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AIDA Impact X Sitra

Taking AIDA’s social impact to a new level.

From February to December 2021 AIDA Impact had the joy and honour to be part of Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund’s project, Sitra Lab that carried the title ”the Bottlenecks of Democracy”. With 9 other teams of social entrepreneurs and changemakers, with Sitra, and with a variety of professionals, we were trying to tackle the challenges our society is facing in terms of barriers to democratic participation and well-being.

The AIDA team focused particularly on the real opportunities for societal participation of women with immigrant backgrounds. As those already familiar with AIDA’s mission know, we at AIDA hypothesise that employment is a crucial avenue through which women with immigrant backgrounds can better connect to society. By gaining networks, improving language skills, and earning one’s own money, societal participation becomes more attainable.

AIDA has always been passionate about building a more just, inclusive, and thriving Finland, and a more sustainable and better world for everyone. We believe that us sharing our know-how of impact employment can be a new meaningful way for us to continue this journey.

The problem we addressed in Sitra LAB

Women with immigrant or refugee backgrounds are a particularly vulnerable group in terms of employment opportunities in Finland. When seeking employment in a new country, these women face multiple barriers ranging from racist discrimination to more subtle, implicit bias related to recruitment, for instance. To complicate things further, many employers tend to expect native-level Finnish (and/or Swedish) language skills. Even with higher education and relevant talent, it is often difficult to get your foot in the door (Kazi & al., 2019, p.30). Indeed, Finland is notorious for being one of the most difficult countries to find employment if you are a woman and/or a mother with an immigrant background (OECD, 2018). Research finds that almost 50% of women with immigrant backgrounds fall outside the working life (Kazi & al., 2019, p.29). You read it right, that is a half. This is but unfair and often an individual tragedy, also a lost opportunity for the whole Finnish society.

Employment is continuously viewed as one of the most crucial factors when integrating into a new society. Furthermore, the employment of parents with immigrant or refugee backgrounds would help prevent intergenerational unemployment and marginalisation, and thus the further social polarization. Simply put, parents’ (and as research suggests, especially mothers’) employment benefits the whole family both financially and socially. A more just and less segregated society, where everyone has equal opportunities for flourishing and societal participation benefits everyone.

What is more, diversity and social responsibility are increasingly important values and virtues for organizations, companies, and job seekers. However, many companies and organizations lack the tools and knowledge necessary to confidently address the issues of diversity and social justice, let alone implement these values and virtues in practice.

The Experiment of the AIDA team in Sitra lab

The central aim of our experiment was to both imagine and reach beyond the governmental integration activities. In Sitra’s training programme, we were further educating ourselves about the topic, planning the experiment, and testing our ideas as we proceeded. We got ongoing feedback for our experiment from numerous professionals. After identifying various reasons behind the above-introduced problem, we were trying to find out whether we could increase the employment of women with immigrant backgrounds through the tools of impact employment.

During the year the project took, we experienced a major shift in our mindset. The experiment started by hunting suitable mentors and mentoring women with immigrant backgrounds to support them in job seeking. However, the experiment later developed into educating the employer representatives about diversity, social justice, and impact employment to make more structural and systemic change. Instead of focusing on the job-seeking skills of people with immigrant backgrounds, we changed the perspective and took the following statement as a starting point: employers have a huge role to play in integration work, and they can make a significant social impact. We want to encourage employers and organizations to take diversity and inclusion to the level of action – beautiful speeches are not enough!

In the end, our Sitra Lab experiment was twofold. We were mentoring one of AIDA’s team members and hunted for an impact internship placement for her. At the end of Sitra Lab, we also ran a demo workshop for employer representatives and educated the participants about diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, and above all, impact employment. Through this demo workshop and our ongoing research, we mapped whether the impact internship model is something that employers might be interested in trying out in their organisations. (If you wish to find out more, our demo workshop is described in more detail here.)

What’s next?

Although the Sitra lab is over, our work continues. This project on the bottlenecks of democracy has given us the valuable chance to research, interview, spar, and change our perspective on what is needed to increase the employment of women with immigrant backgrounds in Finland. As opposed to focusing on merely mentoring individual women with immigrant backgrounds, we want to make the change more systemic and structural by focusing on the employers and building bridges between immigrant talent and companies and organisations.

It is crucial for the integration and for the future employment prospects of women with immigrant backgrounds that they get experiences of working life in Finland in their very first years in the new country. However, getting that first chance is often the highest mountain to climb. This is where a custom-made impact internship might be of help.

At AIDA, we have always known that companies and organizations can make a positive difference in society if they are willing to take the challenge seriously. Now we have decided to share AIDA’s story and know-how and to challenge even more companies as well as actors from the public sector and third sector to join in our mission of impact employment.

AIDA’s Sitra Lab experiment and the demo workshop described in more detail.

<3 AIDA’s Sitra Lab team: Iida, Elina, Sarwa and Miia