Making the Most of Diversity – Profile of Intercultural Innovators


In her 2006 study looking at key actors who embody the vision of the intercultural approach to diversity management in cities, Jude Bloomfield suggests that they are innovators in their field in virtue of their intercultural background. A key premise of the intercultural cities initiative is that if correctly harnessed, diversity is a key resource for the development of a city. According to the study, such intercultural individuals are said to have successfully managed and utilised their cultural diversity, in order to have become successful at what they do. The study makes the hypothesis that because intercultural people have crossed cultural boundaries, they are able to absorb important aspects of other cultures, which in turn provides them with a new way of seeing, thinking and creating. This cross-cultural experience is thought to be a direct cause of their success and is what defines them as "intercultural innovators." Intercultural actors can be defined as those who cross over boundaries between ethnic minority and mainstream networks. The 33 individuals involved were researched based on their reputation which made them stand out to the city researchers. They fell into three broad categories; artists and animators, those involved in community development and entrepreneurs and were from six UK cities; London, Birmingham, Leicester, Newcastle, Huddersfield and Bradford.


The artists interviewed are involved in high-quality collaborative projects with diverse communities. For example, Brian Cross worked as a photographer with working class northern communities, providing a platform for the elderly and disabled to tell their stories through exhibitions. Further, he has worked with ethnically diverse communities, using technological skills to produce Awaz, a community newspaper in Batley, printed in English, Urdu and Gujarati. Similarly cross-cultural, Cheryl Creaghan Roberts and her company Kreative Response aim to bridge different communities. She has worked with an affluent, predominantly white rural community and brought in black artists, encouraging all to step outside of their safety zone.


The intercultural innovators involved in community development have a capacity to communicate across boundaries, often requiring them to find commonalties between cultures. This is essential to cities participating in the intercultural cities programme which places much emphasis on increasing interaction and hybridisation between cultural communities. Exhibiting this attitude is Ali Mantle, an area co-ordinator in Bradford, who has adopted a broad, non-ethnic approach. Her own childhood as an 'outsider' has developed her character as a "bridge builder", leading her to work with ethnic groups in the same way as she would any other group; not in terms of race. Huwaran Hussain is another prime example of crossing cultural boundaries; she harnessed and made use of the diversity of Bangladeshi women by getting them to grow vegetables; taking advantage of their rural knowledge and applying it to the English context of allotments.


There seems to be a recurring theme of being an 'outsider' and experiencing racism within this sample of intercultural innovators. To combat the hardship they have faced, these intercultural innovators have developed a strong fighting spirit, which has been essential to their success. Often coming from deprived communities, these characters have had to be resilient and persistent in order to fulfil their aspirations. It is clear that cities are able to benefit from such intercultural talent and they should do their utmost to do so. Diversity and mixed ethnicity needs to be valued, as these innovator’s multilingual, intercultural capacities make them a valuable resource of new imagination and other specialist skills. Cities can nurture their intercultural talent by creating conducive settings for them to operate in order for them to become embedded in the urban fabric. An example of such an informal, welcoming space is the Scottish Carnival Arts festival in Glasgow which has drawn many immigrants and young people to a place where they can socialise, network and utilise their skills. A further way in which cities can encourage the success of their intercultural innovators is through a mentoring scheme, linking up existing innovators with their younger counterparts. This widens the young people’s network and provides them with guidance, thus enabling them to excel. Fundamentally, intercultural innovation needs to become embedded in the city’s urban fabric, by supporting the intercultural endeavours of the city, which connect and promote various social groups. A prime example of an institution which has managed to do this is the arts organisations in Lewisham which have strong, well-established links with Lewisham council, which understands the relevance of the arts to youth. People need to become made aware of the strong advantages of intercultural practice, and each sector of society – housing, transport, arts, media, need to be involved in the transfer of such intercultural knowledge.


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