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By The Intersector Project
April 26, 2016
The percentage of foreign-born United States residents has quadrupled since the 1970s, reaching more than 40 million. Aware of the challenges immigrants faced building a life in a new country, Tom Wahlrab, executive director of Dayton, Ohio’s Human Relations Council (HRC) noticed many of Dayton’s immigrants did not submit civil rights claims when faced with housing discrimination.
Recognizing that a number of immigrant groups felt marginalized within the city, HRC initiated a series of conversations with community members including city leaders, police, social service providers, business leaders, immigrant community leaders and immigrants. The resulting Welcome Dayton Initiative is a collaborative effort aiming to “promote immigrant integration into the greater Dayton region.” It supports economic development; improved access to education, government, health and social services; and greater equity in the justice system, and it promotes arts and culture. Welcome Dayton has publicized the needs of various immigrant communities, helped leverage the assets of existing groups working on immigrant issues and promoted a cultural shift toward immigrant inclusion.
Tools for Collaboration Success
The Welcome Dayton plan was written through a series of conversations held in 2011 that eschewed hierarchical structures and speeches in favor of conversations where people felt recognized and on equal footing, regardless of their position in society. Tom imagined the Welcome Dayton conversations would be an environment where people could have a discussion rather than hear a speech. The discussions generated greater buy-in from the business and nonprofit sectors, as well as community members. These initial conversations allowed participants to share their expertise from personal experiences in their communities, neighborhoods or organizations.
Participants self-selected into four subcommittees, applying their expertise to draft each of the four sections of the Welcome Dayton plan: business and economic development; local government and the justice system; social and health services; and community, culture, arts and education. Once the committee was established in 2013, members contributed knowledge based on what their communities, organizations and institutions were already doing to aid immigrant inclusion.
The committee created a 19-point “visioning process” that focused the Welcome Dayton committee’s goals. These points isolate specific ways Welcome Dayton could be resourceful within the four priority areas. In the business realm, the initiative works to provide mentoring and startup advising to entrepreneurs, while ensuring members supported an Immigrant Investor Regional Center. In government, the committee focused on ensuring interpretation service availability for governmental and judicial issues, making legal services available to immigrants and promoting immigrants as civic leaders. The committee sought to create a more inclusive education system for immigrants and refugees, from providing better ESL training to retaining foreign students in the city’s universities. In health and social services, the committee led an initiative to create a welcome center, oversee a comprehensive process for refugee resettlement and increase accessibility.
This process is illustrative of a tactic The Intersector Project Toolkit refers to as Share Discretion—the deliberate allocation of decisionmaking authority according to area of expertise. Assigning authority based on partners’ sector- or issue-specific knowledge allows the collaboration to benefit from the unique expertise of each partner and gives each partner a distinct stake in the collaboration.
Establish a Governance Structure
The Welcome Dayton committee, established in 2013, formed the central body of the Welcome Dayton Initiative, comprising members of organizations with a stake in immigrant inclusion. Members must show a strong interest in immigrant issues and work in one of the following fields: education; banking; health care; social services; local, state and federal law; city and county government; and private businesses. Committee members serve three-year terms and meet regularly to make decisions and discuss opportunities for projects. A chairperson and vice-chairperson are elected by the City Commission to oversee committee meetings and call special meetings. The committee allows members to offer their professional expertise in discussions about designing an overall agenda for immigrant inclusion.
This formal structure for decisionmaking and project management is an example of a tactic The Intersector Project Toolkit refers to as Establish a Governance Structure—the creation of a formal or informal organizational system for project management. Clear governance structures, such as committees, workgroups or facilitated discussions, provide direction while ensuring equity and inclusivity to resolve actual or perceived power imbalances that can arise during collaboration.
As the demographics of the United States continue to shift, initiatives like Welcome Dayton can bring together multi-stakeholder, cross-sector groups that encourage residents to increase their awareness of the immigrant experience and commit to immigrant inclusion as a vital part of their communities’ futures.
Author: The Intersector Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cross-sector collaboration as a way to address society’s pressing issues. We work to provide practitioners in every sector with the tools they need to implement collaborative solutions to complex problems.