Diversity in Canada and Norway: Sharing challenges and opportunities

Canadian ambassador to Norway Artur Wilczynski shares opening remarks.

Julien Bourrelle gives his keynote presentation.

Canadian ambassador to Norway Artur Wilczynski and guest Josef Yohannes, an Eritrean-Norwegian and creator of black superhero comic The Urban Legend.

Cantor Eli Zylberman lights the Menorah for Hanukkah.

From fresh perspectives, to new skillsets, to opportunities for innovative partnerships and collaboration – diversity only makes a community stronger.

Building on previous events about religious freedom and LGBT issues, the Embassy of Canada to Norway hosted a seminar about diversity to speak with Norwegians interested in building a more inclusive and prosperous society.

The seminar, entitled “Diversity: Opportunities & Challenges (Displacement, Integration, Prosperity)” brought together participants from diverse spheres in Norwegian society including government, NGOs, entrepreneurs and business leaders with connections to the themes of diversity and integration.

The topic of diversity is close to the heart of Canadian Ambassador to Norway Artur Wilczynski – as he himself was a refugee and had to integrate into Canadian society as a young child. The diversity seminar was an excellent opportunity to re-connect with Norwegian audiences building on Ambassador Wilczynski’s recent blog post “My Refugee Story”.

Diversity, an integral part of Canada

Ambassador Wilczynski kicked off the event with a short presentation highlighting diversity and multiculturalism as an integral part of Canada and its identity.

“Diversity is an inseparable part of the Canadian culture” said Ambassador Wilczynski.

Before the keynote presentations, the Embassy invited Cantor Eli Zylberman from the Jewish community in Oslo to light the Menorah for the third day of Hanukkah and provide short remarks. Cantor Zylberman’s presence symbolized the diversity present in both Norwegian and Canadian society.

The first speaker to present was PhD candidate, Julien Bourrelle, one of the inspirations for the creation of this seminar on diversity. His book ‘The Social Guidebook to Norway’ uses funny cartoons to help foreigners in Norway communicate, connect, and understand the local culture. The book also helps Norwegians understand other cultures and how their social behaviours may be perceived to newcomers.

During his presentation, Bourrelle remarked “We must not let (cultural) misunderstandings create segregation in society”.

The second key speaker was Lisa Cooper, Founder and Managing Director of the Leadership Foundation, an innovative consulting company focused on mobilizing and promoting the power that lies in diversity. Cooper shared her experience with the foundation’s numerous projects promoting diversity in Norwegian society.

Canada as a model for integration

The lively Q & A session that followed the key speakers led to productive dialogue. Canada was repeatedly cited as a model for Norway in integrating its recent influx of refugees, and the higher acceptance for multiculturalism in Canada. One participant remarked on Canada’s outlook on diversity: “[Canada doesn’t] see diversity as a problem to be managed, but an asset to be enjoyed.”

Participants also reiterated that communication was necessary to link governments and private businesses in investing in the integration of new refugees and immigrants. The seminar made it clear that Canada and Norway have incredible opportunities for collaboration due to the shared challenges and experiences.

As Ambassador Wilczynski wrote in his follow up blog, “Diversity Dividend”: “Business to business - people to people - civil society to civil society: these are the ways that countries exchange and learn from one another.  As governments and diplomats we can help pave the way.”

Canada believes strongly that all cultures should be respected and welcomed. Through events such as this diversity seminar, the Embassy of Canada to Norway hopes to share Canada’s experience with others so refugees and immigrants may find acceptance and successfully become integrated into their new society.