Based on a lecture delivered by Ratna Omidvar on January 17, 2011 at the Martin Luther King Lecture of the Körber-Foundation, Hamburg.
“I have a dream.”
Dr. King’s words are forever etched in our sensibilities. But in truth, as the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, he did much more than dream. Dr. King was a man of action — a social change agent, an activist, a crusader for the rights of the poor, a catalyst in the struggle against apartheid, and a leader in the fight to end the Vietnam war. He was a campaigner and a movement builder, who fought for radical change with radical methods.
As a clergyman, Dr. King used the power of the pulpit to mobilize a small army of campaigners and activists, based in churches, union halls, and community centers. Perhaps the most striking example is how he was able to reach 50,000 people (without the help of facebook and twitter), and convince them to boycott the Montgomery bus system by walking or car pooling to their jobs, schools and churches.
Were he alive today, he would be 81 years old. I suspect he would be gratified to see that in the US, the formal structures of segregation have been dismantled. No one can or will stop a Rosa Parks from sitting on any seat, in any bus, in any part of the United States. He would be delighted and proud that a black man is the President of the United States.
But he would also likely be dismayed to see the informal barriers to full equality that still exist today, in the US and around the world. The exclusion of people, including racial minorities, migrants, and poor people, continues to occur. This injustice is both subtle and not so subtle, systemic and institutional, and we must all be concerned because as Dr. King pointed out: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
There are numerous organizations engaged in the struggle for justice and equality, and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to lead one such group. Maytree is a small, private foundation dedicated to promoting diversity and fighting poverty, with a particular focus on migrant integration and inclusion. While it normally takes one or two generations to reap the benefits of migration, it is Maytree’s ambition to do it sooner, faster and better.
Every successive stream of migrants enriches our communities. The sooner migrants are both integrated and included in society, the sooner our cities and our country can benefit. I know this both as a refugee and a Canadian.
My story: one of many Canadian stories
I grew up in India, went to university in Germany, and eventually settled with my husband in Iran. Like the more than 14 million refugees who are forced to leave their homes every year, in 1982 I left political oppression and sought refuge in Canada.
When I arrived, I had a couple of real advantages. I spoke English fluently, and had family and friends in the country. But like many other migrants, our education and experience were devalued, and to many ordinary Canadians, I was just another brown face. I was even encouraged to change my name, advice that I’m glad I didn’t take!
It took my husband and me about eight years to find work commensurate with our skills and training, and to reinvent ourselves. This was a difficult time for us, but I know too many migrant families who struggle for much longer.
Nevertheless, I am proud of my new country. Its history is now my own.
Migration is the defining feature of Canada’s identity. When asked to explain what it means to be Canadian, citizens often list multiculturalism along with hockey and the maple leaf as their defining symbols.
Canada has welcomed British and French settlers, Ukrainian cold weather farmers, British orphans, Chinese railway workers, Italians labourers, Vietnamese boat refugees, and, most recently, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing the war against terror. Today, an impressive 40% of Canada’s population over the age of 15 is a migrant or has a parent who was born outside the country.
Approximately 84% of eligible migrants are citizens. Their children attend university in high numbers, earn higher than average wages and participate actively in all aspects of civic life. They are just as comfortable watching Hollywood and Bollywood, eating hot dogs and sushi, and watching cricket and hockey. They date, hang out, and, in many cases, marry someone from another part of the world. They will work along Irish, Japanese, Koreans, Somalis and Tamils. And they will not be surprised to find that their boss is a woman.
Integration is not an accident
As a relatively new country, Canada is not hindered by a long history of ethnic conflict or strife. Canada does have a history of civic tension between French and English, and between both of them and our First Nations. However, over time we have learned to accommodate those tensions in increasingly peaceful ways and have reached a level of tolerance for difference which has helped us develop a number of constitutional and legal frameworks to encourage migrant integration. Canada asks migrants to become citizens after only three years in the country, and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants all residents, regardless of citizenship status, the right to equality and due process from government institutions. While more inspirational than substantive, Canada’s Multiculturalism Act enshrines the principles of tolerance and mutual understanding.
While these deliberate efforts have resulted in successful integration for many migrants to Canada, a few trends require a new and enhanced approach.
First, poverty in Canada is racialized. The hard truth is that brown and black faces are making up an increasing proportion of the country’s poor. Recent migrants to Canada are “two to three times more likely than those born in Canada to experience low income, regardless of sex, level of education, family type, or province of residence.” Migrants who are visible minorities are more likely to experience poverty than other migrants. This is true even among migrants who have been in Canada for more than 17 years.
Second, thanks to inexpensive travel, satellite television and cheap phone calls, it is possible to physically have a home in Toronto, but to emotionally exist in a different part of the world. Many migrants now find it easier to stay within their own community rather than integrate and interact with others.
Third, Canada is not immune to the clashes of values that have found an expression in countries around the world. In Quebec, a bill is before parliament that would limit access to public services for those wearing a niqab.
Being successful at migration does not mean that we will automatically like one another and that everyone will think and act the same. As Robert Putnam has stated in his research, more diverse societies tend to be societies, at least in the short term, with lower forms of social solidarity and social capital. These are societies that tend to be more insular, trust each other less, and eat and bowl alone. But even Putnam admits that “diversity is not only inevitable, but over the long run desirable” because it creates new forms and expressions of solidarity by constructing new, more modern and encompassing identities.
Finally, while Canada is proud to open its doors to people and welcome them into our metaphorical home, we have yet to ask them to stand near the fire place. Real power, influence and prestige in Canada continue to be centered in the hands of a few. In politics, media, and business, in corporate board rooms, public institutions or even foundation boards, the leaders, who set the pace and the agenda, are almost uniformly white and male. Even in offices and boardrooms within the region of Toronto, where 50% of the population were born outside the country, 86% of leaders are white. Migrants have found themselves trapped between the floor and the glass ceiling.
Consequently, the breadth and scope of new ideas and new diasporic networks of talent remain untapped. Most importantly, the portrait of power and influence fails to provide role models to our diverse youth population – with significant consequences for their future aspirations and for Canada’s social cohesion.
From integration to inclusion
Inclusion is therefore our next challenge and one that many other countries, including Germany, share. We must create a community where difference among people is viewed as the norm and not an aberration. Where it is valued as an asset, not a liability, where it is deliberately pursued as strength and not avoided in ways which exclude the most vulnerable.
Inclusion is not the same as integration, though the two concepts are inextricably linked. Integration sets out to ensure that the migrant fits in, speaks the language, obeys the law, works, pays taxes and votes. Inclusion goes a step further, where the migrant is an active partner in shaping and changing institutions and society. Integration is about getting started and getting settled; inclusion is about making your mark on society. Whilst integration asks a great deal of the migrant, inclusion asks the host society to change and shift.
As in many parts of the developed world, Canada’s inclusion challenge will be driven by demographics. By 2030, net migration will be the only source for population growth. In our largest urban centers, where opportunity and wealth are created, hyper-diversity is a defining feature of city life. We have to get integration and inclusion right for sound business and social reasons.
Maytree is doing its part by moving beyond describing the problem. Instead, we’re imagining and acting on solutions. For instance, the foundation supports a pan-Canadian movement of local networks to ensure that Canada’s migrants find work commensurate with their skills and experiences. Canada’s most powerful corporate leaders are leading these multi-stakeholder efforts because they are keen to find and develop the best talent to drive innovation and compete globally.
Through the DiverseCity project, Maytree also invests in ensuring that our city’s leadership landscape is as diverse as the people who live in it. Over the last three years, we have propelled more than 1,500 minority leaders in our city into positions of leadership and therefore closer to the center of power. In Toronto, we work with city governments and provincial bodies to help them seek qualified talent to sit on their boards, agencies and commissions. As a result, the leadership landscape in our city today looks significantly more diverse and inclusive than it did three years ago. The foundation also works with media to help them understand both the challenges migrants face, and the ways in which they can be fully integrated into our society.
In short, we focus on places where inclusion is most important – at work, in the board room, in the media, and in political and civic life.
Inclusion will guarantee equality of opportunity, belonging and contribution. It has the power to turn “me and you” into “us and we”.
Inclusion is not simply an aspirational idea. And like integration, it is not an accident. To be meaningful, it must be intentional, action- and results-based.
A global challenge: local solutions
The movement of people across national boundaries will continue – it is as inevitable as globalization. Just as many Europeans left their homes in the past century to make their fortunes in the former colonies, the reverse is happening today. Europe is now the preferred destination of choice for many migrants. And like Canada, European countries must figure out how to both integrate and include its newcomers.
There are currently 48 million people in the European Union who are regular international migrants, representing roughly 9% of the population. As life expectancy and aging continues to increase, there will be a corresponding decline in native-born labour forces. Without future migration, the working-age population in the EU (which is currently at 333 million) would drop by 91 million in 2050. Of course, nation states have other options at hand to address this issue, such as a higher retirement age and increased fertility levels. But these options, even if realized, are not sufficient in themselves. Migration remains a demographic necessity.
Canada, Germany, the US, Norway, Sweden, the UK and other countries are competing and will continue to compete for skilled migrants. As the middle class in India and China grows, this competition will only grow fiercer.
Of course, the context in Europe is very different from that in Canada. We are a young country, while Europe is steeped in tradition. We are separated from the rest of the world by a huge ocean and the world’s largest border to the south, and as a result we can select our migrants. Most European countries do not have this luxury. But neither do you have the luxury of doing nothing.
In Arrival City, Doug Saunders argues that migration to urban centers is one of the most important trends of the 21st century, next only to climate change. Migration will have profound implications for the success of local, national and international economies. Successful arrival cities will create a new and prosperous middle class. Failed arrival cities will create poverty and social isolation.
He illustrates this point with the stories of two US suburbs, Herndon in Virginia and Wheaton in Maryland, both located around the densely populated area of Washington, DC. Both suburbs experienced a dramatic growth in migrant populations in the early 2000s.
Herndon is an aviation industry town. Easy credit enabled many blue collar workers to buy large homes in the area and word spread to neighbouring Latino enclaves and to villages in Central America. The wave of migrant arrivals started – and with them came new shops, churches, and clubs. Herndon woke up at the beginning of the 21st century to discover it had become an arrival city. But public attitudes turned negative. A strong anti-migrant backlash resulted in evictions and zoning ordinances to discourage Latino businesses. Large numbers of migrants left the town. And in 2008, when the economy slumped, so did Herndon.
On the other side of Washington lies the suburb of Wheaton, which went from being 90% white in the 1970s to 40% migrant in 2000, just like Herndon. But the residents of Wheaton saw the newcomers not as a threat, but as an opportunity to revive their fading town. They embraced a branding campaign to make Wheaton known across the capital region for its multiethnic culture, cuisine and products. Zoning rules and business offices were used to encourage and help entrepreneurs set up small shops and retail outlets. The result is a town booming with migrant-owned businesses and a home ownership rate of 62%. When Wheaton was hit by the downturn in the economy, and faced with mortgage foreclosures, city officials launched a campaign to help migrants stay in their homes and their businesses. In their view, this was a necessary step to ensure the long-term health of Wheaton. Today, Wheaton is on the way to prosperity.
Learning from one another: city by city
Regardless of geographical, historical, cultural and philosophical differences, arrival cities have a lot to learn from each other – especially how investments in the short term will pay off in the long term.
Maytree has developed an international project, Cities of Migration, which showcases good practices on integration and inclusion from cities around the world. By describing their accomplishments, we show that cities can be successful with the right inputs and under the right conditions. We also demonstrate how good ideas can be replicated. And, perhaps most importantly, we show that the aspirations of inclusion can be grounded in reality.
Let me give you some examples of the good ideas that we have found:
- In Copenhagen, cycling is a way of life. More than 80% of Copenhageners bike to work and play. The local Red Cross teaches migrants, many of them women, to bike, understand the rules of the road and how to repair a bike. In this way, they normalize the stranger and make him or her part of the everyday landscape, even when he or she looks and dresses differently.
- In Cardiff, Wales, which has a large refugee population, the local police force provides language training to the community, thus enabling not simply language acquisition, but also trust with the police. This is somewhat counterintuitive but the results speak for themselves. The makeup of the Cardiff police force mirrors more closely the makeup of the community.
- Here in Germany, I visited Marxloh Mosque in Duisburg and saw women having a gemuetlichen kaffeeklatsch in one room and children having religious lessons in the Koran in the next. All in the same mosque.
- In Chicago, the Federal Reserve Bank has helped conservative Muslims buy homes and start business by creating new financial instruments which enable them to borrow without breaking their religious beliefs.
- In Toronto, migrants who aspire to political life can go to school to learn how to do so. Toronto also has an easily searchable database of qualified leaders from under-represented communities who are ready, willing and able to take their place as board members and directors of public institutions and civil society organizations.
After finding and publishing more than 85 ideas from cities around the world, we can say a few things with confidence about the integration and inclusion of migrants.
First, place matters. While migration is a national or regional phenomenon, integration and inclusion are uniquely local experiences. The local welcome is a living example of whether a country’s migration system succeeds or fails.
Second, inclusion is a two-way street. Just as the migrant must change and adapt, so must society and its institutions. In Toronto today, we are building more cricket pitches than baseball diamonds.
Third, cities can chart their own path, even if it is contrary to national sentiment, national media and national policy. The sheer necessity of living and working side by side and getting on with the business of daily life is a natural driver for solutions, arrangements and compromises.
Finally, everyone is an inclusion actor – the postman, the business down the street, the teacher, the unionist, the politician, the migrant. Each has a role that can only be accomplished with the active participation of the other. And each benefits from the diversity and shared prosperity that migration brings to their cities.
I am going to be bold enough to conclude with a recipe for success. The ingredients are: access to citizenship; a chance to own property and to operate your business; the right to work; access to education (especially language education); a safe place to live; opportunities for political and civic participation. Some of these ingredients are best placed at national levels of government, such as citizenship and the protection of human rights. But many are best imagined and delivered locally. As Jane Jacobs has famously said: “The level of government closest to the people is best positioned to deliver services to it.”
The Next Dream
The notion of inclusion and integration is not far removed from Dr. King’s dream for justice and humanity. If he were alive today, he would see this call for inclusion as a natural sequel to his dream for racial equality. “We have all come in different ships, but now we are in the same boat.”
He would agree that the formal legal structures that ensure equality are a first step, but that there are other challenges to overcome in changing the hearts and minds of people and institutions.
He would remind us that racial equality is meaningless without financial opportunity, political voice and citizenship.
He would recognize that if racial equality is a first step, racial equity and inclusion logically follow.
He would tell us to join hands with civil society organizations and their leaders in building a movement, as he did when he organized the famous march in Washington and delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech.
And finally, he would encourage us with these words: “It is one thing to agree that integration is morally and legally right. It is another thing to commit oneself positively and actively to the ideal. This is no day to pay lip service to integration. We must pay life service to it”.
Thank you very much.