Thematic axes Global Challenges

Carlos Giménez, Bàrbara Ferrer, Carmen Díaz and Felipe Campos

"The intercultural perspective must underpin local public management"


"The intercultural perspective must be at the center of the municipal agenda and be the backbone of local public management." This was one of the conclusions of the round table with which the cycle of conferences “For an intercultural future” of the Re-City project, organized by the Fundació Catalunya Europa, La Caixa and the Club Roma, ended on July 15 with the support from the Barcelona City Council, the "Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona" and the Generalitat de Catalunya.

With the aim of contrasting different community experiences from an intercultural perspective, the round table had four luxury speakers: Bàrbara Ferrer, Deputy Mayor of Santa Coloma de Gramenet; Carmen Díaz, councilor for Equality, Diversity and Social Policies of Getxo; Felipe Campos, director of the Itaca de L’Hospitalet de Llobregat Educational Association; and Carlos Giménez, scientific director of the ICI project. The person in charge of moderating the colloquium was Gemma Pinyol, director of migration and diversity policies at Instrategies and coordinator of the RECI.

Thanks to the interventions of the participants, we were able to learn first-hand about the actions of three specific projects: the Spanish Network of Intercultural Cities (RECI), the Intercultural Community Intervention Project (ICI), and at a more local level, the Itaca Educational Association of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, in Barcelona.

The Spanish Network of Intercultural Cities (RECI). The RECI is a group of cities and municipalities from different parts of Spain committed to promoting diversity management policies from an intercultural point of view. It was created in 2011, promoted by the Council of Europe within the framework of the Intercultural Cities (IC) Program, and since 2017 it has been managed by the Association of Intercultural Cities.

Intercultural Community Intervention Project (ICI). Promoted by the La Caixa Foundation, the ICI project works with the Administration, both local and state, as well as with social entities, to define and implement models of community intervention from an integrative approach and an intercultural perspective. Created in 2010, it is currently developed in 36 territories in Spain, through the three fundamental pillars of any society: education, health and citizen relations.

Itaca Educational Association. Since 1976, the Itaca Educational Association has dedicated its work to education for children and youth leisure in the Collblanc-La Torrassa neighborhood, in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona). It develops socio-educational projects at the service of the community, with the aim of generating equal opportunities and accompanying processes of personal development and empowerment of children, youth and families, with special sensitivity to those who are in situations of vulnerability.

The debate, raised by Gemma Pinyol, revolved around the challenges of managing diversity and coexistence from an intercultural perspective, and to what extent community work has provided more tools in the face of a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Improving coexistence helps social and economic progress.

A good example of community work from an intercultural perspective is that carried out by the Santa Coloma de Gramanet City Council, which is part of both the RECI and the ICI project. According to Bàrbara Ferrer, deputy mayor and head of the Social Rights and Educating City area, Santa Coloma has been "a pioneer city in the development of coexistence policies and has a clear commitment to giving voice to interculturality".

Without a doubt, diversity in Santa Coloma is a reality. The city has a population of 118 thousand inhabitants, up to 100 different nationalities live together and it is calculated that one in five citizens come from a foreign country. According to the City Council, every month about 200 people register in the register.

For this reason, the commitment to interculturality began a long time ago with the creation of a Coexistence Plan (2001), later it continued with the Transmission Network of Positive Values ??(2004) to fight against rumors and stereotypes, and currently has a team of mediators who work at street level, and with a Strategic Plan resulting from a participatory process that includes more than 30 actions to work from an intercultural perspective but that also incorporates the diversity of gender, age, social class, physical condition and orientation sexual involving all agents of citizen life. Another initiative that they are carrying out in this area is the Cultural Narratives Program.

The municipal representative recalled that “we have been betting on coexistence policies for more than 20 years, always wanting to improve the relationship between people and at the same time with their environment, to facilitate social and economic progress, which for us are the two of the hand". Bàrbara Ferrer also explained that “to guarantee the success of these actions, in addition to political will, a long-term approach with a strategic vision is necessary. We want to create spaces for positive interaction, for "peer-to-peer" encounters, with positive discourses on diversity and against prejudice. "

In the last 4 years, the city has invested one million euros in various community actions such as the Spring Festival or the “Colze a Colze” mutual aid project in the Raval neighborhood, and now, in the face of the crisis caused by the coronavirus has been more useful than ever. Precisely, another initiative related to the pandemic, has been the rapid diagnosis carried out in the Serra d'en Mena, which will be ready at the end of July, and which will allow measuring the impact of the health and social crisis caused by Covid-19 in some neighborhoods already difficult. In addition, as a consequence of the pandemic, food bank aid has tripled, which, according to Ferrer, shows that "we must continue working and strengthening citizen networks, since we have seen how in times of crisis the population uses them and it helps ”.

Transversal planning, fundamental in intercultural management.

A different case is the municipality of Getxo, in Vizcaya, which belongs to the RECI. With about 79 thousand inhabitants, it is the fifth most populous city in the Basque Country and one of the oldest in Europe, since 33% of its population is over 60 years old. Due to this age profile, the high level of income and its great tourist attraction, there is a great demand for employment in the care sector that mainly attracts women from Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Currently, Getxo has an emigration rate of 11% and this legislature the City Council has gone one step further by creating an area of ??social cohesion, equality, education and youth. "Our challenge is to make a structure work that allows us to advance in the transversality of equality and community intervention," explained Carmen Díaz, councilor for Equality, diversity and social policies, and responsible for this new area.

For about three years they have been working with young people of Maghrebi origin who previously came mainly to Bilbao. But they have been approaching coexistence management from an intercultural perspective for about fifteen years with several objectives:

  • Carry out community actions taking into account the specific characteristics of the foreign population.
  • Create the conditions for interaction between indigenous and foreign people.
  • Promote and care for intercultural relationship scenarios.
  • Promote active participation.
  • Remove all barriers that prevent foreigners from accessing rights and resources.
  • Prevent, report and fight discrimination.

According to Carmen Díaz, "our fundamental objective is to incorporate the intercultural perspective into all our actions of equality and community intervention, putting the focus on the person, at the center of our project, and seeing cultural diversity as an advantage for the municipality." Another objective is "to draw up a community-based reception plan for migrants and refugees."

One of the problems they had before, according to the councilor, was the lack of municipal planning to carry out this type of project, but belonging to the RECI has helped them a lot, since they have been able to share experiences with other municipalities in the area of ??immigration , diversity, equality and interculturality. "Good planning is also essential in the face of crises such as covid, which has subjected us to a real stress test and has forced us to resolve many situations of vulnerability," Díaz said.

Look at the community with the glasses of interculturality.

But not only the municipalities incorporate an intercultural perspective in improving coexistence in neighborhoods or cities, many citizen entities also do it and their work is just as fundamental. This is the case of the Itaca Educational Association of the Collblanc-La Torrassa neighborhood in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. The entity is part of the ICI and its director, Felipe Campos, is also a neighbor of the neighborhood and knows very well the reality of this small piece of city. A complex reality, since in less than a square kilometer more than 55,000 inhabitants live together, which makes Collblanc-La Torrassa one of the densest neighborhoods in Europe and is even comparable to many areas of Bombay.

Felipe Campos wanted to define the objectives of the association by quoting a few words from the Italian social researcher, Marco Marchioni, one of the main ideologues of community work, who died recently. "We must guarantee social and citizen participation. A country must put in place processes that improve people's living conditions to provide social responses and prevent people from being left lying in the gutter, ”Marchioni said in an interview in 2010.

Diversity is one of the intrinsic characteristics of Collblanc-La Torrassa, since it represents a large part of the world in a very small space, with more than 120 nationalities, 70 languages ??and 5 different religious cults.

"All this makes the relationship with the other and the coexistence between different visions and perspectives require very careful intervention, especially at the beginning, when we began to introduce the intercultural approach," explained Felipe Campos, who compared his work with that of an architect. . “When we build a bridge, it is not to pass only once, but so that as many people can do it, many times, and that it also lasts time and is not weak, but endures and is resistant. Like bridges, we must build relationships, projects and shared knowledge that are strong, stable and lasting, that are not something temporary or to pose in the photo, "said Campos.

With this philosophy they have managed to improve coexistence and create spaces for intercultural relationships. “Despite the coexistence between a great variety of languages, origins and cultures, there was a lot of ignorance between them and even a certain hostility towards what is different and other cultures. Almost 15% of the residents considered it a problem that there were people from other countries. A worrying fact, if we take into account that almost half of the population of the neighborhood is of foreign origin ”. A perception that, according to Campos, fortunately has now changed.

In recent years, the association has carried out more than 500 actions in which 22,600 people have participated. An example, the mediation in 2017 between the Islamic oratory "Camí per la Pau" and the residents of the street where it is located, to deepen mutual knowledge, since it affected the relationship, especially during the celebration of Ramadan. Other actions were in 2015 in Plaza Española (“which should now be called the World, due to the number of nationalities it brings together”), a public space with a very intense use by people and families from different cultures. After talking to the neighbors, new uses were made to make everyone feel more comfortable. Likewise, the association has worked with the businesses or the associations of mothers and fathers of students of the eight public schools in the neighborhood. "It is essential to have allies and listen to our citizens in the neighborhood," Campos said.

By way of conclusion, he concluded by affirming that “we must put intercultural action at the center of the municipal agenda and make the intercultural perspective the axis that structures public policy. They are the glasses with which we should look at the territory. This is about knowing and recognizing diversity, creating and living in spaces of encounter and respect from equality, and creating the conditions for inclusive participation that gives voice to the diverse origins that coexist in our neighborhoods. ”

"Municipalism is the local strategic sphere of coexistence."

Finally, the scientific director of the ICI project, Carlos Giménez, in charge of closing the round table, was hopeful for the future because “we have created strong structures at the community level in favor of interculturality and diversity. Tools with which to face the increase in inequalities, the climatic emergency, the rise of far-right and racist parties, or the uncertainties of the coronavirus crisis ”.

According to Giménez "we are in a change of historical cycle, faced with the exhaustion of the system, and interculturality, that is, dialogue between all peoples, either it is given with strengthened guarantees or it is going to be very bad for us." In this sense, the director of the ICI explained that experience has shown them that "municipalism is the strategic local sphere of coexistence and any country that does not invest and does not have the powers and resources of the municipalities is lost."

For this, a good understanding between the administration and the technicians who work in the community, and the participation of citizens is essential. “Interculturality must be located at the center of the municipal agenda, it is much more than a matter of social services. A municipality must be a factory for citizen and democratic coexistence ”. Precisely, one of the challenges is that this perspective has a cross-cutting approach, covering various departments of municipal political management. Jiménez also pointed out the importance of “working collectively, involving all the protagonists and incorporating the wisdom of different disciplines, with multi-year programs such as those being carried out in Santa Coloma, Getxo or L’Hospitalet”. In addition, he vindicated the professional work of technicians and mediators, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts promoting positive values, especially in the face of the rise of racism. According to the director of the ICI, “the relationship is not between natives and foreigners, but between defenders of democracy, pacifism and gender equality, and those who try to impose the positions of the extreme right. Interculturality must be the alliance of Democrats so that cultures are something beautiful and positive, and help build community. "

The round table was presented by Jaume Lanaspa, president of the Club Roma in Barcelona, ??and by Pau Mas, director of the Fundació Catalunya Europa, the two organizing entities of the cycle “For an intercultural future” that has had various top experts and academics international level.

Jaume Lanaspa warned of the risk of greater inequalities or more authoritarian policies on the part of some governments about the uncertainties that are opening up due to the socio-sanitary crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, "in our country it will be easier to face this crisis thanks to the management of diversity and interculturality that mitigates conflicts and accentuates the elements of social cohesion," said Lanaspa.

For his part, Pau Mas, recalled that precisely the objective of the Re-City project is to build community from the local level, proposing proposals for change and social transformation in the face of major global challenges. In this sense, he recalled, as the philosopher Daniel Innerarity explained in this same cycle, that "the community of cities is built on the basis of mixing from the common good." But he ended by quoting some recent words from the Basque philosopher about the coronavirus: "in a crisis the best and the worst of the human being come out, according to commonplace, but what comes out the most is regular".