Working to promote an integrated society

I recently had the chance to coordinate the organization Hello Portugal Festival. It was an event about migration and integration and happened in Lisbon on July 2nd, 2019. The festival was part of Hello Europe, an initiative led by Ashoka in Europe and was organized by Ashoka in collaboration with the High Commissioner for Migration, the Aga Khan Foundation, SPEAK and the Pão a Pão Association,


hello europe, an ashoka initiative- building truly integrated societies
Photo: Ashoka

How does Hello Europe work?

Through local accelerators, Hello Europe identifies the most impactful, effective and innovative solutions in the migration and integration sector world-wide. It also spreads where they are most needed in Europe.

Hello Europe also brings together key decision-makers from all sectors involved. From governments, welfare organizations, to businesses and citizen sector organizations. The aim is to co-design integral approaches that can grow and multiply as fast as the problems they hope to solve.


Hello Portugal Festival, an initiative about migration and integration- building a truly integrated society
Photo: SPEAK

Hello Portugal Festival

The festival brought together around 150 people from different sectors and nationalities and more than 25 speakers participated in panel discussions, workshops and lectures. During the morning, a collective intelligence exercise took place. It involved participants mapping strengths and challenges we are facing in the creation of an integrated society. People in the room answered two questions:

  • What is the main strength we have in this room?
  • What is the biggest challenge that is preventing us to create a truly integrated society?

The results

The results showed 7 strengths and 8 challenges. Among the challenges, the most frequent answer was of a lack of opportunities to actively listen to migrants’ voices and to create effective communication between migrants and policy-makers.


creating an inclusive society

Creating with the community

As said by one of the speakers of the Education Symposium, organized by the Aga Khan Foundation in May 2019, “Nothing good can be created for a community if it is not created with that community”. But how can we create better systems to support migrants and refugees and foster integration in our society if we don’t even listen proactively to the stories, needs and the perspectives of the people we are working for? And how can we work for someone without working with them?

Companies biggest source of information to improve their products or services are their customers. Similarly, users of a system should be the ones that are more knowledgeable about it. and should systematically be included in the design of that system.


Seeking the opportunity

This necessary mindset shift also calls for a change in the mainstream narrative of the migration phenomenon. Even if we leave aside the ill-intentioned narrative, mainly characterized by a demonization of migration, the well-intentioned one often perpetuates a narrative that sees migrants and refugees as passive recipients that need help. Instead, migrants should be considered as changemakers that can actively contribute to the reality they live in and even change the rules of the game we are playing.

Both as individuals and organizations, we should start to tell ourselves a new story. Migrating is something that has always happened and will always happen as long as human beings will be around in this world. Each one of us is considered as an empowered and empowering individual with a unique background experience and potential. So all we need to do, as a society, is to create the conditions for that potential to occur.


águeda, Portugal
Águeda, Portugal

A truly integrated society

Portugal’s ecosystem of civic and public sector organizations has been working amazingly well. But we need to do more and do better. We need participatory processes of active listening and co-design of systems and policies centred on people. Only through them will we be able to create systems that allow every human being to thrive and contribute with their full potential to the society they are part of. This, in my opinion, constitutes a truly integrated society.



Author: Silvia Pau

Silvia has a passion for learning. Her goal in life is to improve education systems, to provide every child with high quality and innovative education.

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