Brewing Innovation: Intercultural Practices from Delft (the Netherlands)


Delft is a charming medieval medium-sized city situated in the south-west Netherlands between Rotterdam and the Hague.


Migration history and policy

Around twenty-seven per cent of the Delft population of 100,000 are foreign born, which is twice as high compared to eleven per cent countrywide*. Seventeen per cent of the local population have ‘non-western’ origins. Three major migrant communities – Turks, Surinamese and Moroccans – settled in Delft in the 1960s-1970s. In the 1980s-1990 they were joined by refugees and asylum seekers from Middle East and Africa (Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia). Furthermore, the city has recently welcomed a number of highly-qualified employees and students and has around 1,000 residents of Chinese origin.


Although the current Dutch immigrant integration policy has distinct assimilation traits, the Delft government considers multiculturality as “the trump for the brand of Delft” and acknowledges that migrant associations have a prominent role to play in the integration process. The city encourages migrant associations by recognising their role in migrant empowerment and participation and, occasionally, helping them with funding and providing premises.


Intercultural events: a way to innovation

Since 2004 the local government has put in place a growing number of ‘intercultural encounters’ so that the city residents with different backgrounds get to know each other better. These initiatives also aim to enhance the role of the local migrant organisations as service providers in the areas such as sports, education and care.


Three of such unique intercultural events are especially worth mentioning.


In 2004-2008 the municipality ran a project named “Inburgeren Andersom” ( IA, becoming a member of society the other way round). In 2008 alone the municipality invested 15,000 Euros in the project. The project was first considered controversial since it went far beyond the government’s integration agenda by sending out a strong message that integration is a two-way process.


Indeed, the IA project encouraged Delft ingenious residents to experience the feeling of being a citizen of another nationality, such as Chinese or Afghan, through a set of courses. It was developed in cooperation with the Mondriaan Groep, a large regional group of schools, which selected experienced teachers and volunteers. The courses focused on the history, politics, language and religion(s) of Morocco, Turkey, China and Afghanistan. They also introduced the participants to the Islamic religion and basic communication skills specific to the selected countries (greetings, etc.). Delft residents attended the courses for different reasons, varying from simple curiosity to the will to know their neighbours, in-laws or co-workers better. All in all, six meetings per course were held, with a maximum of 20 participants per meeting.


The courses were a success and the project received extensive press and TV coverage. In August 2006 it was voted one of the best integration initiatives in the Netherlands on a web-site launched by the local government to promote ‘good practices’. A similar project was subsequently carried out in Amsterdam.


Further, in 2009 a Moroccan mosque was built in Delft. Contrary to other European cities, the event did not cause any particular aversion. The municipality supported the project, while the Moroccan community made contact with the neighbourhood, the press and the public. The pursuance of the project was marked by mutual respect and understanding.


Moreover, in 2011 the local Moroccan mosque and socio-cultural association vigorously cooperated with Pieter van Foreest, a large care provider for the elderly. The association sought to change the bad image of Moroccan residents among the elderly ingenious population, who simply feared Moroccan youngsters wandering in their neighbourhood. In view of this, in August 2011 the Morrocan association organised a multicultural evening entitled “living together = discovering together” to celebrate the iftar, i.e. the breaking of the Islamic fasting during the month of Ramadan. The event took place at Die Buytenwye, a residential care home of Pieter van Foreest situated in a multicultural area. The program included a lecture about bringing people together both from Christian and Islamic viewpoints, a presentation of both associations, a multicultural quiz and, of course, a delicious iftar-meal. The meeting was a success. A lot of people attended the event and enjoyed the program. Thus, Delft residents from different backgrounds had an opportunity to meet and get to know each other in a positive atmosphere. As a result, mutual understanding between the cultures has improved and the attitude towards Moroccans has changed. In addition, the organisations intend to pursue their cooperation and have already planned to conduct a number of activities together.


By Christina Baglai


* Entzinger, H. 2010, “Immigration: open borders, closing minds” in Discovering the Dutch. On Culture and Society of the Netherlands, eds. E. Besamusca & J. Verheul, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, pp. 231-241.