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Rights, Responsibilities and Integration work of NGOs
Researchers often compare the Norwegian (and other Nordic) welfare democratic state to a bumblebee: with its large body and week wings it should not be able to fly – but it does fly. Similarly, the Nordic welfare state with its large public sector and high taxes should not sustain itself in the long run, but it does work very well. It has provided some of the highest living standards in the world to its population.
Underlying idea of the Norwegian welfare state, including its broad tax base, is the intimately connected notion of rights and responsibilities. This idea requires everyone in the society to adopt an actively prosocial attitude, contribute towards general public good and accept some basic human rights values, such as religious tolerance and gender equality. The idea is internalized through socialization in Norway. Process of integration of immigrants could not be completed without full understanding and implementation of the idea in integration work.
There are many NGOs working for integration of immigrants and refugees in Norway. They are part of the established voluntary sector in the country. The sector has long history of partnership with the state, including a share in public funding and cooperation from the public authorities in connection with the NGOs’ integration and welfare work. NGOs began to emerge in Norway around the 1820s and established a close relationship with the state from the outset since they received public subsidies, became integrated in public policy, played a significant role as welfare providers and made it possible for ordinary citizens to actively participate in official committees dealing with welfare issues. NGOs in today’s Norway are important social sites of integration of immigrants in Norway, including the newly arrived refugees.
A analysis of several Norwegian and immigrant NGOs’ activities plans undertaken by the author shows more focus on rights and free time activities and relatively less on responsibility. This observation is not meant to undermine or belittle the importance of rights awareness and free time activities in the processes of integration of immigrants undertaken by NGOs in Norway. It only highlights importance of raising awareness of people’s (in this case immigrants’) individual and collective responsibilities in creating a sense of belongingness to Norway.
Every culture and country has ideas of rights, and responsibilities and ways of ensuring them. How do the ideas work in the Norwegian society and welfare state and why and how are they important for building trust in interpersonal and institutional relations in Norway, is important to know. This is an important task of and challenge to the NGOs.
With this background in the view, this author recently led a project, Integration through Rights and Responsibilities. The project was supported by Fritt Ord and implemented in cooperation with Oslo-based NGO, Internasjonal helse og sosialgruppe, IHSG.
Thee ‘Training for Trainers’ workshops were held under the project for Oslo based NGO resource persons working on integration of immigrants in the Norwegian society. 10 NGO resource persons participated in the workshops. The workshops were brainstorming sessions with focus on why and how to incorporate the idea about rights and responsibilities as connected and complementary notion in the resource persons’ integration work in their respective NGOs and communities.
The project was undertaken with the view that there is a need to focus on ideas and discourses around the interconnectedness of rights and responsibilities in the integration work. This is important to ensure that rights are not misunderstood or perceived as charity or to be taken for granted entitlements but legal entitlement closely tied to related responsibilities.
The participant NGO resource persons deliberated and generally agreed to use the workshops’ ideas and examples about interconnectedness of rights and responsibilities of citizens and permanent residents in the their future work for integration on immigrants and newly arrived refugees in Norway.