By: Christina Pope
As the new director of Welcoming International, Christina Pope shares in this blog takeaways from a recent gathering of the Welcoming International alliance.
As the world enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and welcomers continue to build the long term infrastructure to ensure that migrants – including those seeking safety from violent conflict – can participate and belong in their new communities, the partners of the Welcoming International alliance must find ways to support and connect their local members operating in disparate realities. In that context, partners gathered virtually in late 2021 and early 2022 to discuss how programming can evolve to meet local members’ needs, as well as how network leaders can sustain themselves.
Partners agreed that hybrid models — a combination of virtual and in-person methods — hold promise to address these challenges, and took away from the virtual gatherings new ideas for hybrid solutions in program development.
Here are some examples and takeaways:
- Hybrid large-scale events.Planning a high-attendance event in a hybrid format from the start can allow for greater flexibility. For example, Welcoming Australia will host their annual capacity-building symposium in May 2022 with both in-person and virtual attendance options. Practitioners can shift their registration entirely to virtual if cases increase locally or travel becomes prohibited.
- Small group + online community engagement in welcoming planning. During the pandemic, Juntas En la misma dirección in Spain experimented with a hybrid community engagement model to create an island-wide welcoming plan. Several groups met for in-person feedback sessions across the island of Tenerife; then, at a few points in the day, all groups came together online. Read more about this approach in Stories of Resilience: Spain (English/Español).
- Local consultation to design interactive workshops. Over the past two years, the Weltoffene Kommune initiative conducted “Self-Check” workshops, dialogue events, and trainings for municipal leaders across Germany. Weltoffene Kommune maintained flexibility in their workshop budget so they could accommodate in-person or virtual meetings based on attendee preference, travel policy changes, and funding availability. Read more in Stories of Resilience: Germany (English/Deutsch).
- Staggered program planning and delivery. In periods when travel is impossible for conducting activities to support local network members in person, Welcoming America in the U.S., Inclusive Cities in the United Kingdom, and Immigration New Zealand Welcoming Communities are prioritizing virtual activities, such as updating the Welcoming Standard and the Inclusive Cities Framework, and developing a “getting started” toolkit. At the same time, plans for in-person peer learning convenings are continuing for times in the year when cases are (hopefully) lower.
- Hybrid approach to vaccine-required events. In some countries with disparities in vaccine access and/or lower vaccine uptake, a new form of exclusion at in-person events may need to be addressed: vaccination requirements. If unvaccinated people are not permitted to attend a town hall meeting in-person, for example, this may unintentionally exclude a disproportionate number of migrant residents, even when other inclusion practices are in place, such as language access. A hybrid approach — offering both in-person and virtual attendance options — may help mitigate this issue.
- Purposeful peer learning for well-being. Constant flexibility is hard work. Partners highlighted the importance of purposeful peer learning spaces to sustain the well-being of network leaders, and acknowledged that it takes extra care and creativity to prepare these spaces. Participants noted that in a “network of networks” like the Welcoming International alliance, leaders gain hope and energy when they otherwise often feel alone in the work. In turn, national welcoming networks can help local champions — both in governments and civil society — support one another in challenging times.
New in 2022
As Welcoming International evolves its programming, we began this year with launching the US-Italy Welcoming Communities Exchange in cooperation with Refugees Welcome Italia and the International Rescue Committee. The initiative will also kick off a peer exchange between small cities and rural areas in Australia and the U.S. Like past Welcoming International exchanges, these exchanges will bring local leaders together for experiential learning they can apply to their practice at home, building powerful intercultural friendships with new colleagues along the way.
As the U.S. rolls out new community sponsorship initiatives for welcoming refugees, we are disseminating international learning from collaborative projects in the UK and Germany focused on increasing cooperation between local authorities and community sponsors.
Welcoming Week, the annual campaign led by Welcoming America, will also expand in 2022 to Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and beyond through partnerships in each country, a sign of the expanding welcoming movement across borders and a commitment to enduring action for long-term inclusion.
Thank you to all of the partners and supporters who continue to join us in working towards a more welcoming world. Follow along with the latest news from Welcoming International alliance partner networks and other Welcoming International programs by signing up for our newsletter.
Welcoming International is an initiative of Welcoming America consisting of several programs, among them the Welcoming International alliance. The alliance connects and supports peer practitioners for knowledge exchange and collaboration on network strategies, welcoming standards and accreditation programs, and emerging topics in the delivery of services and programs to national networks of inclusion practitioners.
In addition to the alliance, Welcoming America also administers international learning exchanges for local leaders, provides technical assistance to national and local institutions to advance multisector welcoming strategies, and collaborates with global partners to help welcoming localities shape international policy frameworks and narratives for better welcoming infrastructure.