Inclusion MTL: Improving the Accessibility of Integration Resources for Immigrants

Merilyn Sartor Schmitz and Gabriela Bastos de Toledo, winners of the 2022 cohort of MIS Civic Incubator projects, created, together with three other collaborators, Inclusion MTL, a mobile app developed by and for immigrants in Quebec.

Each migratory journey has its own integration process

Between 2016 and 2018, Montreal took in an average of 40,000 immigrants each year.¹ According to available statistics, two out of three individuals are considered for economic immigration, whether they are skilled workers and/or self-employed or interested in investing in Quebec. In the Montreal metropolitan area as a whole, 52% of recently landed immigrants hold a university degree and have studied both in Québec and another country¹. In a context of strong economic development in an internationally oriented metropolis, this qualified and multicultural population is urgently needed for a labour market with a scarcity of available workers.

Photo credit: Youssef Shoufan – Courtesy: Dynamo

And yet the unemployment rate remains higher in the immigrant population than among the Canadian-born population, and the rate of overqualification affects 59% of people who arrived in Quebec five years ago or less.² Since the requirements of their jobs are lower than their level of professional experience or skills, this group is vulnerable to scenarios of low income and even insecurity.

What are the obstacles to their full integration into society? First, administrative complexity and lack of flexibility in light of the diversity of migratory paths. Indeed, depending on the expatriation circumstances, the formalities on arrival differ greatly from one person to another: immigrating alone or with a family, with a work permit in hand or not, with only a few pieces of luggage or with all worldly belongings, fluent in or still learning the language of the host country.

Depending on the situation, specific services exist for each stage of the immigration process, but this segmentation of services is in itself a stumbling block. Available resources are certainly ample, but they are decentralized and the mandates of community organizations are targeted on specific criteria, such as geographic area of arrival, status or professional qualifications. Navigating the system is difficult, stressful, energy-draining and expensive. Sometimes, despairing of ever being able to get a work permit, a driver’s licence or a bank account to finally land gainful employment and support themselves, some newcomers turn to private support services that are much more expensive than those provided by official and community agencies. For persons with precarious finances, this is an additional burden and a risky gamble. While community organizations do try to fill the gaps in this cumbersome structure, they are faced with the same problem of access to relevant information for a given situation that exceeds their mandate.

A solution by and for immigrants

Spring 2021. Dynamo organized the second edition of its Social Hackathon, an open innovation competition for individuals and organizations who want to invest in initiatives addressing the issues of representativeness, accessibility and engagement with regard to social inclusion.

Merilyn Sartor Schmitz and Gabriela Bastos de Toledo met at the event and joined forces to develop a digital tool that would facilitate access to services for immigrants in Montreal.

Cohorte 2022 de l'Incubateur civique. Inclusion MTL : améliorer l’accessibilité des ressources d’intégration aux personnes immigrantes

Photo credit: Youssef Shoufan

“We were there to envision initiatives that would make Greater Montreal a more inclusive community for immigrants and ethnocultural minorities. Being immigrants and having experienced the integration hurdles newcomers face, it was immediately obvious that we should pool our experiences and observations to find a solution.” — Merilyn et Gabriela

Paula Mazzeo and Thiago Veronezi joined the team to prototype a mobile application to address the issue of decentralized information. Using a pleasant and personalized interface, users are guided to the appropriate resources, listed and organized beforehand by status, neighbourhood, and service type. Acting as an entry point to the integration process, the application is a resource meant for immigrants and local organizations alike.

To pursue the project beyond the Social Hackathon, where they were among the winning teams, Gabriela and Merilyn joined the 2022 cohort of the Civic Incubator as representatives of Inclusion MTL. During the process, some elements of their solution were questioned to ensure its relevance, starting with the digital aspect. A major issue mentioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the digital divide perpetuates social and economic inequalities, particularly in a context of integration. And yet access to digital technology is essential today to stay in touch with family and friends and to be reachable during the integration process. A mobile application is therefore relevant for immigrants or refugees who arrive with a mobile phone in pocket, ready to connect to WiFi networks free of charge in certain public places or at internet cafés.

The next step for the project is to become a reference in the ecosystem and distinguish itself from existing resources. The team incorporated such components as community participation to keep the information up to date (initially in French and English) and identified key partners with whom to start the app rollout. Merilyn says, “Working with community, municipal and provincial organizations will enable us to disseminate the application widely while showcasing their input and equipping them with tools.” Gabriela adds, “We are also targeting social networks, and discussion forums in particular, where immigrants usually gather to exchange information, even before their departure.

Appropriating social innovation practices

The Inclusion MTL app is in development; a minimum viable product is expected to be released in the fall of 2023. This phase will serve to validate the desirability of the solution and be used to obtain as much user feedback as possible on the navigation experience before finalizing the tool. In this iterative approach, which is common in software development, the two innovators put users at the forefront of the process while empowering them throughout their immigration journey.

Cohorte 2022 de l'Incubateur civique. Inclusion MTL : améliorer l’accessibilité des ressources d’intégration aux personnes immigrantes

Pictograms illustrating the development of Inclusion MTL

To successfully complete the project, the team recently welcomed a new member, Claudia Diniz, and created an NPO under the name Collectif Inclusion. The multidisciplinary group has an immigrant background, with skills ranging from finance and programming to communications, marketing, and experience in social outreach. Their vision and leadership helped secure preliminary funding to develop the beta version of the application.

“That was a crucial step for the project. It was not only a question of gaining confidence in ourselves, of taking ownership of the project so that we could pitch it easily, but also of adapting our presentation to the people before us. The Civic Incubator introduced us to storytelling and the importance of speaking the same language as the people we are addressing. We are still reaping the benefits!” — adds Gabriela

Does the project appeal to you? To rollout the next testing phases, the collective is looking for partnerships, volunteers with UX design skills, and funding to finalize the Inclusion MTL application in the coming months. Contact them!

¹ Coup d’œil sur les immigrants récents, (Recent immigrants at a glance), January 2020. Published by Montréal en statistiques, Division de l’intelligence économique, Service du développement économique.
² Immigrant population ages 25 to 54: Report: “Les personnes immigrées et le marché du travail Québécois”, 2018, MIFI

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