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Hot topics tend to come and go

Though, the ongoing and unfolding discussion about the increase of refugee populations in Germany is a topic that will be present for some time. Whether in the media, on the political agenda, or within our personal conversations, it has been difficult—if possible—over the past 12 months to ignore the issue in everyday Germany. intercultures believes that these significant changes in the cultural landscape of the country in which our Global Head Office is based is more than a hot topic, but one that is important to address. In this article, we outline one example of our active involvement in our clients’ efforts to work better locally with refugees, and what we’re learning together in the process.

New Contexts, New Concepts

From the German state of Saxony, intercultures has been recruited by Saxon Police University (Hochschule der Sächsischen Polizei) as a partner in responding to increased contact on the part of the police with migrants—specifically those with refugee status. At the University, intercultures has customized intercultural training for the benefit of on-the-job police officers in collaboration with Mrs. Simone Richter, an instructor at the Bautzen training center, and Thomas Döhler, Director of the Rector’s Office. Thus far, in Dec. 2015 and Mar. 2016, intercultures Consultant Sonja Andjelkovic has trained and coached officers representing various departments on how to understand and work with refugees who have migrated to Germany from Islamic societies.

The University represents one of a number of requests made to intercultures from state institutions and business entities in the past year. For us, the question that has been raised is not whether to accept the requests. Instead, we maintain an ethic of the reflective practitioner, analyzing how to better manage the challenges that new and current clients experience.

The significance of knowing culture and intercultural communication

The arrival of refugees into Germany is nothing new. Germany has previously absorbed people seeking asylum from countries—including, and not limited to—Iran, Lebanon, Romania, Turkey, Vietnam, the Western Balkans (especially Kosovo) and the former Yugoslavia—as well as internally displaced persons who migrated from East to West Germany in the 1980s. Still, Saxon Police University recognizes that their officers’ approach to policing within this contemporary circumstance must be informed with concepts that are new to them. Both Mrs. Richter and Mr. Döhler stress that police need knowledge about culture and intercultural communication; an ability to adapt their perspective to refugees’; and to increase their stamina to accept ambiguity.

Director Döhler states that xenophobia is not at play in the behaviors of the Saxon Police. Negative media coverage, he says, is related to the outcomes of the heavy workload and continual overtime worked by police in response to situations connected with the influx of refugees, including related demonstrations that take place in Saxony.

Developing intercultural competences

That said, our University contacts report that some police feel insecure about their knowledge of culture, and acknowledge the influence of their inexperience upon how they think, feel and act. Since mid-2014, Saxon Police University has received a significant increase in interest from police in resources that will support them in their work, especially as they relate to understanding the cultures of refugees from Islamic countries. intercultures Consultant Sonja Andjelkovic confirms her police participants’ high level of interest to engage with her expertise and the experiences of their colleagues in open and honest exchange.

intercultures as a Learning—and Growing—Organization

The experiences of the Saxon Police and other clients responding to local increases in refugee populations is valuable for the near and longer-term affect that our consultants can influence in the field, and that intercultures can influence as an organization. As we process our thoughts and experiences at our Global Head Office, colleagues have discussed both impassioned and conflicted emotions about our new endeavor. Diverse perspectives are a part of our process of innovation.

intercultures views Germany’s current refugee affairs through the lens of a human rights framework, and our contribution as a civic responsibility. Given the immediate public, professional and social needs and intercultures’ mission to make cultural diversity a tangible enrichment and tool to meet functional goals and sustained people development, we are expanding our business model. We thought it fitting that our first public announcement of this development be shared here with our global network.

intercultures is broadening their business offerings

We have been working on a concept that will include refugee management as an additional pillar of our business offerings. intercultures’ business offerings currently include, 1) intercultural competence development; 2) leadership in complex environments; 3) virtual management or collaboration; and 4) organizational development and change management in international contexts. Our refugee management offering will lend particular focus to the intersection with the local practice of global skills, Islamic societies and the experience of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Through experience in this arena thus far, we have learned the ways in which our classic training concept must be modified. Refugee management solutions will include, for instance, increased one-on-one or small group consult and coaching with a more explicit component of emotional intelligence, as well as forums for those professionally involved with refugees to actively exchange their experiences.

New contexts require new concepts. At intercultures, the time is now to learn and act collaboratively in response to the world around us.

Wir freuen uns auf Ihren Kontakt!

Written by Julia Wilke; Translated by Giulia Burn; Edited by Malii Brown

intercultures thanks Ms. Simone Richter and Mr. Thomas Döhler of Saxon Police University (Hochschule der Sächsischen Polizei) for their help making this article possible. 

The above article was included in our May 2016 intercultures e-newsletter.

Photo credit: „Demo in Kreuzberg“ by _dChris, used under CC BY 2.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), link to original: https://flickr.com/photos/_dchris/5682979105.

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