The successful integration of immigrants is not simply a matter of individual efforts by newcomers to Toronto. It must be accompanied by the city’s will to make social cohesion a priority by engaging a range of stakeholders, and it requires action from many players. In other words, inclusion is a two way street.
In a cosmopolitan city like Toronto – where our residents speak more than 100 languages and come from 200 distinct ethnic groups – the integration of immigrants is critical. Toronto continues to be a city of choice for many newcomers to Canada with 49 per cent of our city’s population comprised of immigrants.
In light of our aging population and our declining birth rate, we’ll rely more and more on immigrants as a key resource for building and strengthening our city and country. By 2011, Canada will rely 100 per cent on immigration for our net labour market growth; by 2026, our net population growth will be derived from immigration.
Based on these imminent realities, we need to continue to effectively integrate new immigrants into our communities, especially if they choose Toronto as their home.
This is why Maytree incubates ideas and collaborates with many stakeholders on local practical solutions for immigrant integration. This is also why we are communicating and partnering with national and international organizations on solutions that work.
We know these initiatives have made a meaningful and tangible impact on Toronto. And they are gaining traction in diverse urban centres across Canada and abroad – many communities are looking to Toronto to lead by example.
A few key highlights:
Since the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council was launched in 2003 by Maytree and the Toronto City Summit Alliance, a range of successful projects have helped skilled immigrants integrate smoothly into the Greater Toronto Region labour market.
Now through the ALLIES project, a partnership with The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, cities across Canada are learning from – and adapting – the TRIEC model to set up their own, locally-led, immigrant employment councils. In Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Montreal, Waterloo Region, Niagara, London, Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax, a strong civic movement is building to ensure immigrants can put their international skills, education and experience to good use.
Toronto’s story of immigrant integration has also garnered the interest of civic leaders and policy makers from outside of Canada, from Sweden to Singapore to Spain.
The Mentoring Partnership is another successful program founded in Toronto in 2004. It has helped over 5,000 skilled immigrants navigate the local job market with guidance from volunteer mentors in similar professions. Eighty three percent of mentees said their mentoring relationship made a positive difference to their job search.
Over 50 corporate partners from the private and public sector have been actively engaged in the program as a means to nurture their staff’s leadership capacity and to build cross-cultural competence in an increasingly diverse workforce.
Through a recently launched national initiative, urban cities across Canada – and as far away as Auckland, New Zealand – have implemented their own mentoring programs for skilled immigrants as well.
DiverseCity, another project launched by Maytree and the Toronto City Summit Alliance, supports and develops up-and-coming leaders from under-represented ethnic and racial groups to address their low numbers in senior leadership positions in the Greater Toronto Area. Other communities across the country are interested in learning how to ensure that institutions are governed by qualified leaders who are more reflective of their population.
Cities of Migration, also a Toronto-based project, is the first international initiative to connect communities in Canada, the United States and around the globe on issues of migration and immigrant integration. With existing partners in Germany, Spain, the UK and New Zealand, the project just began a new collaboration with The National League of Cities to exchange key learnings about successful integration strategies.
While Maytree has had a hand in shaping these projects and solutions, we have not developed these ideas alone. It is only with the vision, energy and innovation of key players including employers, educators, community agencies, media, civic leaders and government, that Toronto has moved the marker on immigrant integration.
This collaborative approach is yet another reason why communities around the world are looking to Toronto for inspiration.
Indeed there is still much work to be done in Toronto, but we have made measurable and marked progress.
For that, our city should be proud.
(This post first appeared on the Toronto Star blog “Your City, My City“).