G.Lab – where ‘G’ stands for Generations and refers to new generations from an immigrant background – was an information and guidance desk and a project lab. G.Lab has been opened by the Municipality of Milan in collaboration with G2 Network – the most important local and national association of youth from an immigrant background in Italy. The Municipality provided facilities, while G2 Network provided the staff. So it is a city-based initiave, with its HQ in the city centre.
G.Lab started in March 2013, and the experiment came to an end in December 2013, even though with the intention to extend its duration longer.
As a front-office, it was aimed at supporting youth and families from an immigrant background, teachers, social workers and other relevant stakeholders to favour access of these new generations to local services; naturalization procedures; study and job opportunities. It provided information, but also guidance, going with the young claimants and/or with their family to the relevant office, e.g. to apply for citizenship at the Municipal Register Office (Uccella, 2013). As a lab, it was aimed at promoting diversity and social mix as a value, i.e. providing an arena where to discuss and share the condition of being in-betweeners (Foreigners-Italians), and strengthening the collaboration between the Municipality and G2 Network in the organisation of events, projects and initiatives.
G.Lab was located within the Informagiovani (Youth information centre) in the very heart of the city, to avoid a “ghettoizing targeting” and to provide a “symbolic impact, giving a new life and a new image” to Informagiovani itself (respondent: Key official – Municipality of Milan, Mayor’s Office). When G-Lab will be reopend (there is a competitive call for NGOs underway in June), it is planned to move it into the new ‘House of Rights’, where different initiatives for anti-discrimination and promotion of rights and diversity will be located.
G.Lab was funded by the Ministry of Labour and Welfare within an experimental programme, agreed with the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) and with the Municipalities of Rome, Milan and Prato. The aim was to assess immigrants’ needs, produce good practices to meet them, and build a kit to transfer good practices to other four “tester” municipalities. Youth from an immigrant background was identified as one of the target groups, together with education, Housing, Health, Work and Intercultural Mediation (Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche sociali, 2012-2014).
This initiative aims at strengthening social cohesion since it acknowledges and legitimises the public role of new generations from an immigrant background, supporting their naturalization and the value of their diversity as a positive social transformation. In this respect, it was also a space of democratic engagement since the two partners behind G.Lab – the Municipality of Milan and G2 Network – campaigned together for a more inclusive national law on citizenship and naturalization.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
G.Lab fostered an idea of diversity as constitutive part of a new Italian identity, with a strong focus on being part of the local community (“being Milanese”), besides the legal status. It promoted the naturalization and recognition of those who are “Italians de facto, even though not de jure” (Comune di Milano, 2013a; 2013b). Though, we can see it as an expression of the above-mentioned intercultural/integrationist more than a multicultural approach: indeed, despite being ‘group-based’ initiative, it did not acknowledge specific ethno-cultural backgrounds, but the importance to position a specific type of diversity – a generational diversity of young people who are stuck in-between immigration and citizenship – within the Italian national and local identity.
The focus on hyper-diversity was largely implicit. Though, the attention was not just on people from an immigrant background, but on youth and on the specific identity mix that they represent. Some members of the staff (all females), mentioned also an attention to the gender and religious dimension in dealing with the cases: for example, G.Lab organized also events on LGBT second generations, as well as on religious minorities (Salah, 2013). So, immigrant background, age, attitudes and gender do conflate in the idea of diversity behind the recognition of new generations from an immigrant background.
So, diversity was the very focus of the initiative, addressing both the negative characteristics attached to it (unequal rights, lack of information and guidance) and promoting its positive dimensions (mixed identities and pluralism as resources for social cohesion and development).
Main factors influencing success or failure
According to interviewees, the success of G.Lab was due to its effectiveness in answering unmet needs of the target population,e.g. supporting the naturalization – when operating: G.Lab was an effective aide for the Municipal Register Office, not prepared for providing guidance or rights, and to manage this increasing inflow of youths asking for naturalization. Interviewees maintain that its effectiveness came from two main factors: peer support and a close relationship with the local administration – that increases accessibility and ease problem-solving.
Though, the project came to an end, in a way that can be considered a failure, since the needs that it had to cope persist and need to be faced without interruptions. Largely promoted and advertised, it created expectations of a long-term, enduring and steady support, while it was connected to short-term funding and projects:
“The problem is the economic sustainability, in a context of retrenchment that affects social initiatives overall. The Municipality is relying very much on participation, activism and volunteering – even too much” (respondent: Member – G2 Network).
This means that the coverage and duration of the service is largely unpredictable, and this may sound discouraging: political backing to new generations has not always been matched with actual prioritization of resources. At best, after the new call we mentioned above, the Lab will operate again for one year, after having been closed for 6 months.
Another weakness may concern the targeting: given the national legal framework that allows an easier naturalization just for those born in Italy, and given also the profile of the staff involved – belonging to second generations born or grown up since an early age in Italy – G.Lab was not so able to deal with newcomer adolescent immigrant youth and their integration problems.
The project can be considered innovative because it provided recognition of new generations from an immigrant background with direct involvement and participation of these new generations themselves, and an attention on the promotion of mixed identities as part of the local and national identity. This boosted the accessibility to rights, but also the effectiveness of local administration in answering a need for information and guidance that was largely unmet before the opening of G.Lab.
Future developments are mainly meant to find resources to grant a longer-term duration to the initiative. Interviewees hoped to pool resources to reactivate G.Lab by mid-2014 (and this actually happened), in the meanwhile few of the functions it had have been recovered within an anti-discrimination project. Interviewees expect also a stronger inter-sectoral involvement of other branches of the local administration, to provide ready answers to the needs of the target population, and to relate them to other diversities as part of the richness of a multicultural city.
In this respect, they also expect the inclusion of a diversity focus into the normal operations and mandates of municipal offices, which may be helpful for a more effective accessibility, besides the role of G.Lab itself.
 The new call funds an info point for one year, with a funding of € 45,000 (whose 58% with earmarked funds for childhood policy, 11% as partners’ co-funding, 31% as wages of civil servants collaborating into the project) (Comune di Milano 2014a).