Build a welcoming community

Communities across British Columbia are working hard to welcome newcomers by creating communities that:
  • encourage all residents to participate fully in the social, cultural and economic life of the region, without discrimination
  • help newcomers, are open to new ideas and customs and recognize the contributions that newcomers make
  • support diversity and respect differences in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, abilities and beliefs—this means more than simple tolerance: it means embracing and celebrating the whole community
Learn more about making your community a welcoming one: 

Topics on this page
Topics on this page

BENEFITS

Welcoming communities realize economic, social and cultural benefits, as well as a general improvement in citizen engagement and the quality of life.

“Imagine a community free from racism where community and difference are celebrated, where neighbours talk to each other, share ideas and get involved in their neighbourhoods. Where residents of all classes and backgrounds feel they have a voice and are reflected in the political, institutional and societal structures of the city. Imagine a community where everyone can have access to affordable housing, child care, health care and other services; where income security is adequate to live on and where no one needs to go hungry or live on the street. Imagine a city where immigrants of colour are not just the dishwashers and taxi drivers, but share in the wealth of the city and are able to use their skills to gain access to better jobs."

– Ramona Gananathan Grassroots to Governance: Reflections and Recommendations on Advancing Anti-Racist and Equity-Based Social Planning in the City of Toronto, March 2006

Population Growth

Maintain or increase the population of your community by welcoming newcomers. As the number of women having children in Canada is lower than needed to maintain the population, projections show that after 2020 population growth will depend entirely on immigration. Creating an environment that welcomes newcomers will help your community grow for the future.

A Vibrant Workforce

Meet the needs of your workforce by encouraging newcomers to settle in your community. By 2015, Canada will have more people leaving the workforce than entering it . Immigration offers long-term potential for growth, sustainability and economic development. Local governments that support inclusion and equity will have the best chance of attracting people who will remain there—people who will fill jobs, start new businesses, consume products and services, and keep the economy going.

Social Benefits

Enhance newcomers’ sense of belonging by making your community more diverse and inclusive. Safety and security are improved, and people engage more fully with community life when they see that the local government is committed to creating diversity and inclusion.

Communities that include more voices will make decisions that better represent the people who live there and lead to fewer complaints about discrimination or harassment.

Integrated Benefits

Economic and social factors don’t work in isolation—they reinforce one another. Supporting social development is one way that communities contribute to the creation of an inclusive society. This in turn, promotes local economies. It can often be a win-win situation.

For example, communities with strong service agencies and social networks are in a better position to confront poverty, resolve disputes and take advantage of new opportunities. As a result, prospects for individuals improve, including in the workplace where they may be more favourably evaluated, be promoted faster and complete tasks more efficiently.

Success Stories

Learn about some successful projects in communities across the province.

PARTNER

A strategy to build a welcoming community will be more successful when its member groups and institutions work together to develop a shared vision.

Learn about how to form partnerships to build more welcoming communities, and the benefits of doing so.

Benefits

Partnering with other organizations to build a welcoming and inclusive community will give you a better chance of success. Here’s what partnerships can do for your community.

Increase resources and funding possibilities

The more partners you bring together, the more resources you’ll have. While governments provide funding, each community has to tap internal supports to move initiatives forward.

Share strengths

Working with other organizations will increase the skills and capacity of the group, which can be a significant benefit to the project.

Reduce duplication and improves effectiveness

Working with community partners can improve service delivery and reduce confusion for newcomers who may be experiencing a bewildering array of services.

Break down barriers

With plenty of face-to-face dialogue between groups, partnerships reduce barriers and create a more cohesive community.

Promote community change

Momentum builds on success. Once partnerships have had time to work together, citizens and organizations will see the benefits of collaboration. Over time this can lead to further community-building developments.

Partnership Options

Here are some guidelines you can follow when you creating strategic partnerships:

Create diversity

Involve as many groups as possible to be on your team. The greater the diversity, the better you will be in representing the interests of your community.

Consider these types of agencies and organizations when you’re seeking partners to help build welcoming communities:

  • community agencies, including immigrant serving agencies
  • disability and access organizations
  • businesses
  • youth committees
  • schools and learning institutions
  • government (municipal, regional, provincial, federal)
  • culture, sports, parks and recreational organizations
  • faith communities
  • libraries
  • law enforcement agencies
  • media: print, radio, television, Internet
  • public transportation bodies

Involve both newcomers and established community members

Include all points of view and types of experience. For example, recent immigrants may have faced barriers to becoming part of the community and will have ideas about how to make newcomers feel welcome. On the other hand, established groups and individuals may know more about the inner workings of the community, and can assist in breaking down those barriers.

Work with local government

The involvement of local government is critical. Local governments allocate resources, create bylaws and provide services that promote the development of the community. They can call on contacts within youth groups, immigrant groups, Indigenous communities and other key players to ensure diversity on committees and panels. They can also

  • work as a major political force within the community
  • influence public opinion and bring diverse interests together
  • influence other organizations and governments to address issues that affect the community
  • demonstrate to members of minority communities that the community is committed to becoming inclusive and fair

Partnerships can be formal or informal, but some government programs require a formal arrangement that meets specific criteria to receive funding.

Creating and Maintaining Partnerships

Creating successful partnerships and maintaining them requires keeping the membership dynamic, communicating clearly with the partners and identifying interesting projects.

Identify partners

Once you have reviewed potential partners, put together a list of strengths, assets, contacts and resources that each member will bring to the project.

Some government programs that provide funding may have specific criteria for partnerships.

Review the partners

Communities constantly change and evolve, so review your partnership group from time to time to see if new or different organizations should be included. Consider these questions:

  • Who is currently involved?
  • Who is not involved, but should be? Why not?
  • Are there barriers to participation?
  • How can we initiate a partnership with people not yet involved?
  • What resources does the community need to succeed?

Look for ways to gain new partners. Support open communication that helps individuals and groups to see themselves as potential members of the partnership and to feel encouraged to participate.

Keep the partners engaged

Partners are likely to stay committed to projects where they feel valued. Getting organized and being clear about expectations will prevent frustration and maintain interest. To keep everyone engaged in the partnership, practise these relationship-building techniques:

  • Listen and be open to new ideas.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Respect all points of view.
  • Search for strengths and wisdom in others' points of view.
  • Celebrate the contributions of your partners.
  • Communicate the milestones that have been achieved.
  • Talk about how each contributor has helped to keep the project moving forward

BUILD

Before you start a project to make your community more welcoming, you need to lay the groundwork. These include assessing how ready the community is for change, gaining buy-in and co-ordinating commitment.

Assess Your Readiness

To prepare for a welcoming community project, you need to identify where the greatest challenges and opportunities are in your community. Find out what others have done and learn from their experience. Gauge how inclusive and integrated newcomers are in your community now. This means doing research on areas such as:

  • demographics
  • results of past projects
  • indicators of poverty
  • factors that lead to different outcomes in employment, education, housing, neighbourhood planning, health, policing and other community services
  • data and anecdotal evidence of racism or discrimination
  • the existing ability of your organization and community to take on new projects
  • best practices used by other communities
  • insights from stakeholder groups and other leaders or advocates regarding barriers to inclusion, access and equity faced by minority communities
  • input and analysis from community members

Assess the Readiness of Your Local Government

Assess the readiness of your local government to commit to the project. Some items to consider are the ability of council and administration to:

  • provide services that are accessible and relevant to the entire community
  • create an organizational climate that respects the diversity of its employees and residents
  • engage other institutions, employers and the broader community in the action necessary to ensure an inclusive society for all residents

Seek Community Support

For a welcoming community strategy to be successful, opinion leaders and decision makers must agree that the need exists. There should also be significant public support for the project. Find out what attitudes prevail in your community by asking the following questions:

  • Do people believe your community needs to attract more people?
  • Is the community worried about the numbers of people moving elsewhere?
  • Are there concerns about attracting newcomers when some residents are unemployed?

Develop a Shared Vision

When stakeholders work together to develop a vision for building a welcoming community they are more likely to support it. The vision could:

  • give a framework for strategies to build inclusion and fairness
  • inform key policy areas within council and community organizations
  • inspire other community stakeholders to take action
  • provide a focus for developing clear goals and meeting objectives

This vision will be vital in meeting the needs of newcomers when they first arrive, but also in supporting newcomers after their immediate needs are looked after. Having a long-term vision will let you and your partners keep the project active and evolving.

In all your documents speak to your shared vision, and openly and publicly acknowledge your partners’ commitment to the vision.

Develop the Right Organizational Structure

Every project team that keeps its members engaged needs a structure appropriate (i.e., how tasks are divided up amongst members, who’s leading, etc.) to the community. There is no single structure that fits every community. Some succeed with a network, while others need something more formal.

  • Take the time to develop and maintain good personal relationships to form successful partnerships.
  • Don’t fear change. Be open to using different structures and practices, and reorganize when necessary.
  • Look at how other communities have organized their efforts. Find out what did and didn’t work for other communities.

Secure Commitment

A welcoming community is an investment in the future of the community. As with most investments, it needs commitment from key individuals to ensure the best returns.

Commitment of resources

Setting aside resources to promote inclusion and equity can be challenging. Sometimes you can find additional resources from external sources, but these are often project-based and time-limited. To sustain the work over the long term, you may need to forge ahead with limited resources. If you find that resources are becoming limited, it may be time to review your partnerships or look for new partners.

Commitment to accountability

Local government must follow through on its commitments to promote inclusion and equity and reduce racism and discrimination. Promote accountability by:

  • linking the project to political priorities
  • measuring and reporting on achievements
  • serving as a role model to other institutions
  • demonstrating genuine commitment to all sectors of the community

Long term commitment

There are no quick fixes in creating an inclusive society. It’s a journey that requires a plan and a willingness to work with your community over the long term. This may require changes to your project, in its leadership and its priorities.

ACTIVITIES

When you start to make your community more welcoming, you can take action in many different ways. Activities include assisting families in finding a home, in translating documents, with English language skills and in directing people to community resources including employment resources. These actions help newcomers become part of their communities.

Read more about the kinds of support you and your organization can offer to newcomers.

Housing and Transportation

Newcomers need safe, affordable housing that meets their families’ needs. Even if newcomers have found good jobs, they are less likely to stay if they can’t find appropriate housing.

Public transit also plays a key role in helping newcomers feel at ease and independent in their new communities. Some immigrants may not drive, and many will not own a car, especially at first. They require public transit to be able to hold down a job, access services and travel to meet friends and integrate into the community.

Successful initiatives in housing and transportation include:

  • encouraging landlords to modify rental requirements because meeting standard requirements, such as providing local references, can be difficult for someone new to Canada
  • providing discounted or free public transit passes
  • providing transit support because travelling by local transit can be daunting for newcomers—consider arranging for community volunteers to assist people with their initial commutes

Language Training and Support

Along with employment opportunities, language training is one of the most important needs of newcomers. Strong English language skills will help newcomers become part of their new communities and succeed in Canada.

Here are ways you can support newcomers in improving their language skills:

  • Compile a master list of all language learning opportunities for newcomers and help them find times and locations that fit their schedules.
  • Expand English language education offerings to the workplace.

While they learn English here are ways you can support them:

  • Urge businesses and organizations to produce signs and advertising that represent diverse cultures and services, and use inclusive language.
  • Consider asking the municipality to translate its city services website information.
  • Support the translation of signs, flyers and other materials and share them with local businesses and agencies for distribution to their clients and customers.
  • Support government agencies and local businesses to hire multilingual employees.
  • Promote cultural sensitivity training for public school teachers, including encouraging teachers to pursue Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) certification.
  • Support training interpreters, or build a database of existing translators and interpreters including advertising the availability of interpreter services at hospitals.
  • Maintain a registry of doctors who speak languages other than English and French.

Employment

New immigrants will want to find jobs as soon as possible. Three main factors affect their success in finding work and whether they stay in the community:

  • the ability to transfer foreign credentials
  • having a positive work experience
  • finding a job for their spouses

The following strategies can help newcomers find appropriate work:

  • Mentor newcomers who risk unemployment. Help newcomers navigate the local job market, including by directing them to community employment resources and training opportunities. This will help them get the job search skills and training they need to find work.
  • Promote the benefits of hiring newcomers to local employers. For example, talk to employers about the advantages of including differing perspectives in the workplace and the benefits of the new skills newcomers can bring.
  • Train businesses on employment equity. Provide training on culturally-sensitive interviewing techniques and working with diverse employee groups.
  • Promote alternatives to standard job references for newcomers. For example, encourage employers to accept country of origin job references, or Canadian character or volunteer references.
  • Encourage employers to post jobs. Encourage employers to post jobs at centralized job banks and in diverse media outlets. This can help newcomers who have not yet built social networks to find work.

Volunteering

Volunteering is an important way for newcomers to integrate into the community. It helps them to meet people, learn new skills and gain work experience and Canadian references. Newcomers who have settled into your community can volunteer to mentor newly-arrived newcomers. Advertise volunteering opportunities in multiple languages at local agencies, businesses and locations most often visited by newcomers.

Community Centres and Neighbourhood Houses

Community centres and Neighbourhood Houses are great places for newcomers to connect. Consider providing services, clubs and programs that would be of interest to newcomers. For example, programs could focus on providing job search skills and resume writing to provide additional support for newcomers working with employment centres. Programs in conversational English, multilingual daycare, and cultural cooking classes could be helpful. They could also consider providing a calendar of events in multiple languages.

Cultural Events

Some communities have their own festivals and fairs. These provide excellent opportunities for newcomers to meet people and learn about the community. Plan regular community and cultural events and publicize them widely, if possible in a variety of languages.

MOMENTUM

When you launch activities to create a welcoming and inclusive community, you and your partners likely bring a great deal of energy and excitement to the project. Maintaining enthusiasm can be hard, even with the most dedicated team. These steps can help you keep the energy, commitment and spirit alive for continued action.

Co-ordinate and Communicate

Effective co-ordination among project partners saves time, achieves greater results, prevents conflict and builds teamwork. Stay in contact with other organizations to share best practices. Keep interest high, both within your team and in the public eye, by developing a communications plan that reaches out to the public, leaders and officials, employers and community organizations.

Recognize New Opportunities and Ideas

You can maintain momentum by being open to new ideas and keeping your plan flexible.

  • Create opportunities to develop new ideas and incorporate them into the action plan (e.g., brainstorming sessions and open forums).
  • As you meet certain goals or as conditions change, review and adjust your priorities and make changes to the action plan, if necessary.

Support Your Volunteers

Take care of your human resources by involving new people to prevent existing volunteers from burning out. Create a plan for recruiting new volunteers and provide chances for people to support your current volunteers by asking them to help evaluate results and share new ideas.

Foster Community Ownership and Pride

Encourage your community’s sense of ownership and nurture pride by recognizing everyone’s contributions, sharing credit and celebrating success. Your local media can be a strong partner in this area.

Continually Evaluate Your Progress

Regularly evaluate how well the community is doing in welcoming immigrants. This will help ensure that the community is moving in the right direction. As part of your assessment, gather regular feedback from newcomers about all aspects of their experience, and integrate their views into planning.

Address Challenges

Learn more about how to recognize and address challenges that may arise as you work to build a more welcoming community.

Checklist

Use this checklist to ensure that your welcoming community initiative continues to succeed.