Swedish and Dutch Integration: Common Goals, Common Challenges [ENG]

What happens if you put 30 active integrators from all corners of the Netherlands and Sweden in a room for 6 hours and let them get to know each other, ask for help and offer help? A great deal, it shows! On initiative of Blendin, a Dutch nonprofit that connects newcomers to Dutch locals, and the Dutch embassy in Sweden, precisely this was done.

On June 20, World Refugee Day, several social entrepreneurs, NGO workers, government officials and other actors were represented during a workshop at the Dutch Embassy in Stockholm. The purpose of the day was to connect Dutch and Swedish integration initiatives. Coming together, they exchange knowledge, discuss common challenges and find innovative solutions for integration of refugees.

Who are working with integration in the Netherlands and Sweden today? What challenges are the organisations facing? How can they help each other, both within and across borders? These questions were central to the meeting. The answers turned out to be very concrete.

Philip Robertsson and Ville Skoglund from Swedish integration initiative Nema Problema facilitated the workshop. They made sure to break the ice, create a playful atmosphere and stimulate participants to develop action plans based on their main challenges.

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

The day started off with representatives getting to know each other during innovative collaboration exercises that made people step out of their comfort zone.

“In the first part of the programme my heart was overflowing with positive energy when we got to know the Swedish participants during some ice breaking exercises. And at the end of the morning my brain was overflowing with ideas for innovation and collaboration It is really special to exchange ideas with organisations who are working on the same goals in another country”, says Sabine from Blendin.

“The somewhat weird exercises are not just for fun, we are trying to push participants to do something they have never done. Much research shows that stepping out of your comfort zone can make you reflect on old ideas, inspire you to learn more and challenge your confirmation bias. Even in the short term, a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, see old problems in a new light, and tackle the challenges we face with new energy”, says Ville from Nema Problema who was facilitating the workshop.

After that, a brief overview on the importance of cooperation within the integration sector was presented. Integration of refugees is an issue which often involves a large number of actors who frequently work in the same geographical area and toward the same broad goal. However, coordination and collaboration among them are often limited at best. And failure to work together can lead to gaps in coverage and to duplications and inefficiencies in any given emergency response. This is an issue that has become more pressing. A combination of factors – the high numbers of refugees coming to Europe, growing nationalism and xenophobia, the need to secure pensions for an aging native population to name a few – means that challenges for successful integration are now larger and more complex than before. No single actor or action can meet all needs, even in a specific sector. In this context the need for and potential benefits of cooperation increases!

Feedback and Action Plans

And so we get to the main event of the day. During a three hour session the different initiatives got to present their respective organisations and challenges they are facing. The rest of the participants were then invited to ask questions and offer feedback on how they can improve their integration efforts. The best ideas where documented and later on transformed into concrete action plans for the individual organisations to implement.   

“Besides the fact that the best practices of the Swedish organisations were very inspiring, I found it very valuable to address everyone’s challenges together. The next day I stepped on the plane back to the Netherlands with 3 concrete actions to immediately improve our intervention. Moreover, it was motivating to see that we are not alone in our mission to help refugees integrate and that many organisations face similar obstacles in their ‘struggle’”, says Martijn from More2Win.

“The feedback session was great!” Apart from getting important general tips, Mouddar Kouli from Mumtaz Integration will apply some specific learnings from today: “Our countries face very similar challenges. I did not know that. What works in Sweden could work in the Netherlands, and the other way around. KIX, an organisation from the Netherlands present during the event, told me that they pitch to private sectors while actually taking previous clients with them. These serve as case studies to prove how organisations benefited from diversity. This works for them, so it could work for us too!”

After a lunch mingle participants went on a joint field trip to Fryshuset, a Swedish non-profit who promote empowerment and social inclusion of youth with focus on those who are at risk of exclusion. Here participants get to know some of the locals that work with or belong to the target group, who tell about how they got involved in the Fryshuset initiative.

Apart from all the individual input and lessons the day resulted in the organisation deciding on several collaboration projects. Among other things they will co-write an article on the importance of both national and international cooperation within the field of integration. The article will be published by Al Kompis, the largest media house for arabic speaker in Northern Europe, and several Swedish and Dutch news agencies. Moreover the participants, very pleased with the outcome of the day, decided to meet up again in a year, to follow up on the implementation of action plans created during the day. Lastly, with the help of the Dutch Embassy, participants will create an online challenge, inspiring organisations and Embassies in other countries to do similar meetups.

“We are very impressed with the concrete outcomes of the day. We hope that more will follow in our footsteps”, says Ruben Dieleman from the Dutch Embassy. “Now, we will try to get other embassies in the Netherlands or in Sweden to facilitate these meetings and be part of improving integration in our countries.”

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