A fun way of getting to know new arrivals
Making a new life in another country isn't easy. Integration often means learning a new language, getting used to different customs, finding work and building a social network. But how do you do all that before you know the ropes? Where do you start? According to Welcome Nederland, everyone can help new arrivals settle in. Recognising that many locals see supporting an integration programme or buddy project as a daunting commitment, Welcome favours a low-threshold approach. Members of the host community are invited to use an online app, giving a few minutes of their time here and there to answer newcomers' questions or respond to requests to meet up for a cuppa and a chat. Julius Weise, CEO and co-founder of Welcome Nederland, talks about the app, the playful #pieceofcake challenge, and collaboration with SIDN Fund.
Locals don't feel responsible
"It all started while I was studying abroad. I got to know some lads from West Africa through playing football with them in the park. We soon became friends, and they inspired me, because they were so positive about life despite everything they'd been through as refugees."
"After that, I started doing volunteer work, and saw first hand how there was a real divide between locals and newcomers. Generally speaking, locals don't feel that it's their responsibility to integrate newcomers, even though they actually have a big role in the process." Under the banner of the Blendin Foundation, Julius and a friend developed an online platform for bringing new arrivals and settled folk into contact on the basis of equality.
A place for social and professional contact
"We discovered that the Netherlands has lots of organisations working to help newcomers, but they don't cooperate with each other much. Our own projects were quite fragmented as well." In the summer of 2018, the pair therefore decided to link up with a Swedish team that had developed an app called Welcome. A Dutch version of the app was created to help new arrivals get in touch with local people, organisations and programmes. Welcome is a platform for social and professional contact, as well as a forum where newcomers can get answers to all their questions, and hear about a wide range of upcoming events and activities. App users from the host community can easily invite people to lunch, discover what's happening in their neighbourhood, or give immediate answers to newcomers' questions. Those questions might be about almost anything: work, the best places for traditional local food, or where to get guitar lessons. Answering a question like that typically takes seconds for someone who has lived locally all their life, but can make a huge difference to someone trying to integrate.
Sitting down together for coffee and cake. Often, that's all it takes. Julius and his team aren't thinking about long integration programmes. "Integration has become a loaded term, but helping people settle in doesn't have to be complex." That belief recently led them to launch the #pieceofcake challenge, where app users are challenged to get together for coffee and cake, and record their meeting. "We've known people with very little money put half of what they get aside to buy a train ticket, so as to go for lunch with someone they've met via the app. You can't help but be moved by stories like that," says Julius.
Using the internet for the good of society
Support from SIDN Fund has enabled Julius and his team to continue development of the Dutch Welcome app. They have additionally benefitted from taking part in knowledge sessions organised by the Fund, which has also put them in touch with others working in the field. Marieke van der Kruijs, Project Coordinator at SIDN Fund, explained what led the Fund to extend a helping hand. "Welcome is using the internet to address a real social challenge. We like the way that this enthusiastic team has taken a tried and tested Swedish concept, and has boldly to put their own stamp on it, with the ultimate goal of tackling fragmentation and promoting integration."
Welcome Nederland doesn't see creation of the Dutch app as the end of the story. "We want to become the central platform for integration, with a presence in every European country. A bit like Facebook, but for integration." Local people can contribute to the initiative by making donations. As Julius explains, businesses and other organisations can help too. "Organise a lunch at the office, invite a new arrival to come for an interview, and tap into a new source of talent," he says. The impact of such initiatives will then be tracked on the platform. Want to start answering questions right away? Interested to know how your business or organisation could help? Read all about the initiative on the Welcome website and download the app from the App Store or Google Play Store.