Status quo of project results
(status: March 2020)
The successful and sustainable integration of newcomers to Western societies needs to go hand in hand with political participation of newcomers. The project CAST YOUR VOICE aims to co-develop pathways and tools with newcomers in order to better raise their voice in public discourses and reach politically relevant participation. With two pioneer groups of in total 25 newcomers who study at German universities, the project was able to develop, pilot and reflect approaches and tools for newcomers to raise their interests in public discourses and thus become more politically engaged in their host country. The 25 students were mainly scholarship-holders of different German foundations and thus have a basic support infrastructure for designing own projects. The first group of 11 newcomer students from all over Germany met for three successful and empowering workshop weekends in August and September 2018 in Berlin. The second group of 14 students and two alumni of the first group met for one workshop weekend in Hamburg in October 2019. The groups of newcomers from all over Germany not only learned about opportunities to be politically active but also developed their own very concrete intervention ideas to make a difference in the political public space – be it a video or podcast based peer-to-peer information platform for newcomers, a soap opera film project portraying the reality and daily challenges of newcomers, a project for the better connection between student houses and local communities or a student association for refugee students fighting against discrimination. Furthermore, the project team disseminated the major project outcomes in a handbook on conducting political participation workshops with refugees via the project website as well as Facebook and Twitter.
Regarding our learnings and future recommendations, we would like to highlight three overarching recommendations:
1) Selecting fitting participants ahead of time is crucial for a fruitful workshop atmosphere. Ideally, the target group is rather homogenous with regards to major characteristics (e.g. students, language level) while still being diverse (e.g. country of origin, gender, interests). Furthermore, participants need to be at a stage of inclusion at which it makes sense for them to think about political participation.
2) In order to talk about political participation with newcomer students, you should make sure to create a safe space: not only think the concept of a safe space physically regarding a comfortable workshop location, also include safe space aspects before the workshop by sharing all relevant information in very transparent way, deal with gender issues related to accommodation and reimburse travel costs even before the workshop and include it after the workshop by making sure nobody feels alone while reflecting on the workshop impressions (e.g. create a telegram group for digital exchange after the workshop).
3) Create a well prepared agenda for the workshop, but be open and flexible in what is needed for the specific group in every point in time during the weekend (e.g. having high-level and low-level presentation slides about political participation in your country in your slide-deck and pick what is needed after you checked for the needs of the group). Make sure you always have a backup plan for the agenda to be shortened if some discussions take longer than expected. Furthermore, include political topics that are of specific interest for the group in your exercises (e.g. ask for topics of interest beforehand or during the workshop).
When it comes to further plans to continue project activities and guarantee the sustainability of the project without the initial funding, the project team decided to be transparent with external project partners such as scholarship foundations with regards to its funding and initiated negotiations with foundations in order to organise joint workshops for fostering political participation of their students with refugee background.