Milan World City Forum (MWCF) is a permanent working table where local authorities and representatives of Milan foreign communities meet. It has been settled in December 2011, with the aim to have foreigners living in Milan as a support for visitors that will reach Milan for Expo 2015 from all over the world.
At the beginning, its main goal was to train volunteer international guides, and to share projects and ideas for cultural events to be produced during the Expo. These projects had to be made via public-private partnerships and social participation of people from different cultural backgrounds living in Milan. Actually, some projects were implemented after consultations with MWCF. One of these, for example, is the Museum of Cultures (to be opened in Fall 2014), whose aim is to sensitize people towards intercultural issues, recognizing the value of cultural diversity through art.
The promoter of MWCF is the Department for Culture of the Municipality of Milan. The strategy of the initiative is that of fostering ‘bridging and bonding social capital of minorities’, according to the former Alderman for Culture. Indeed, MWCF is meant to be a place where people from different backgrounds preserve their culture, and at the same time share it crossing cultural boundaries.
The perspective adopted is that of empowering migrant communities, providing a space of encounter and of democratic deliberation involving natives and foreigners, in order to promote their participation in the public decision-making process. Thus, MWCF may be considered also as a policy for diversity and recognition of multiple voices: promoters maintain that such a recognition leads to a profitable use of social and financial resources dedicated to welcoming guest for Expo 2015 – hence matching social cohesion and economic performance.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
This initiative is based on the concept that diversity could be an asset and an economic resource if suitably managed. Even if the focus is solely on diversity related to ethno-national backgrounds, projects implemented show quite an awareness for the multiple dimensions of diversity, involving different target groups (adults, children, families, foreigners and natives), and using arts as a tool to talk about the value of cultural diversity. The perspective seems somehow more integrationist than multicultural, with the appraisal of ‘interculturality’ that considers social cohesion as a primary point in acknowledging diversity. Actually, the aldermen interviewed maintain that diversity may be a problem, but if suitably managed and accommodated it is a resource enriching the city.
In this respect, the intercultural discourse can have also a nuance acknowledging diversity as a constitutive part of city identity and lifestyle, thus with a sort of attention for hyper-diversity. Though, as we mentioned in Barberis et al. (2014), the Italian intercultural discourse is still quite ambiguous and blurred, laying in a middle ground between recognition and assimilation.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Nowadays the most important outcome of the MWCF is the creation of a second-level association, made up by representatives of migrants’ and intercultural associations (about 80). This new association can have a stronger role in advocacy, bargaining and programming, given its dimension, much bigger than any member association. Thus, we can consider that the factor behind its success is a solid networking of micro-associations, in an arena that allowed going behind individual goals and activities.
Though, on the other hand, some of the expectations and original goals that grounded MWCF were not met: in particular, the strong link with Expo 2015 is still missing. This was partly due to the fact that MWCF was left bereft of its promoter and supporter, when the previous alderman for culture resigned; partly due to the lack of coordinated planning between Expo management and side events. So, at the moment MWCF has an unclear task, and the investment on related policies does not seem consistent with the expectation raised among the participants.
MWCF is an initiative aiming to create spaces of encounter and democratic deliberation, and to promote diversity and recognition of multiple voices in the policy-making process. It has a participatory model of governance, involving public and private actors, representing Milan society and its many minorities.
Potentially, it could be an innovative framework to foster the role of diversity in the city of Milan, promoting the positive social, political and economic role minorities have in the city life. Though, this governance structure is affected by a poor institutional frame on MWCF tasks, and by a limited cooperation between actors (especially the managers of Expo 2015).
Website: Milan World City Forum