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Integration – aspiration and threat

 

In KVINFO’s Mentor Network, we have chosen to use words such as equality and integration being fully aware that such terms can have a controversial undertones for some. We use the word integration in its most positive meaning where the dream of a unified community comes from both sides. The passive concept that a person should be ‘integrated’ is something we strongly shun.

 
“If I’m going to be a part of this there are two words you mustn’t use”, said an Iraqi woman who had been invited to discuss the idea of a mentor network for ethnic minority and refugee women back in 2003. “What two words?” I asked with trepidation. The response was prompt: “Equality and integration.”

I had to be honest and explain that it would be difficult for me to avoid using those two words. But it gave me something to think about – everyday words and terms, such as equality and integration, are so overused that they can be like a red rag to a bull for a refugee woman from Iraq. It goes almost without saying that her contribution made the meeting an unforgettable and lively one with masses of inspiration and a providing significant momentum to forge ahead.

This Iraqi woman’s outburst highlights the navigational requirements when embarking on a ground-breaking project, such as the Mentor Network. Linguistic and aesthetic choices must be carefully considered at every step of the way.

A goldfish as a logo
There were many things to consider when preparing the first mentor folder. All these concerns and worries were passed on to the graphic designer when commissioning the work. Our main requirement was that the folder should have absolutely no pictures. After all, pictures can be interpreted differently and misunderstood. If the network was to be a success, we had to take no chances. Pictures were out!

But the graphic designer, Maria Elskjær, had both understood and decoded the concept of the network. Ecstatic about her ideas for the mentor folder which matched our requirements exactly, she turned the tables on us and presented a mock-up of how she herself thought the folder should look.

With an image of two goldfish sizing each other up from their respective worlds, she had created her own idea of our vision. Still, it was only once ten young women from ten very different backgrounds unanimously gave it the thumbs up that were we convinced. “That’s exactly how we feel”, they said. “We want to go over to the other goldfish. We want to be together with you.” From that moment, the two goldfish became the logo for KVINFO’s Mentor Network.

Red rag to a bull and a beautiful dream
These two stories from the early days of the network tell us that integration as a concept or phenomenon can be like a red rag to a bull and like a beautiful dream. The ‘red rag’ results primarily from the public debate which focuses mostly on problems and troublemaking and can feel like social exclusion from the community.

The sad consequence is that integration is often viewed as something forced upon immigrants requiring them to relinquish any form of personal identity and brush aside individual viewpoints. Participants in the second focus group with the goldfish, on the other hand, saw integration as a beautiful dream of finding their place in the community. For them, the integration process couldn’t go quickly enough.

In KVINFO’s Mentor Network, we have chosen to use words such as equality and integration being fully aware that such terms can have a controversial undertones for some. We use the word integration in its most positive meaning where the dream of a unified community comes from both sides.

We would never use the word integration in its passive sense – i.e. that someone must ‘be integrated’. This use of the word connotes a one-way process aimed at someone who, by definition, is resistant and must undergo a process where the big ‘we’ does something to little ‘them’.

Equality as the cornerstone of the entire mentoring relationship is key. The mantra of the Mentor Network is that human beings have more in common with each other than that which divides us. We therefore take it as a given that the mentee who volunteers to get a mentor genuinely wants to become part of the unified community.

My mentor – a human GPS
When one mentee called her mentor her “human GPS”, she created a fantastic metaphor for the need for navigation in an unknown country. Danish women do not hesitate to open their networks up to immigrant women looking for a first foothold in the job market – every day, the creation of trust, tangible results and positive new networks.
 
 
Read more
Background, case stories and more in KVINFO's
Theme: Mentoring



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