The socioeconomic integration of immigrants and refugees in Europe’s host communities is a persistent but growing problem. Although migration to Europe is by no means a new phenomenon, the unprecedented wave of migration has translated into a polarizing context of exclusion and division. Societies are in need of fresh ideas to cast away the prevailing negative shadow surrounding immigration and to highlight the contributions immigrants can make to their societies through social and economic integration. One such initiative is taking root in Belgium and rapidly turning into a case study for replication.
As a major European city, Brussels attracts many immigrants, but there are barriers to accessing that job market as a newcomer. Besides linguistic and educational barriers, navigating a foreign job market is complicated, especially within an increasingly polarizing context where migrants are often perceived as a burden to the host society. This is problematic, because finding work is crucial to any immigrant’s integration and their ability to make an economic contribution. Especially younger 18-30 year old immigrants of foreign decent, either newly arrived or young jobseekers with an immigration background, are vulnerable to social exclusion in the job market. Simultaneously, Belgium is facing an aging population retiring earlier. This group of 50+ year-old retired professionals typically have considerable experience to share as well as a motivation to stay active in society.
Consider then, how those two population groups can help each other out. That is what the association DUO for a JOB has been doing in Brussels since 2012 with impressive success. The initiative grew from the young Belgian founders’ motivation to tackle observed social divides and add value for those whose professional capabilities were insufficiently recognized. The model is surprisingly simple: DUO for a JOB pairs young immigrant jobseekers with experienced, retired Belgians who serve as career mentors in a coaching “duo.” The mentors coach and advise the mentees in their ongoing job search and put them in touch with suitable employers in local professional networks.
By creating these mentoring duos, the organization aims to increase young immigrants’ employability and economic integration, while also creating social ties that enhance solidarity and proximity between these different age groups. Duos are matched based on shared expectations and job sector experience, after which the organization provides close support, training, and monitoring of the duo throughout the typical six-month mentoring period. DUO for a JOB also provides job search tools, a working space, and even day-care services for mentee parents. From reviewing job applications and practicing language and cultural norms to gaining confidence from a local mentor with access to professional networks—mentorship can be beneficial to a young worker’s career development.
An example to illustrate: Xavier, a 69-year old health-care worker from Brussels accompanied Ali, a 26-year old nurse from Gaza, to find a job in nursing after suggesting he could work in a retirement home – a job sector Ali was unaware of since retirement homes didn’t exist back in his local community.
DUO for a JOB’s success rate is impressive. So far 432 duos have been formed, out of which 41% and 52% of mentees found employment after 6 and 12 months, respectively. After a complete duo cycle, almost all mentees report feeling more self-confident in their job search, and 93% of the mentors go on to a second, third, and even fourth duo. Interestingly, these results outperform those of governmental assistance programs. The results have validated the organization’s belief that “low labor-market participation among immigrants is more due to lack of social capital than lack of skill or motivation” and that finding a job is not only about tools and motivation, but also about access to local professional networks. Thanks to its success, DUO for a JOB has been attracting a mix of public and private funds to finance its activities. Whereas early financing came from the founders’ personal savings, financing has followed the initiative’s success rate. Activities are now even financed by innovative social impact financing models, such as continental Europe’s first social impact bond, a pay-for-success mechanism where private investment capital provides funding for a social service that is later repaid by the government (along with a potential profit) if the service meets agreed-upon performance benchmarks.
Credit: DUO for a JOB, (http://www.duoforajob.be/en)
Intergenerational and intercultural job mentoring is a social impact business model that presents a particularly innovative solution for societal resilience. First of all, the model is socially inclusive and empowering. At the core of the model lies the vision that both immigrants and local retirees, if empowered to contribute, can strengthen the economic and social fabric of a community, instead of serving a “receiver role” status. Secondly, the model fosters stronger communities, since it contributes to immigrants’ economic activation and to social inclusion. Mentees benefit from the mentors’ professional expertise and local cultural knowledge. Mentors, in turn, feel useful by leveraging their professional expertise and social motivation to contribute to a young worker’s career. A relationship is allowed to grow based on a common relatable goal between two types of people that would otherwise never meet, fostering socio-cultural exchange and social cohesion. Lastly, the model is straightforward and has enormous potential for replication since it can be scaled to other cities, countries, and cultures, regardless of linguistic, geographic, and cultural context. DUO for a JOB is already expanding to other Belgian cities and plans to go pan-European.
Putting youth to work and bridging socio-cultural divides are priority goals in virtually all societies across the globe because it leads to strong and resilient communities. DUO for a JOB presents us with a fresh perspective on how to foster those communities and help citizens take an active part in making them a reality.
Hear more about DUO for a JOB on this BBC World Service audio:
Video English subtitles: