European and Jordanian cities join forces to enhance the Diversity advantage

In early summer, four expert visits within the Intercultural Cities (ICC) programme of the Council of Europe took place to the Jordanian cities of Sahab, Wasitiyah, Zarqa and Amman to test a new methodology within the ICC network: the Asset-Based Community Development. Diversity practitioners would call it a self-help programme for municipalities.

Following a first introduction meeting organised in Amman, Jordan, in February 2016, four municipalities (Sahab, Wasityyah, Zarqa and Amman) have expressed their interest to test a new methodology within the ICC Programme, the Asset-Based Community Development. The ABCD approach assumes that strong communities are built by recognising, celebrating and harnessing the ‘Community Assets’ that are already there and that can come from very different and sometimes underestimated sources like Syrian refugees, but also other groups like Palestinians, Egyptians, Iraqi, people from Philippines and Sri Lanka. Each of the four visits has been an occasion for listening to the community and for meeting with local ‘community connectors’. As a main transfer element, practical training on how to map community assets was delivered. In addition, the ICC team visited the neighbours which will be part of the pilot project and learn more about what is going on on the ground.

The Intercultural Cities framework is based on the Diversity Management paradigm

The Intercultural Cities programme (ICC) supports cities in reviewing their policies through an intercultural lens and developing comprehensive intercultural strategies to help them manage diversity positively and realise the diversity advantage. For cities can gain enormously from the entrepreneurship, variety of skills and creativity associated with cultural diversity, provided they adopt policies and practices that facilitate intercultural interaction and inclusion. The Council of Europe has analysed the experience of a range of cities across the continent which are managing diversity as an asset, rather than as a threat.

The collective input of these cities has shaped a unique concept to migrant/minority integration called Intercultural integration. The concept is supported by extensive research evidence and a range of international legal instruments. The ICC programme proposes a set of analytical and practical tools to help local stakeholders through the various stages of the process. The ABCD Asset-Based Community Development is one of the ICC tools and has now been tested in Jordan.

Four very different cultural situations in Jordanian cities

Sahab is a very industrial city which has always hosted workers coming from different countries. The local population has risen from 43,000 inhabitants in 2004 to 150,000 in 2016. This has created several challenges especially for waste management, the health sector and schools. As an answer to these challenges the Social Development Unit has implemented nearly 150 social projects, including a monthly meeting between the Community and the Mayor, to discuss issues and ways to improve the situation.

Zarqa is another industrial and highly diverse city, which can count on the work of the Youth Council to re-gain the trust of the population. The delegates are mapping the services already existing in the city and are mobilizing the population to do their share, such as taking care of the sidewalk in front of their shops or planting trees.

Wasityyah, close to the border with Syria, has seen people coming in search of safety from the very first days of the War. Some of them are simply joining their families, who may happen to live on the safe side of the border, others chose to stay close to be able to return to Syria and check their property. The two communities were and are really close and this year a cleaning up campaign, run with the support of both Syrian and Jordanian volunteers, has helped the city to become second in a ranking of the best municipalities in Jordan.

Ashrafieh, a neighbourhood in East Amman, is home to Jordanians, Syrians, Armenians, Druze and Latin Catholics. The entire population is coming together to support women and youth empowerment. In particular, the Waqe3 Centre for Community Development has launched projects to support Syrian women and to fight against gender violence. The Center has partnered with the priest and the Imam of the area and has organized a Participatory Mapping exercise with 4,800 women to identify “where would you go if you wanted to feel safe?”

The ICC experts are confident that the numerous initiatives and high-quality activities witnessed during the visit, as well as the diverse, strong and engaged communities are all assets on which Amman, Wasityyah, Zarqa and Sahab can build their intercultural profiles. On the other hand, some of the projects presented during the visits are examples that cities across Europe might wish to follow. In the coming months, learning spaces connecting the two shores of the Mediterranean will be created to turn the common challenges into opportunities and to harness creativity and knowledge to identify innovative solutions that can be picked up by cities to further engage their population, as well as to maintain the momentum.

The next level: Nations that self-identify as Multicultural

Applying the intercultural paradigm of the ICC to the national level would require European (or other) States to commit to promote cultural reciprocity and symmetry in interethnic relations, adopting a public discourse fostering a pluralistic – as opposed to ethnocentric – regional or national identity, encouraging social mixing and interaction in the public space, neighbourhoods and institutions, as well as rendering governing bodies more diverse and developing the diversity / intercultural competence of public officials. A new Laboratory, called the Square Circle, will work on developing policy ideas based on the intercultural approach but tailor made for regional and national levels. The Squared Circle will work in rounds of two thematic sessions per year, with on-line work in between. No timeline has been announced for milestones or conclusive reports.

It will be interesting, however, to see which Nation will volunteer as a pilot to test the approach.