With over 100 languages spoken daily within its borders, the West Midlands is considered to be the most diverse and heavily urbanised area in the United Kingdom, outside of London. For the same reason, it is also believed to be the second most diverse region in Europe. As one might imagine, all this diversity brings with it an untapped resource of skills and ideas.
Innovation for More Inclusive Urban Spaces: the Case of MiFriendly Cities
Untapping the potential of diverse communities
In October 2017, the European Union’s Urban Innovative Actions fund awarded €4,2 million to Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton for a 3-year initiative called MiFriendly Cities. The project looked to develop innovative, community-led and sustainable approaches to enhance the contribution of refugees and migrants across the region.
In a nutshell, the aim of MiFriendly Cities was to build stronger communities and promote innovation for more inclusive urban spaces. How? By encouraging employers, health services and the wider public to come together and drive change at both city and regional level. While some of the developed activities were tailored to specific groups, the overall programme involved a broad range of residents in the region, including the ones who define themselves as ‘migrants’.
In the context of the Better Incubation’s Communities of Practice targeted at understanding migrants’ challenges to entrepreneurship and leveraging learnings from successful inclusive experiences, MiFriendly Cities was appointed as an inspiring best practice that supports vulnerable entrepreneurs in the European region. Promoted by Impact Hub along with partners, Better Incubation is an Europe-based initiative dedicated to achieving systemic change through enhancing Business Support Organisations’ skills, methods and tools towards a more diverse entrepreneurship environment.
MiFriendly Cities: Approach and Methodology
To reach their goal, the innovative programme of activities delivered by MiFriendly Cities focused on five main themes. For the first one – jobs -, a network called ‘Migration Friendly Employers’ was created. The Network’s aim was mainly centered in strengthening the workforce of the West Midlands by creating a robust infrastructure which offers ongoing support and increases contact between communities in the workplace.
The second axis, skills, aimed at identifying skills gaps in the region and creating pathways towards further education and employment opportunities for refugees and migrants. They put together an innovative training programme that could benefit all communities and acknowledged the region’s aspirations to become the centre for advanced manufacturing in Europe.
Similarly, by supporting local and refugee and migrant entrepreneurs to start new businesses, MiFriendly Cities hoped to expand job opportunities and strengthen the wider economy. The region also faces many social challenges – in areas such as housing and healthcare – they wanted to meet these challenges by nurturing and funding creative grassroots projects, which are aimed at improving the quality of life for everyone.
Most critically to our vision, refugees and migrants were involved at every step of project development. – MiFriendly Cities
By combining these three fields of action, the project envisioned to empower refugees and migrants to aid in driving the economic success of the region by creating new job and work placement opportunities, engaging with employers about hiring from within this community, and highlighting the skills and passion of everyone in our cities.
Additionally, MiFriendly Cities also focused on supporting refugees and migrants active participation in the civil society and encouraging them to use their voices – to spread a message, share a story, or simply to get to know other people in their city. To build the confidence to do so, the migrants’
comprehension of their legal, civil and political rights was considered an important factor for the program as well.
Finally, by promoting the values and knowledge of effective community building and encouraging innovation for more inclusive urban spaces, the project looked to invest in the future of the region, and inspire cities across Europe to also become the MiFriendly Cities of the future.
Highlights from the wrap up
By the end of 2020, MiFriendly Cities had invested €80,000 in migrant social entrepreneurs, 28 projects were pitched for seed funding and 16 social enterprises were registered as businesses. If that was not good enough, with support of the programme, an initial of 45 jobs were created, more than 40 migrants and refugees were trained, and 2,361 beneficiaries were supported. To date, 44% of the involved social enterprises have been able to adapt and continue throughout the lockdown with many more planning for an uncertain future.
Through Better Incubation, Impact Hub, along with EBN and EVPA, is committed to achieve systemic change in the European entrepreneurship environment by enhancing Business Support Organisations’ skills, methods and approaches. For more great stories related to the program, enjoy our interview with Syed Hasnain, who is making a difference by advocating for refugee rights and equal rights opportunities in European decision-making spaces.