jun 20 2014
Olaf Scholz (Hamburg), Melinda Crane (Berlin), Jussi Pujunen (Helsinki), Raquel Castañeda-López (Detroit)

Mayors Panel at the 2014 Cities of Migration conference in Berlin – from left to right: Olaf Scholz (Hamburg), Melinda Crane (Berlin), Jussi Pujunen (Helsinki), Raquel Castañeda-López (Detroit) Photo: stephan-roehl.de, CC BY-SA 3.0.

One mayor wrote letters to immigrants urging them to become naturalized citizens. Another saw newcomers as harbingers of fun in his very functional city. The 2014 Cities of Migration Conference heard them both and wants others to know how leadership matters to cities.

As the level of government closest to the people, city administrations can directly and immediately impact the lives of immigrants. The panelists on the discussion about Re-imagining the City, convinced the Berlin audience that mayoral voices can be a particularly powerful tool to ease the path to inclusion for newcomers.

A good case study is the personal interest shown by Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s First Mayor, to help the German city make a success of its “Ich bin Hamburger” naturalization campaign.

“Seven thousand immigrants became citizens last year, double the figure of 2009,” said Scholz who believes citizenship is the key to inclusion for long-time residents. “Naturalization is much more than an administrative act. It is the declared belief in our state and our society.”

Human touch

Jussi Pajunen, the mayor of Helsinki, is proud of the personalized integration plan his city offers immigrants. “Every person is treated as an individual by the one-stop-shop service that offers mentoring and guidance with regular follow-ups,” said Pajunen. “The information centre for immigrants is kept open seven days a week at the city hall. It also sends a message to others that immigrants are a positive force in Finnish society.”

As equality is a cherished Nordic value, it is easier for his city to push the idea of shared prosperity by helping immigrants integrate. As the largest employer in Finland with more than 40,000 employees, the city can also be a role model for other employers in newcomer recruitment and development.

Both Scholz and Pajunen were happy with the attention they received from immigrants. “They greet me on the street to ask how I got their names and addresses to write them letters,” said Scholz. To which Pajumen added: “While locals ignore their mayors, immigrants love and respect them.”

The Helsinki mayor said that while information and communication technology made it easy to identify people, the human touch as espoused by his Hamburg counterpart was essential to address immigrant issues. “We need a person to talk to another person.”

‘Immigrants = more jobs’

Also contributing to the discussion was fellow panelist Raquel Castañeda-López, Council member from Detroit. Representing a U.S. city which has seen better times, she outlined the steps taken to revive it, the most important being ways to attract immigrants to come and invest. “Immigrants tend to open more small businesses, which leads to more jobs,” she said.

Detroit is on a steep learning curve as specialized services for immigrants are non-existent at present. While her city is not able to offer personalized services like its European peers due to budget constraints, it is setting up a virtual office, said Castañeda-López.

“We are keen on starting a new conversation and are learning from New York, which has done a good job in helping immigrants, and are joining the Welcoming America initiative,” said the councilor who represents a district that houses the majority of her city’s immigrant communities.

Watch the full panel to get more insights from the discussion moderated by Melinda Crane, Chief Political Correspondent, Deutsche Welle, Berlin. The panelists were also asked questions via video by Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, Canada, and Lianne Dalziel, mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand.

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Jun 19 2014

Globe being held by hands

Over three years into civil war in Syria, and with conflicts ballooning elsewhere, notably in Iraq and the Central African Republic, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will focus on stories alongside the numbers to mark World Refugee Day. The annual day of global awareness on refugees, this Friday, June 20, is themed “1 family torn apart by war is too many” and some of those families tell their stories here.

Stories move people in ways that numbers do not. Stories are emotional, and research on human behaviour shows that our emotions have a major influence on our decisions, even to the point of irrationality. Our rational minds know that 9 million Syrians forced from their homes is a tragedy, but we may be more likely to act after hearing Mohamad recount how he fled Aleppo, and list all that vanished save for one thing: “I am grateful that my family is together and safe. I can get a new shop or a new house, but I would be lost without my family.”

We gasp at 9 million, but we want to help Mohamed.

Because stories give context and stir empathy, Maytree too uses stories to spread good ideas. One developing project is a book on the extraordinary escape of refugees to Canada, called Flight and Freedom (co-authored by Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner). The idea is to debunk myths on the “legitimate refugee” and challenge a closing Canadian refugee system. The vehicle is true and deeply personal stories of escape by refugees, both old and new Canadians.

Maytree also uses stories to spread good ideas in integration and inclusion of refugees found in cities around the world, from London to Wuppertal to Auckland, through the Cities of Migration project. If an idea works in one city, it can work in another. Stories help make replication happen.


Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada is coming in 2015. Learn more.


Here are a few ways to spread refugee stories to your network this week:

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