Making New Brunswick a truly multicultural region will be the key to unlocking prosperity and long-term growth.
Last week immigrant serving agencies, educators and healthcare professionals came together from across the province at the iconic Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews for NBMC’s Growing Together conference. Everyone in attendance knew why we were there; making New Brunswick a truly multicultural region will be the key to unlocking prosperity and long-term growth. The paradox of the meetings was that although the majority of faces were familiar, you attend these meetings hoping that you’ll discover something new. Was the information novel? It wasn’t. Did we all learn something new? I hope we did. The fact remains that coming together at times like these is still important. If we lay the immigration blueprint publicly and transparently, we have the chance to unlock new pathways to prosperity. If we don’t, we may waste another decade of opportunity.
First Nations Greeting
To launch the event we were greeted by a First Nation’s elder. In his address he gave us a healthy dose of tough love that was incredibly refreshing. Yes, we’re welcoming in new Canadians from across the globe, but we already have multiculturalism issues built in to the fabric of our society. To truly be inclusive, we need to not only look forward, but take a hard look at our past. Can we truly call ourselves an inclusive society if we don’t honor our neighbors who have been here for 13,000 years? We can only connect the dots looking backward, and to get immigration right for the next 10 years, we need to look back at the last 100.
Welcoming vs. Inclusive
We all know that we fancy ourselves a welcoming community. But is it only a welcome mat? What comes after the friendly smile at the airport? If we walk down the road of ‘welcoming’ we eventually reach the destination of ‘inclusive.’ What does that mean? It means that our new neighbors are visible, active participants in the community and the culture. If we welcome 1,000 new Canadians to our shores but the unemployment and poverty rates still exceed those of our local population we haven’t achieved inclusivity. If newcomers come to New Brunswick and feel as if they can’t achieve their goals, we haven’t achieved inclusivity. If newcomer families suffer from loneliness, are not able to access services and are told they ‘need more Canadian experience,’ we have, once more, not achieved inclusivity. I think we have the potential to combine our welcoming nature with a systematic approach to our changing demographics and become the poster-child for a truly diverse community.
Cultural competency is a 2019 buzz-word ranking right up there with start-up, side-hustle and newcomers. Dr. Kwame McKenzie made a great point about the hierarchy of cultural competency. At the individual level, newcomers need to learn about the culture they are coming in to to achieve high quality of life outcomes, this is inevitably true. In response, our community needs to adapt and change as our new community demands. Change isn’t easy but it is worth it. Perhaps even more important is that our systems adapt as the future demands. Our schools need to adapt their services and teaching methods as their classrooms welcome diverse groups of students. Our government needs to adapt to the new constituents they’re serving. Our businesses need to adapt their HR policies as their corporate boardrooms become increasingly diverse. Our support services in the community need to grow & expand as the demand continues to rise. Individual cultural competency is great, but a system that is dynamic and flexible as the community changes is even better.
In 2019 we’ve created divisions masked as inclusivity. Dr. Kwame MacKenzie encouraged us all to not be afraid of our differences, but to celebrate them as the true cultural mosaic they are. In this effort he encourage what he called Vertical Equity. Vertical Equity is the practice of adjusting and developing systemic cultural competency. We must adapt and pivot as our clients demand and as their needs change. At the Hive Saint John, our incubator dedicated exclusively to newcomer entrepreneurs, we take pride in being For Newcomer Founders, By Newcomer Founders. If the curriculum isn’t getting businesses off the ground, we change it. If our clients want a specific workshop, we facilitate If our clients need to get networked we reach out to the community. One size truly does not fit all and it is actually exclusive to pretend that this isn’t true. We can either change culture or change our systems. The former is long-term, imprecise and controversial. The latter is simple, inclusive and immediately possible.
The Feeling of Unfairness
One of the most striking elements of of Dr. MacKenzie’s keynote was the social determinants of mental health. When you run the numbers it’s about 50% of the pie. That’s a lot. In relation to immigration and the settlement process this is huge. What happens when communities feel like they’re not able to be successful in a given city, town, region? What happens when perceived barriers in the physical world become barriers in the mind? I would bet the evidence suggests this is a huge factor in real world outcomes. It’s intangible to say there’s a feeling to a place but there can certainly be a feeling in a community. If the feeling is ‘there are no jobs,’ the workforce will suffer and available labor will stay at home. If the feeling is ‘we don’t belong,’ there will be a lack of belonging. We need to foster an atmosphere of truly diverse outcomes and we need to be seen as a community that is going to thrive.
The Power of Community
What this change would really represent is a pivot towards a community that is changing for the better. A pivot from being known as a welcoming community to being known as a truly inclusive community.
We have so much to gain.