World Café ponders if Porvoo, Finland, is a multicultural city

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Migrant Tales insight:  The World Café concept is an excellent way to empower and encourage people to participate and promote active citizenship. This World Café session, which took place in Porvoo on May 17, and asked participants to give their views on how cultural diversity is faring in the city.

One of the important findings of the event was that Porvoo needed to do more work in inclusion of migrants. Write the organizers: “All agreed Porvoo is a good place to live and the issues here are no different from any other city in Finland. There will be an even greater racial mix but this does not mean we will understand or communicate better with each other unless we take action now to make this happen.”

The event was organized by Citizens’ Forum, whose mission is to build civil society through culture and civic education offered by organizations.


The idea

The hearing was a part of the Participatory Community work –project of Citizens´ Forum. The project had two main elements; Identity work and active citizenship. The hearing in Porvoo concentrated on the latter. The idea in Porvoo was to build an open space for discussion of the people in Porvoo. The theme for the hearing was Porvoo – the city of many cultures. It was selected because we wanted to raise the issue that there are many people from other countries living in Porvoo who are not a problem or a threat but a possibility and a source for building a better Porvoo.


This video will give you an idea of how the World Café concepts works.

The basic work

We noticed that to be able to do participatory community work in the real sense of the word we had to find some way to get a position in the community where we can have a dialogue with the different actors (Finns, ethnic minorities, officials of the city, associations, educational institutions) who work with the theme of multiculturalism. One challenge for us was also to find ways to support the co-operation between the different institutions with common goals.

To do this basic work Alex McKie from Citizens´ Forum worked in Porvoo for three months before the Word Café Hearing. He also made tight co-operation with Kepa and the Mahdollisuuksien tori project group which was organising the Mahdollisuuksien Tori (Marketplace of Possibilities) event 2014 in Porvoo. To get the synergy effects there was a decision made that the Citizens´ Forum World Café will take place on the same day as the Mahdollisuuksien tori on the 17th of May.

In the process of making the hearing possible there were many actors working together with us. We have to mention some of the partners in the network. The Culture House Grand was giving us the possibility to use the culture house as a venue for the hearing. Amisto – ammattiopisto prepared a devising drama performance with which the hearing was opened. Luckan was helping us to connect us with many important actors eg. the ombudsman for minorities Eva Biaudet. Eva Biaudet sent a video greeting to the participants of the hearing. We also had contact with Mikaela Nylander, a member of the Parliament and the chair of the Porvoo city council. The Red Cross of Porvoo was marketing the event actively and they also had a work shop on Young people and voluntary work right after the World Café on the 17th of May.

The Word Café

It was a long process to choose the actual method for the hearing. We were first thinking of a panel on our theme but we decided that it was not deliberative enough to meet our needs. For a long time we were discussing whether the hearing should be organized as a World Café or as an open space discussion. As we didn’t know if 5 or 50 people would turn up or how many languages the discussion would include etc. , we decided to do it as a Word Café.

In the process we had four Café tables and for questions: Is Porvoo Multicultural? How has multiculturalism affected your life? How can people from different cultures talk together? How will my Porvoo look like in the year 2020? We also had four discussion rounds, so each participant could discuss all the themes.

We had a team of facilitators which reflected the cultural and language construction of the Porvoo community. About 20 citizens turned up. As all of them were able to communicate in English we decided to make the hearing in English.

The four discussion round lasted about one hour. Afterwards we had a feedback discussion where the facilitators of each Café table introduced the discussions which had taken place in their group. These introductions are presented beneath.

Café Table nr 1: Is Porvoo multicultural?

The initial response to this question was: yes, and this was given without hesitation. However, with each group there was also the same response that there are not many people from other cultures visible, at least not in the city centre. They also seem to keep a low profile wherever they are. A group of six young ethnic minority youth disclosed that if you are from an ethnic minority group you are more likely to be picked on. People know that what they are doing is wrong but they do it anyway. The young participants also felt that they are blamed for most things before their white counterparts. They especially didn’t feel listened to or understood by their teachers and their message to them was: “open your ears”.

Other group members who have had contact with newcomers to Finland stated that it is very hard for people from ethnic minority groups to access mainstream services and they gave sport as an example. People from ethnic minority groups are likely to live in two areas of the city and don’t tend to travel beyond these areas. They also spoke of young people who are acting as carers for the rest of the family due their language skills. They felt that many people from ethnic minority groups are isolated and especially they need courage to access anything mainstream.

All agreed that Porvoo is multicultural but only in the smallest sense. The mere fact that there are people from many cultures in Porvoo, doesn’t make Porvoo Multicultural in strict meaning of the word. What matters is the quality of the dialogue between the people and cultures. Some participants thought that there is an expectation for ethnic minorities to assimilate into Finnish Culture at the cost of their own.

There was a sense of disappointment. At the same time the Mahdollisuuksien tori (Marketplace for Possibilities) was taking place outside and candidates of the European election were campaigning and yet so few people were willing to discuss such important issues. They felt that we spend a lot of time in festivals and events, which are multicultural but there is no open discussion of the effects of multiculturalism. This dismay was expressed as to why there were no city officials taking part in the forum and why were these issues being avoided.

Café Table nr 2: How has multiculturalism affected your life.

All participants of this discussion felt that multiculturalism had affected their lives in positive ways. The overall view was that in last five years Porvoo has become a much better place for different cultures to live together. This cultural mix gives new ideas and freshens to the society. There were also positive ideas about what newcomers contribute to the economy and culture of the city.

Many of the white Finnish participants said they work together with people from ethnic minority groups on a daily basis and they feel it has improved their lives. They feel that the attitude is important and if you have an international view of the world it helps you accept other cultures. In their work they come across vulnerable people from other cultures and they feel that helping them is an important step in building mutual trust.
The participants felt that friendship between cultures is possible when we see the person as human beings. There can be some challenges, but if you do the work, it enriches every ones life.

Café Table nr 3: How can people from different cultures talk together?

The participants felt that one of the key obstacles to intercultural communication is language. People have to have some kind of common language to be able to communicate with each other. But this is not enough. We have to build a solid foundation for people to have an opportunity to communicate as equals. First of all there should implement a measurable integration strategy. This strategy take into account the holistic needs of individuals and their families (incl. questions of education, employment, social services and rights as citizens).

There should be education on multiculturalism in schools as early as possible and education for employers to recognize the skills and professionalism of ethnic minorities. The Media should also have a clear agenda in questions relating to multiculturalism. In this way we would get more of a balanced perspective and understanding about the underlying issues.

There are very good examples of cultural cooperation between people in Porvoo. But many issues that immigrants face in their every day lives are not spoken of. It was thought that there is not a good mix of the different cultural groups in Porvoo and people tend to stay within their own culture. This was one of the contributory features of isolation and creates barriers to positive interaction.

All agreed there was a need to empower and strengthen ethnic minority groups in positive ways which would include them in decision making processes. Some examples where this kind of participation could take place are decisions about social services, recreation and education. Sport was also an area of concern, because there are many young people who would like to take part in sports but don’t. They consider the main reason for this is an inadequate understanding of the needs of these young people by the coaches and the overall atmosphere which makes it difficult to join.

Café Table nr 4: What will my Porvoo look like in the year 2020?

Porvoo will become more international and less traditional due to the expansion of the Helsinki metropolis. There will be a greater cultural mix but this will not necessarily lead to better understanding of each other. Dialogue between cultures will become an even more complicated issue. Although we will be more aware of other cultures there may be little interaction between groups if we don’t take action to address this issue. The participants recommended that we take positive steps towards creating spaces for cultural interaction. This would be where different cultures can meet equally and take proactive action to strengthen cultural identity and encourage inclusion. They would like to see more meeting points where issues can be discussed and give Citeizens’ Forum World Café as an example.

The younger members of the forum also described Porvoo as the best place to live and expressed this in writing on the table cloths of the World Café: “Porvoo is best”. In the discussions there was a sense of optimism that Porvoo is a good place to live and that the issues raised are to be found all over the country. They feel that there are the resources and will to meet the needs of 2020 Porvoo. However, this needs openness and a place where contrasting views can be heard.

Conclusions and recommendations.

Porvoo is multicultural and that is not going to change. This gives the citizens many challenges and experiences that can improve the quality of our lives. For this to happen we need to listen and to learn from each other. The forum was described by its members as the first time they had been able to learn from others in this way about the themes of multiculturalism. One of the biggest issues that all expressed was the disappointment that city officials and politicians had not taken part in the forum. They also wondered why it is so difficult to talk about issues we are not so comfortable with like discrimination end exclusion.

On a positive note they think that they have now found their voices and a way to work together that can find a way forward. But for this to happen it needs greater awareness and understanding of how discrimination affects the quality of people’s lives. For attitudes to change there needs to be more forums like this Citizens’ forum World Café.

We had spoken of the need to break down stereotypes and to start to look at each other as people. This worked both ways and a need was identified for ethnic minorities to stop stereotyping our Finnish counterparts and to understand their situation and story as well. The forum had established trust between us as people free from institutional or cultural constraints.

We identified many issues but did not have the time to form actions. We felt that to do this we would want to give our decisions to the representatives of the local government of Porvoo to decide what action can be taken.