An initiative by Dialogue NB is inviting municipalities across New Brunswick to support citizen-led projects that foster social cohesion. Moncton, now a Dialogue Community, is hoping more initiatives like Projet Jumelage, a project the city sponsors that connects international students with local families to make them feel more at home and build a network before they graduate, will pop up.
Mayor Dawn Arnold says the city’s participation is about empowering citizens to help make the changes needed in their community. She’s currently looking for passionate citizens to make up a committee that comes up with project ideas similar to Projet Jumelage.
“A community that celebrates and champions social cohesion – what does that look like? What does that mean? [It’s about] having that conversation around that and containing all of us, and what we can do together to make people feel welcome in our communities,” she said.
Dialogue NB is a non-profit organization with a vision to make all residents of New Brunswick feel accepted, valued and understood. Its Dialogue Communities program aims to help the province’s 104 municipalities, towns and villages come up with projects to accelerate social cohesion.
Social cohesion is defined globally as a process through which a community establishes and achieves common objectives that benefit all members and its constituent groups.
“Basically, the [Dialogue Community] commits to establishing common objectives for its population. They will designate and appoint a volunteer dialogue leader who can gather people together, make things happen, instigate meetings, and then form a committee of volunteers. So this is really citizen-led,” Dialogue NB CEO Nadine Duguay-Lemay said.
“The municipality embraces it and says we’re a Dialogue Community, but citizens are going to lead the agenda. And then, Dialogue NB supports that committee,” she explained. “It’s like capturing the local leadership that we’re seeing right now to influence a provincial agenda.”
These committees, each with no more than eight people, will be working to fight exclusion and marginalization, to cultivate a sense of belonging and trust between residents, and offer all residents the opportunity of upward mobility. Ongoing initiatives that are already in place can also be brought under the same banner.
The committee will also organize a Dialogue Day in the third quarter of their enrollment, which can take any format.
Dialogue NB will train the Dialogue Community Leader and give them the tools they need. The process would begin with a kick-off meeting with the volunteer leader, the mayor and municipal staff, as well as possibly an expert and an official from Dialogue NB. An assessment developed by Dialogue NB’s experts-in-residence will measure the municipality’s state of social cohesion based on economic, cultural, social and political indicators. This score card will help establish priorities and action plans that are built on 90-day increments.
In Moncton, Mayor Arnold is hoping being a Dialogue Community will help it solve its biggest challenge – talent attraction. Because in order to attract talent, the city has to be more inclusive, she says.
“For so many years in New Brunswick, we have lots of large families and people’s social needs were really filled through their families. And now we’ve become more diverse and people come from communities that maybe don’t have as deep a root here,” she said. “While we are friendly and welcoming, I think all of us need to step up and really put that into action.”
Dieppe is also in the process of recruiting a citizen committee to support its participation in the Dialogue Community Program. Mayor Yvon Lapierre says Dieppe is now a Dialogue Community and has appointed Moncef Lakouas as its Dialogue Leader. He believes the program will serve as an additional platform to foster dialogue.
“It gives us an additional platform to send the message out, to help the rest of the province in creating the dialogue between the two linguistic communities. Where people come from that’s one thing, but I think there’s one thing that needs to unite us and that’s our ability to understand each other even if we speak a different language,” he said.
Mayor Lapierre also hopes that being a Dialogue Community will help it integrate more international students in Dieppe.
“We’re very fortunate to have Collège Communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick here in Dieppe that have done a real good job of integrating international students that come to the college. But we as a city have not been as active in communicating with them. In the past year or two, we have been getting involved with students in the community college, but I think we also have the same responsibility to the international students from the Université de Moncton,” he said. “We want to work harder at retaining those students.”
It’s important that Dieppe takes part, he said. He encourages other communities to do the same.
“In order to be a stronger province, to have a stronger population, we need to bring people together whether people are from different regions of the province, from different linguistic communities, rural or urban areas,” he said.
Dialogue NB aims to have 90% of the 104 communities in the province signed up as a Dialogue Community within five years. The one-year goal is 10 communities registered.
The program costs between $250 and $1000 per municipality per year, depending on the size of the community.
Dialogue NB will also provide participating communities with marketing assistance, toolkits, event templates and access to its experts-in-residence and youth cohesion lab to support the citizen committees.
Interested communities and citizens can reach out to Duguay-Lemay or visit the Dialogue NB website.
“Really what we’re trying to do is if you become part of this movement, it means that you embrace Dialogue NB’s vision and mandate, that every resident should feel heard, valued and that they belong,” Duguay-Lemay said.
“The social demographic landscape has changed and we need every resident to pull together to face the challenges that New Brunswick has,” she said. “There are 22 First Nations communities across New Brunswick, there are Francophones, there are Anglophones, you need newcomers. You can’t ignore it and nor should we. Sometimes it’s going to be uncomfortable but I think it’s time to be uncomfortable. It’s time to create real dialogue among all New Brunswickers.”