The Outsider » – Interview of our Founder Laura Petrache

1) D’où venez-vous, Laura, et quel a été, en quelques mots, votre parcours ?
Where do you come from Laura, and, in a few words, what has been your experience ?

I was born in Romania but I have a profound love for the United States of America where I lived an important period of my life. I discovered there that excellence exists and the path of professionalism is made of a” savant mélange” of humanity, skills, open-mindedness and making decisions. United States of America gave me the chance to act and to innovate. Personally, I define innovation as a social, collaborative process involving artists, scientists, humanists and industry professionals working together on new problems and opportunities raised by technological and cultural change.

Several years after I became French Citizen and France became my adoptive country. The cultural syncretism of the French people is something that transformed my vision of world and society.

Currently I am developing Migrant Integration Lab together with Yannick Le Guern, aiming to provide a transnational framework defining sustainable actions (migrant integration, economic development, job creation, promoting democracy and solidarity) by fostering cohesion, gender equality, tackling social exclusion, poverty and generational as well as demographic disparities.

2) Ainsi, si vous êtes d’origine roumaine, votre parcours montre que vous avez largement dépassé ce cadre « national ». Cette « trans-culturalité » débordante, qui se traduit par votre connaissance de 12 langues, fait de vous une singulière citoyenne du monde. Comment vous définiriez-vous alors ? Quelles opportunités voyez-vous dans cet élargissement des points de vue ?

Therefore, if you are of Romanian origin, your experience shows that you have eminently overcome this « national » setting. This exalted « trans-culturality », that reflects in your knowledge of twelve languages, makes you a singular citizen of the world. How would you define yourself then ? Which opportunities do you see in this points of view enlargement ?

I am what I call a “hybrid Identity”: global citizen & of course European. I truly believe that a cultural “hybrid identity” is a sustainable key of social development. Trans-nationally, trans-lingually and trans-culturally” are the key words that I use for a “sustainable future”; there is no hierarchy amongst and between the cultures I embrace : they all have their treasures, and can all bring something to a common global project.

As a viable tool I underline the power of Dialogue-Dialogue as a vital tool for citizenship- in a democracy citizens need to be able to participate in discussions about the issues which affect them and their communities. In fact it is all about belonging, becoming and transcending the boundaries of culture, nationality, class and religion.

Building sustainable communities and intercultural dialogue are therefore vital for a sustainable integration.
I tend to define Integration as a “state” that people slip in and out of depending on the circumstances of the moment; a “complex junction” with a complicated, multiple set of intersections, crossroads and junctions going in lots of different directions as David Mallows greatly put it!

A citizen leader is each one of us, the man, the woman, the young adult, the teen who pauses to take stock of the kind of world that we want to help shape for the people we care about, and then acts to make it so. A citizen leader is an active participant not a passive observer!

3) Cela fait des années que vous travaillez pour la culture, mais, encore plus précisément, pour le rapprochement des cultures, et l’acceptation de leurs différences. Quel a été votre moteur ?

You have been working in the cultural field for years – but more precisely, for the merger of cultures, and the acceptance of their differences.
What has been your driving force ?

Well I will put it in terms of « inter-cultural power » Being an Intercultural Mediator, a Fellow, a Change Maker and Mentor is what I do best; my latest project aims to provide a transnational framework defining sustainable actions (migrant integration, economic development, job creation, promoting democracy and solidarity) by fostering cohesion, gender equality, tackling social exclusion, poverty and generational as well as demographic disparities.

As mentor, I care about the future of democracy and the wellbeing of generations to come, helping young people believe in themselves and their abilities to improve the world, it is an important part of my life hence, I will keep mentoring young change makers, all over the world and empowering them, as to create positive social impact.

As a fellow for the Change Makers Alliance, “I share Humanity” and build a better world! Same goes for project “Together” or brilliant impactful initiatives as “Create Seven” or “Crafting for Change” that I am closely supporting. As for “Make Change Happen” I believe that, we each have a unique blend of talents and a special dynamic within the diverse community we serve.

It is up to us to unlock our creative potential, to evolve and use our talents, and it is also up to us to help others to unlock their creative potential in their time of need. Creating more sustainable communities is the key to a better future so let us act and become the sustainable leaders of tomorrow!

4) Aujourd’hui, vous vous focalisez notamment sur l’intégration des réfugié-e-s et migrant-e-s qui arrivent sur le territoire français. Vous-même, vous avez émigré en France.

Comment voyez-vous cette intégration, et quels bénéfices la société française peut-elle en retirer ?

Today, you mostly focus your work on the integration of refugees and migrants that arrive on french territory. Yourself, you have immigrated in France. How do you see integration, and which benefits the french society can withdraw from it ?

Europe has a mixed and not very encouraging record on integrating immigrants, both socially and economically. This dates from when the volume of arrivals was more manageable. Lessons must be drawn from those shortcomings.

At the same time, national and local authorities must grapple with very immediate problems of relocating, housing, employing and in some cases educating newcomers. France’s responses have to date been focused far more on burden-sharing than on how to resolve these integration challenges. On top of this, there is the ‘ security’ dimension of the crisis. An equally significant issue is the absence of longer-term thinking and sustainability issues.

Migration is a chance for our societies to reach their full potential. The confluence of demographic, economic, social, and political factors creates imperatives for migrant integration. To continue thriving as a nation, France must be intentional about weaving newcomers into the fabric of society.

How well we integrate migrants and provide opportunities for all members has far -reaching implications for -and is inextricable from—our current and future vitality. Growth, diversity, and dispersion of newcomer populations create opportunities to address longstanding social issues, improve racial and ethnic equity and cohesion, and strengthen our democratic traditions.
Migrants help address labor market shortages, revitalize declining urban and rural communities, and could expand France global competitiveness.

Our initiative, Migrant Integration Lab creates the best conditions for people who arrive in Europe to be innovating entrepreneurs, change makers or artists in a position to act and create value and to be a source of innovation for host societies.

5) C’est l’innovation donc, dans une recherche commune entre les cultures, qui est la base de votre projet depuis des années. Quels moyens avez-vous mis en place pour faciliter l’épanouissement des réfugié-e-s et migrant-e-s dans les entreprises françaises ?

It’s innovation, therefore, in this common research between cultures, that is the base of your project for years. Which means have you used to facilitate the refugees and migrants fulfillment in the French corporation ?

Thinking “borders” is not going to help constructing a sustainable future. In today’s world, international migration not only affects those who are on the move but the vast majority of the global population.

In today’s uncertain international environment we should seize the opportunity to advance human dignity through a revitalized refugee and migrants response. We urgently need to rethink migration and migrants from the perspective of movement, not the perspective of the state, but from that of the “migrant”.

Once we accept to operate this change of perspective, we may start to view migrants not as ‘failed citizens,’ but as powerful constitutive (economical, innovating, entrepreneurship and cultural) agents of society’s structure and texture.

Rethinking the realities of both migrants and non-migrants in a transnationally connected world could be one solution. In this unprecedented period of migration and forced displacement, people and places are interconnected more than ever before, whether by choice or by necessity.

Diversity enriches every society and contributes to social cohesion – something that is all too often taken for granted. Societies with large migrant populations are in many ways translocal and transnational themselves, already connected to many parts of the world through migrant and diasporic practices and networks.

Therefore, for us a welcoming culture is one that contributes by helping migrants, newcomers and their families overcome obstacles in all areas of life, while also providing business start-up assistance and targeted employment. This is why we facilitate and foster economic and social integration of migrants by supporting them in the development of new business initiatives.

By supporting migrant and social entrepreneurship we enable others in the wider community to recognize the contributions that migrants bring and this is a very important issue. We are providers of a relational basis for resolving any difficulties and conflicts that may arise in the process of integration. In fact we are creating the best conditions for people who arrive in Europe to be innovating entrepreneurs, change makers as to act and create value by:

• Empowering migrants by building confidence, skills, access to opportunities and developing their networks with others and diaspora.
• Promoting trust and good relations within neighborhoods, e.g. through welcoming initiatives, mentoring, etc.
• Creating additional ways of recognizing newcomers’ qualifications, training and/or professional experience
• Developing constructive intercultural dialogue and thoughtful public discourse
• Promoting a balanced gender representation, through awareness raising, information campaigns and capacity-building
• Helping them to implement their livelihood or entrepreneurial projects
If you wanna go further, you can consult the migrant integration lab dedicated web site for a complete description of our actions:

6) Il y a de nombreuses raisons pour lesquelles les humains se déplacent. Pouvez-vous nous en dire plus sur un aspect souvent oublié par les discours, à savoir le changement climatique?

There are many reasons why humans emigrate. Can you tell us more about one aspect often forgotten by speeches, that is to say global warming?

Indeed, we often forget that global warming has a huge impact on migrations. The more we advance in time, the more ecological migrants will arise.

Our modern economy and way of life is based on a series of technologies that cannot be sustained the way they were originally developed.

As the population of the planet grows, and the consumption of land, food, water, energy and raw materials grows along with it, we are learning that we cannot simply use stuff up, destroy the landscape and move on to the next mountain or valley.

The current approach to economic life has created a lifestyle our forbearers couldn’t even dream of, but it cannot sustained without a revolution in management, technology and scientific understand of our home planet.

Fortunately, I think we are capable of creating the change we need. The facts of population and economic growth, environmental degradation, and human reliance on the natural world make sustainability politics, technology and management inevitable.

The importance of an interconnected biosphere and its awareness has formed the conceptual base for sustainability politics and needs to be understood as a long-term, continuously growing force in our political world.

7) Pour conclure, pourriez-vous nous dire ce que vous pensez de la politique d’intégration mise en place par le gouvernement ?

To conclude, could you tell us about what you think regarding the integration policy of the French government ?

In my opinion, the future of the European Union will be sustainable or it will not be at all. In order to achieve a sustainable future, a change is needed in terms of policies. Integration processes are too complicated to locate policies in one place alone.

It is necessary to distinguish between levels of governance and formulate policy responses where they are needed; seize opportunities where they arise or originate.
The transnational framework can be the answer as it gives policymakers a new lens with which to develop innovative public programs, and public-private partnerships across borders.

Global Competitiveness can be expanded through a multi-lingual, multi-cultural workforce and the revitalization of declining communities can be achieved through the contributions of migrant families working in tandem with their native-born neighbors, these are few of the reason of empowering migrants to success.

In the era of an information-led and service-based economy, countries have become vigorously dependent on creative entrepreneurs who can successfully integrate creativity into production.
Migrant entrepreneurs are taking risks, generating ideas, and exploring the possibilities of converting them into innovations.

The challenge today in France, is to put in place true policies of integration , that will insure successful integration while benefiting both the countries of residence and origin. Policy making therefore should move away from assimilationist frameworks.

Instead, the policy emphasis should be on working with countries of origin to achieve sustainable integration (and re integration in the case of return immigration. Consequently, we have to put integration (and re-integration) on the agenda of bi-lateral, multilateral, and international dialogues.

There is likewise a linguistic, cultural phenomenon I’d like to come back to: economic migrants are often treated differently than refugees. However, the plight of some of the economic migrants may not be too different to that of the refugees. In addition to the mass migration of refugees, we also see the mass migration of economic migrants.

Perhaps some of the insights from the refugee context can be applied to economic migrants, notably the potential for win-win solutions using and developing the capability of the migrants to make a positive contribution to local host communities.

Mass and sustained migration, of both refugee and economic migrants, is often treated in a negative light, yet the reality is that there is significant potential for migration to be a positive activity for the various stakeholders, including the countries of origin, host countries and communities, the migrants themselves and the wider global society.

Given the current geopolitical climate in many parts of the world, with instabilities in various countries and regions, the desire for economic improvement in poorer communities in the world, and the impact of impending disasters as we move into a period of global warming, it is likely that the need for sustainable and resilient solutions for the refugee and migration issues will task policymakers for many years to come.

Hopefully the discussion and our insights in this paper will inform such policymakers, and provide our fellow citizens of the world a few answers to their questions.