Buddy projects get funding to improve integration

Summary

Structured initiatives that pair newcomers with local people and companies can apply for support and should act as an example

Mutual understanding

Trial buddy projects that support the integration of newcomers to Flanders by pairing them with locals are to receive government funding. Successful initiatives will then be copied across the region.

The draft decision was approved this week by Bart Somers, the minister for community, who has allocated a total budget of €400,000 for which projects can apply. “Thanks to buddy projects, people of foreign origin and newcomers can build a network with local people,” he said. “Social contacts outside the direct network are essential for mutual understanding and successful integration.”

The Flemish government’s coalition agreement added a fourth pillar to the existing pillars relating to integration in the region. Alongside knowledge of Dutch, social orientation and work, the fourth pillar is about creating a network in which people can properly participate in society.

One way of achieving this is through structured buddy projects – 40-hour programmes in the form of an introductory internship at a company, association or organisation, or through volunteer work. The offer is optional for those who work, study or are voluntarily following an integration programme.

“The educational chances of a newcomer double if they know someone outside their own network,” Somers said. “Their chances on the labour market also increase dramatically.”

Next level

Many towns and cities already have initiatives in which volunteers or organisation make contact with newcomers, but a well-developed framework and a list of good practices are needed. The government is therefore supporting test projects that can later be rolled out elsewhere.

Projects that apply for funding will be judged on three elements: the extent to which the managing authority will anchor the project after the trial period; the composition of the municipality, with municipalities with more than 10% residents of non-European origin having priority; and co-financing by the local authority for at least 50%.

The projects will run until the end of December 2020. “With the development of this fourth pillar, our integration and citizenship policy is being raised to the next level,” Somers said. “If Flemings, older migrants and newcomers get to know each other better, living together in diversity becomes more natural and truly enriching.”

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