Successful immigrant mentoring programme loses funding

Kvinfo’s mentor network brought immigrants closer to the labour market and improved their language skills, but it may have to end after its funding was pulled

A highly successful mentoring programme for immigrants may have to close after a majority in parliament chose not to continue its funding.

The mentoring programme was founded in 2002 by the Danish centre for information on gender, Kvinfo, and has since successfully matched 3,200 women with immigrant backgrounds with women who are active in Danish society – immigrant men aged 16-24 were also included in the program from January 2012.

The program may have to stop, however, after parliament turned down Kvinfo’s application for 13 million kroner to continue its mentor programme, and an additional 4.5 million to develop online mentoring, between 2014 and 2016.

“I was very shocked when I learned that the programme wouldn’t continue,” Kvinfo's head, Elisabeth Møller Jensen, wrote in a press release. “It’s unimaginable that politicians would suddenly take away our funding and kill the programme. The idea behind the mentor network is simple, cheap and creates results. The long list of successes and results brought about through the co-operation of mentors and mentees is well documented and without comparison in Denmark.”

According to Kvinfo, 30 percent of those who had a mentorship in 2012 said that the programme helped them find work, 71 percent said they better understood Danish society, and 77 percent said that their Danish language skills improved.

“If we can’t secure the financing to continue the activities, we will be letting down a lot of mentees,” Møller continued, adding that the programme would have to end at the end of 2013 if no additional funding is found. “Politicians will therefore be letting down integration in Denmark. We currently have a lot of mentees on a waiting list that are eager to get started. It’s very sad.”

Kvinfo was hoping to secure funding through the so-called satspuljen, a 229 million kroner state fund set aside for projects that help marginalised social groups that is distributed according to an agreement between all the political parties except Enhedslisten.

In a comment to Berlingske newspaper, the minister for social affairs, Karen Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), defended the decision not to award Kvinfo funding.

“We receive many applications from across the country seeking support from the satspuljen every year,” Hækkerup wrote. “The applications far exceed the sum that is possible to distribute, which is why we have to make tough decisions about which projects do and do not get support. It means that a lot of good projects have to find alternative financing in order to continue their activities. I hope Kvinfo’s mentor network, and other important projects that we don’t have the funds to support, succeeds in doing so.”

Anti-immigrant party Dansk Folkeparti (DF) argued there were better ways to spend the money.

“It’s no secret that we have different priorities,” DF's immigration spokesperson, Martin Henriksen, told Berlingske. “We have prioritised social initiatives such as increased support for children that are abused at home.”

Kvinfo’s mentoring network was not the only programme wit h a focus on integration that was cut from the satspuljen. The  Danish ethnic youth council, Ny-Dansk Ungdomsråd, also lost its funding, after it invited a controversial Islamic scholar to speak at an anti-radicalism conference.

Kvinfo has started a petition and a Facebook page to gather support for continuing support for the mentor programme.