By Esther Barfoot

Inclusion is often taken as a study object, but real action is missing, says Abigail Norville, HR-director of the Rotterdam council, in the Rotterdam online paper Vers Beton. And I agree. Therefore, I have put together a to do-list for myself. As the movements I take part in, aren’t very diverse. Time to take action.

1.Reality check: how diverse are we?

Even the movement Water Sensitive Rotterdam/Rotterdams WeerWoord, the future oriented movement that prepares Rotterdam for climate change is not very diverse. Rotterdam, super diverse city, with 175 nationalities. It’s not that we don’t want to become more diverse. In fact, we have been talking about it for quite a long time. But little has actually changed. So, I have set myself the goal of making this movement more diverse in the next year. I have thought about actions and decided on the below. I will keep you informed of my progress through this blog. The fact that you are reading this tells me you think that your movement or team or organisation isn’t divers enough. And you want to do something about it too. Come with me on my journey!


2.Question storm

As you have probably noticed (and as I have written before), talking and writing about diversity isn’t easy. It immediately creates a lot of discomfort. Because, what is diversity? Is this just a mix of colours? Or do you also miss sexual orientation, people with another level of education, more or less well off, people outside your bubble (in our case the bubble of climate activists), people with a different mindset. How do we approach these other people we find missing? By stating you want them to join, because they are different, you are immediately excluding them? And do we really want people with a different mindset? Without we probably go faster. And how do we deal with people that are quite different from us or have a different opinion? What if that annoys us? Working with diversity means we have to deal with differing opinions and all the discomfort that comes with that.

Working with diversity means we have to deal with differing opinions and all the discomfort that comes with that.

Photography: Hope McConnell

3.Who do you know?

Anyway, learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and go to work. Start with making an inventory as a team: Who is there? And who is missing? What groups from society do you feel are misrepresented in your movement, team or organisation? And then once you have analysed this, make another inventory. In how far can find these people in our own network? Who does each of us know, that is completely different from ourselves. Again, diversity doesn’t have to mean another colour, although this is a good place to start. Who do you know who comes from a completely different background. Or qho lives in totally different circumstances? Poorer is then most of you? Has a disability? Is very quiet and timid? Or indeed another cultural background? Or colour? Maybe you don’t have anyone like that in your circle of friends and aquaintances (although that isn’t very likely). But who do you know in other circles? At your sports club, or another activity, your work, or maybe you say hello to in the supermarket? Is it an idea to invite that person to a next meeting, event or coffee morning. Maybe, if it is a match, he or she can start working or volunteering for your movement. It could be a great match!


4.Make use of established networks

Connect with people in or outside your circle who have a network within these groups of people. At Water Sensitive Rotterdam we have experienced that this works super well when it comes to making the city greener. Instead of trying to do it all by ourselves, we connect with networks of people that are already developing community gardens or taking green or other cool community initiatives. We localize them and help them either with funds, ideas or by connecting them to professionals or other citizens that could be helpful for them and bring their project further. My idea is that we could try this to increase our diversity too. What networks are we connected or have we heard about that have a (large) network in these groups and in what way can we connect with them and find out if anyone would be interested in joining our movement? Or can we collaborate with their network in some way? Can we be useful to each other in any way? So, for instance, in the case of our movement Water Sensitive Rotterdam, I realise we have various interesting connections to groups of international women that cook at events around town. Some of these women might also be interested in urban farming or even work on a community allotment. That is something we haven’t talked to them about. That is something I can and will look into. And I think there are many more connections like that, we could make.

Who do we know with a completely different background than our own?

Photography: Hope McConnell

5.Hang out in a variety of places

As a movement, do you hang out in a variety of places? With Water Sensitive Rotterdam we make sure we have our meetings and events in very different places, varying from community centers and that cool new housing & care community to cool industrial locations. Our network of fans dig this variety of (real) places where we have our events and meet-ups and the fun, suprising and interactive nature of our events. We don’t do our weekly meetings in the office building of Rotterdams Council, but at Aktiegroep Oude Westen, a community center with Rotterdammers of a great variety of cultural backgrounds. Of course, we mingle with them, but I realise this hasn’t really made a difference regarding the diversity within our movement. I chatted about this with my colleague the other day and we decided to ask some of the people who run the center who of the frequent visitors could be interested in our movement, so we can ask them to join us for the next meeting.


 6.Different means of communicating

For our related climate movement of Rotterdams WeerWoord we decided we also want to communicate in (online) places where the Rotterdammers already hang out. So, we decided not to invest in an expensive website, hoping that Rotterdammers find their way to the website.  But to spread our content to all kinds of platforms they already visit. We did our research and put together a list of 134 websites and Facebook pages of local communities, whether they are street communities, citizen initiatives or whatever. To our list we also added street parties or other local activities that we can maybe use as moments to communicate (in a fun way!) about our movement. I think this might also be a good way to meet a variety of Rotterdammers and diversify our movement. Apart from that it is a good thing to look at your communication in general. In your photos, is there a diverse group of people visible? And what are you saying or showing? Check whether there aren’t any unintended biases. When the Council of Rotterdam checked this in their general communication, they realised they often showed bicultural Rotterdammers as people that needed support.

The board of directors has made more ambitious nominations, saying to candidates: you might not have the right CV, but we totally see you doing the job.'

Abigail Norville, HR-directeur Gemeente Rotterdam in Vers Beton

Photography: Hope Mc Connell

7.Create opportunities

But I don’t just want more diversity in our movement, in terms of the people who visit our events and take initiatives in town. I also want our ‘managing’ team to be more divers, so diversity becomes the heart of our movement. So, I will keep an eye out for cool people with a different background to take part in our team. The other day one colleague even said he would make place for someone else if this were necessary to make up a more diverse team. That was a really cool statement I think. Something we all might have to do at some point. What I also really liked was a quote by Abigail Norville, HR director of the Council of Rotterdam. She said in an interview in Vers Beton: ‘The board of directors has made sure there are more women in the board. And it has also decided to make more ambitious nominations, if a position becomes vacant. Ambitious in terms of saying to candidates: you might not have exactly the right CV, but we totally see you do the job. You have it in you.’

I totally dig this stance by the board of Rotterdam Council and I think we should take it as an example and look beyond the usual suspects and give new talents a chance. Talents with different cultural backgrounds and life experiences, and skill sets and networks that differ from the ones you already have.


8.Part of your programming… but not to tell the outsider story

Another thing I can start with tomorrow is to increase diversity in the programming of our events. I think our programming is already quite divers, but I’m sure we could up in a notch. I will look at even a greater variety of people to speak at our events, give workshops and make art. And not to tell the story of their immigration background or about their illness or whatever, but about their kick-ass work as a scientist, community worker, entrepreneur or artist.


Ok, folks, good luck! I’m going to get busy. Will keep you posted!