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Ability, response and social responsibility – Lisbon visits Birmingham to grow social value with Cities Grow


Although migrant run companies are enriching Lisbon in the areas of food, technology and retail, the city is anxious to see similar successes in other industries.

Although migrant run companies are enriching Lisbon in the areas of food, technology and retail, the city is anxious to see similar successes in other industries. Birmingham, a city which has demonstrated powerful policies for migrant labour integration, hosted Lisbon for a two-day study visit to inspire more ambitious policy as part of Cities Grow.

No stranger to migration, Lisbon has long played host to new arrivals from neighbouring countries and former colonies. The city has a dedicated platform for migrant organisations, and an action plan that includes strategies for increasing employment. But more recent waves of migration, in which new arrivals often lack cultural, historic or linguistic links with the Portuguese, and many of whom are only moving through, rather than planning to settle in the country, are creating new challenges at the same time as they offer new opportunities.

Valuing values

Central to Birmingham’s successes has been changing perspectives, both public and private, on the nature of social value. Rather than merely additive, social value must be seen as integral to work done by or within the city. Through their Social Values Charter and Birmingham Business Charter, the city ensures that they walk the talk by including social outcomes in their own procurement processes. Through organisations like the Community Interest Company and Social Value Plus, they extend training to the private sector on how and why social outcomes are to be mainstreamed within their business practices.

Sanctuary city

In order to facilitate synergies between migrants and industry, one factor Birmingham sees as vital is the recognition of qualifications that migrants possess from their countries of origin. By providing this recognition, alongside language courses and business advice for new arrivals Birmingham give migrants the tools they need to contribute to the city’s prosperity.

As a city of sanctuary, Birmingham sees its responsibilities as extending to all residents, regardless of status, and is determined to give everyone the best possible opportunity to be part of the push that increases the social and economic strength of the area.


Prevention over cure

Birmingham also works with several organisations dedicated to bringing vulnerable groups, including migrants, fully into the social fold. Among these are USE-IT, a scheme which marries top down and bottom up processes to create a partnership which is structurally sustainable while remaining innovative and receptive to realities on the ground, bridging the public and privates sector so that training and other social inclusion programmes can be tailored to local needs, including gaps in the labour market; Homelessness Positive Pathway and MiFriendly Cities, which take a preventative approach to social problems by giving information and meaningful work to people on the edge of poverty before they descend into a situation in which they would be harder to reach; and the Jericho Foundation, which representatives from Lisbon had the opportunity to visit, a charity running eight social enterprises that provide vocational skills and work experience to people who face employment barriers, from long-term joblessness to mental health issues.

Into action

To conclude the visit, Lisbon and Birmingham worked together on the former’s draft action plan. In this, Lisbon resolved to make municipal procurement more inclusive through measures such as proactively seeking bids for public service contracts from small businesses owned by migrants, and simplifying relevant forms to increase their accessibility. Having seen what Birmingham has done to activate its migrant population, and to empower them to contribute to society both socially and through the labour market, Lisbon left with inspiration and confidence for recreating these results in its own context.