Minneapolis an international leader in cultural engagement work
Friday, May 20, 2016
The U.S. Embassy in Sweden invited and paid for the City of Minneapolis’ East African community specialist to meet with City leaders and community representatives in four Swedish cities – Malmo, Eslov, Lund and Vaxjo – last week. Abdirashid Ahmed shared Minneapolis’ successful engagement model with Swedish city officials and Somali community leaders. Swedish officials invited the City to share its best practices around community engagement in order to learn how it positively engages immigrant communities in their new country.
“Minneapolis is an international leader in cultural engagement work,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges. “Immigrant communities are a part of Minneapolis’ character, and the Somali community is a hugely important asset to Minneapolis.”
“Our beautiful city truly looks to serve everyone regardless of their race, color or creed,” said City Council Member Abdi Warsame, who is the first Somali city council member in the U.S. “Dialogue and having respect for all cultures is a must if we are to move forward in this interconnected and interdependent world.”
At the conference and meetings in Sweden, Ahmed described how the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood & Community Relations Department works to connect with the Somali community in Minneapolis. Some of the tactics include community dialogues; for example he will invite Somali community leaders – well-respected members of the community, activists and spiritual leaders – to meet at a community center and learn directly about specific issues or a particular program or policy from the City expert on that subject. Then he asks the leaders to spread the word among their communities. For a large or complex issue, he will hold a meeting in Somali first for community leaders to make sure they understand, and then he’ll invite the larger Somali community to learn directly from the City staff experts while he acts as a liaison. Ahmed also invites community leaders to City Hall and government offices to see how it works and meet with department heads and elected officials.
Somalis are integrating well in Minneapolis and have their own shopping malls, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, transportation companies, real estate, local banks, charter and private schools, and mosques.
Minnesota has the second highest Somali population in the world after Somalia, and Sweden has the third. The highest concentration of Minnesota’s Somali population is in Minneapolis. Somalis in Minnesota have significant political, economic and cultural presence with $500 million in buying power and pay $75 million in local and state taxes annually. Other U.S. cities with high Somali populations include Columbus, Ohio; Houston; Phoenix; San Diego and Seattle.
In 2015, Ahmed participated in a panel discussion at the American Swedish Institute that compared and contrasted the experience of Somalis in Sweden and Minnesota