The integration debate - at last some facts!

By Jonathan Freeman, National Director of Mosaic

The public debate on integration is frustratingly seldom one based on much other than personal experience (or, at worst, prejudice) That is why I am so pleased that this is being rectified by the Social Integration Commission’s evidence-based approach. Bringing some facts to this debate is long overdue. The initial findings based on this research are hugely powerful and of relevance to all those of us working to bring together diverse communities for social good.  

Empty exhortations to integrate are, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, deeply patronising and damaging. Paeans to the benefits of meeting others from different backgrounds are normally only heard by those who already embrace diversity and difference. Events to learn about other cultures and faiths are too often attended by those who already mix with others. All terribly worthy, of course, but of limited impact. Don’t get me wrong: I am a huge believer in the benefits of diversity and mixing. But social action around a shared common cause is, I think, a hugely powerful vehicle by which to effect better integration.  

The success of Mosaic’s work to improve the life chances of young people from our most deprived communities, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, has in many ways been rooted in our ability to recruit volunteers from the broadest possible spectrum of backgrounds. We bring individuals together, whose worlds were very unlikely to have overlapped, because they share a passion in helping young people to succeed.  

As the photo below of one of Mosaic’s mentors with one of the mums and her daughter on our primary school mentoring programme typifies, the common cause that has brought these two women together is their desire for the young girl to excel and flourish.

Whether these women would have had the opportunity to have met otherwise we don’t know, but it is unlikely. Mosaic’s work centres in those communities with significant minority ethnic communities: London, Birmingham, Manchester, etc. Our experience very much backs up the Commission’s finding that the diversity of these cities absolutely does not result in improved integration. Our experience also backs up the Commission’s findings that young people are segregated by ethnicity.  

One example that supports both these findings is that of the visit we organised for a group of students and their parents from a school in Tower Hamlets to a university campus in the centre of London. Not one of the students or their parents had been to a university, but that was expected. What surprised us what that none of them had ever been on the Underground before. The group, all of whom were of Bangladeshi backgrounds, spent their lives almost exclusively in their small (predominantly Bangladeshi) area of London, feeling very little need to stray any further. Our mixed group of mentors working in the school were from a variety of different backgrounds were very much opening the students’ and parents’ horizons to their city and providing an opportunity to meet people from outside their normal circles.  

Let’s be clear however: this is not a minority ethnic community ‘problem’. For many of Mosaic’s mentors from White British backgrounds, our programmes often provide the first opportunity for them to mix in any meaningful manner with those from other backgrounds. And this goes further than integration around ethnicity. We deliberately recruit volunteer mentors who have made a success of their lives, often with incredibly successful careers that has brought them wealth and a very nice standard of life. Such mentors often tell us that Mosaic provides a route for them to give back to the communities from which they have become distant or removed. And, of course, in bringing adults and young people together, our programmes bridge the age divide too. 

Forcing integration is dangerous. But providing vehicles which throw people together united in a common cause brings different people together who might not have met otherwise in a beautifully elegant way! In Mosaic’s case, our over-riding passion to promote social mobility also contributes to our desire to bring individuals from different backgrounds together. And our work is better for that and all the more powerful. 

Jonathan is a member of the Commission's Delivery Working Group

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