Go extra large

There is no ‘one size fits all’ integration solution, but Oslo tends towards ‘extra-large.’ ‘Everyone who lives in Oslo has equal access to municipal services. They will experience equal treatment every time they go to the municipal office, school, a youth club or a nursing home.’ This is the basis of the inclusion strategy ‘Oslo Extra Large (OXLO), a city for all.’

OXLO also serves as a guide for businesses and organisations for integration and support to vulnerable groups, including migrants, and offers funding and support for voluntary organisations.

The opportunity to develop

Cities know that given the right support, migrants can be a great asset. The incubator Toyen Unlimited realises this potential by helping young people, including migrants, space to develop their own entrepreneurial ideas for solving social challenges.

“The goal of entering into partnership agreements with NGOs is an even better and more sustainable offering for the population” says district council leader Line Oma. “This applies in particular to offers for children and young people, in fields such as culture, sports, social entrepreneurship and integration. The organisations we enter into partnership with have very strong links with the local communities. Now we are giving the organisations the opportunity to develop further through support and cooperation in the partnership model.”

From volunteer to employee

Some great initiatives have sprung up from Toyen Unlimited. Among these is CaféB04, where young people can enjoy social activities, job search counselling and homework help. Conceived by Shad Ibrahim Hussein, the café began as a volunteer run initiative, but has been so successful that it has upgraded its workers to paid employees. It is hard to estimate the impact that such migrant-run spaces can have; “Had it not been for this place, I’d have been on the street” commented one user of the service.

There are also T-Town Youth and Wide-Ink, both conceived by Wid Al-Saedy, a political refugee hailing from Iraq. Herself a long-time volunteer, Wid thought of creating organisations that would use a mix of volunteers and employees, and would leverage volunteering as a way to gain work experience and integrate with the local community. “My motivation is a strong commitment to refugees and immigrants, as well as my own experiences and challenges related to entering the working life, despite the fact that I have a higher education,” says Wid.

Wide-Ink creates mini-enterprises, such as a hair salon or a water fountain rented by local events, that hire refugees, immigrants and disadvantaged youth. “Several of the refugees would rather borrow the hairdressing tools to cut themselves, and many of them were incredibly good. Several had been hairdressers in their home country, and told about burnt out and bombed out lounges that they had to flee. It was here that the idea of Wide-Ink came about,” Wid explains.

Build bridges

The idea is to provide Norwegians with a service that they need but at the same time become a meeting place and build bridges between different parts of the population across age, religion and ethnic affiliation. The organisation also runs courses and lectures and does awareness raising work on social exclusion, as well as recruitment and networking events. T-Town Youth works in a similar way.

To support volunteer-run organisations, Oslo has a volunteer centre in each district, which provide a framework for volunteering. Schools and libraries are also obliged to give space to any local association that requires it. Through the VALUES project, Oslo is now working with other cities to help them switch to an XL size.

Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer