The meaning of association

ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn matches newly arrived migrants with local associations, as a way to understand their new country, practice the language and get to know people with the same interests as themselves. Being active in an association is also a path to learning democratic values.

students and teachers in class room
Photo: Eva Lindgren

ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn

Södertälje, Sweden


Purpose of the method

By engaging newly arrived migrants in local associations, ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn hopes to offer them the chance to be included in a social context that makes it possible to practice the Swedish language, understand Swedish culture and learn about democratic values.


ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn has been working actively for many years to start and support associations in Södertälje. Approximately 90 associations have been established over the past two decades, with almost 70 of these remaining active within ABF to this day. Based on the close collaboration that ABF enjoys with these types of organisations, it has been possible to observe the significant role that associations are able to play in meeting the need of newly arrived immigrants for opportunities to find a context in and integrate with society.

ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn uses this experience to match newly arrived migrants with associations in Södertälje.

Students in class room
Photo: Eva Lindgren
Photo: Eva Lindgren
Description of method

ABF takes a holistic approach and implements long-term working methods to promote the integration of the newly arrived migrants that register with ABF in Södertälje. Information that newly arrived migrants can undertake their integration journey with ABF has been disseminated to local associations and other key stakeholders. The role of ABF as a development platform is also spread by word of mouth. One woman registered her husband before he had even left Syria.

Participants appreciate the fact that they are under no obligation to attend ABF and, as we are a non-governmental organisation, we are not associated with the same negative experiences that many new arrivals may have of public authorities.

When a migrant registers with ABF, they are asked to answer questions about their education and study habits, language skills, knowledge and experience. At ABF, the knowledge that new arrivals possess is taken seriously; for example, a trained teacher may in future be employed as a circle leader at ABF and become a role model for future migrants.

Prospective participants do not need to book an appointment as our organisation is based on drop-in business and, as ABF’s premises are located in Södertälje town centre, it is easy for them to pop in to see us. There are also many study rooms, making it possible for a large number of study circles to meet simultaneously.

On registering with ABF, newly arrived migrants will be able to:

  • attend study circles in Swedish;
  • obtain information about Swedish society in their native language;
  • go on study visits;
  • listen to presentations on working life in Sweden; and
  • receive information on local associations.

The participant will then be matched with an association that may be of benefit to them, often one run by a fellow countrywoman or man. At a later stage, ABF will try to provide a link between the migrant and an association based on an interest such as music or theatre. This is to promote integration by allowing those who are newly arrived in Södertälje to meet local people who share the same interests.

It is important to maintain ongoing regular contact with associations and ABF therefore arranges quarterly meetings of chairpersons and study organisers, as well as sending out a monthly newsletter to all associations.

In order to reinforce and develop the competences of associations, an employee of ABF attends board meetings as an adjunct member.

To cement the connection between ABF and the passionately engaged members who drive associations, a 12-person Association Development Team has been created. This team proposes ideas for the development of ABF and then takes part in the development work.

Over the course of the year, ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn conducts four meetings with circle leaders to inform them about our activities and listen to their needs and ideas. These meetings also provide a forum for circle leaders from various associations to exchange experiences and learn from one another.

ABF also conducts a number of training courses for specific functions. All associations receive boardroom training, including decision-making and democratic processes. Associations also receive an introduction to adult education. ABF also trains auditors on the specifics of auditing association accounts.

All of the work conducted to strengthen associations is crucial to creating a stable and active association culture in which collaboration with ABF plays an unequivocal role.

When it comes to funnelling newly arrived migrants into local associations, one of our tasks is to create a sense of security among migrants that, in Sweden, there is no danger attached to involvement is an association. ABF invites newly arrived members of the community to a meeting on Sweden’s association culture and the part it plays in civil society; In an association, one shares an interest and gains a social network.

It takes time to create trust and a sense of security. ABF invests in creating geographical associations in which various ethnic groups can meet.

The meaning of association students in class room
Photo: Eva Lindgren
The meaning of association students student signing up for class
Photo: Eva Lindgren

Matching newly arrived migrants to associations is an effective and welcoming way to establish them in Södertälje, while at the same time it ensures that society enjoys the benefits of an active association culture.

This provides these new members of the community with a social context and knowledge of how society is structured. For those who are illiterate, there is always someone in every association who is happy to involve themselves, thus creating networks and reducing isolation.

In order to obtain good results, it is important to both maintain an ongoing dialogue with existing associations and to provide support in the form of knowledge and experience to participants who wish to start a new association.

Migrants arrive with their own interests and knowledge and they will find that these are appreciated here; for example, a group of agronomists started an association with the support of ABF. The association’s members then visited other associations to discuss cultivation and the environment. There was even a doctor’s pool that visited associations to discuss how to take care of oneself to avoid illness. Association members greatly appreciated receiving information in their native language, while the foreign-trained doctors retained their pride and identity as physicians.

Building trust is paramount if we are to succeed in reinforcing new arrivals in establishing themselves in society. Trust is created by being open.


Matching newly arrived migrants with associations is a good way of establishing them in Södertälje. It can be difficult to encounter those arriving from a warzone, many of whom will of course be bringing their trauma with them. It is also difficult to encounter people whose asylum applications have been rejected and who must now leave Sweden. ABF Södertälje-Nykvarn assist those whose asylum application has been rejected by strengthening her or him in a trade or profession that is in demand in their homeland.

Study materials

Medborgarboken (The Citizen’s Handbook), ABF Södra Småland.

  • Migration Integration Gemenskap (MIG, Migration Integration Community) – a network of formal and informal organisations working with asylum seekers and newly arrived migrants. The network meets a couple of times each year.
  • Södertälje Municipality – a collaboration agreement is in place to reinforce cooperation between the municipality and ABF Södertälje.
Resources and funding

State, regional and municipal grants and project funding.


If you have any questions about the method, please contact ABF Södertälje.

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Alfa near work

By combining language learning and vocational knowledge, seven out of ten participants will go on to work placements, training or employment after a 60-week course. This contributes to integrating newly arrived migrants into Belgian society.

EVA bxl and their partner CBE Brusselleer

Brussels, Belgium


Purpose of the method

Alfa Near Work is an integration program intended to lead newly arrived migrants into work or vocational training. The aim of the method is to provide a shortcut to the labour market.


EVA bxl is an organisation working locally to develop a solidarity-based economy. Their focus is on diversity and gender. Their operations consist solely of project support. They have a large number of partners in Brussels, one of whom is CBE Brusselleer, an adult education Dutch-language centre. Alfa Near Work is a project and methodology that CBE Brusselleer implements in collaboration with the non-profit organisation MAKS vzw.

EVA bxl develops social cooperatives in Brussels before ending their involvement and handing over the running to the cooperative itself. Among other projects, they have started café and preschool cooperatives. EVA bxl collaborates widely with many organisations in the Brussels region in order to create businesses that strengthen vulnerable groups.

Belgium has two official languages – French and Dutch – and is divided into two regions based on this language difference, making it important for newly arrived immigrants to receive education in the language and culture of the region in which they plan to settle.

CBE Brusselleer runs an adult education centre in Brussels at which they teach Dutch. Through the project Alfa Near Work, they are developing a method that allows participants to access the labour market, and thereby support themselves, more quickly. The method involves strengthening the participants language and vocational knowledge in parallel, where previously they would have started with language lessons and only started discussing employment prospects after a couple of years.

two male students working together
Photo: Eva Lindgren
Description of method

The training course lasts for 60 weeks, with language lessons at the core of the curriculum. It is intensified by giving the participants vocational advice from day one through MAKS, one of the partners in the project.

Literacy among participants in the project is low; many are illiterate while others have limited writing ability. There are some who speak Dutch and others who as yet do not speak the language.

To be admitted to the project, one must be motivated and willing to work actively to obtain employment. To begin with, each participant is required to take a test to assess her or his cognitive abilities – a prerequisite for being able to strengthen the participant in the optimal manner.

The training course is free of charge. It is needs-focused and allows the participant to learn in their own rhythm. Groups are small, with between 6 and 15 members in each. Participants learn Dutch, computer skills and mathematics at the same time as receiving careers advice.

Improving literacy is the core of the course; the ability to deal with language, figures, data and information and communications technology provides a basis for absorbing, processing and using information. Literacy is a prerequisite for independent action, social participation and personal development.

Participants receive continuous individual feedback regarding their studies. Teachers and job coaches work closely together during the project to follow each participant’s development.

Project activities include:

  • exploring the labour market;
  • talents and attributes – digital storytelling;
  • personal presentation;
  • digital CVs;
  • visits to vocational training centers; and
  • job seeking.

Participants are challenged to:

  • improve their self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • increase their knowledge of the society in which they will live;
  • improve their own chances of employment;
  • increase their participation in sociocultural activities; and
  • create networks.

A workshop is conducted with participants after the first eight weeks in order to assess how far along the road to employment they have come. After a further couple of months, the participants take part in digital storytelling in which they describe themselves, their history and their future: What did they do in their homeland? What experiences do they have? What do they intend to do?

In digital storytelling it may, for example, emerge that the participant enjoys organizing. This provides a point of departure; can they convert this personal attribute into a skill that may secure them a job? Digital storytelling is an effective working method and provides a creative timeout. Once the stories are completed, other classes can be invited in to share them. This teaches participants the art of presenting themselves and their story.

One important element of the program is that students are able to visit vocational training centers where they can strengthen their interest and learn about the opportunities available on the labour market. It is vital that participants obtain knowledge of the jobs available in Belgium and the qualifications for working in a given trade or profession.

Participants train interview techniques using Whats Up. This is a useful tool for strengthening communication skills.

This combination of language and vocational training is very effective. Participants are able to use their newly acquired language skills in a context that advances their chances of entering the labour market.

The program also emphazises the importance of voluntary work, through which participants can gain knowledge and a contact network and learn a great deal about society and various vocations.

There are participants with unrealistic vocational expectations, certainly in the short term, and it is then important to offer them realistic opportunities while at the same time nurturing their desire to establish themselves on the labour market.

Students reading and writing in class
Photo: Eva Lindgren

This method has provided fantastic results; after 60 weeks, seven out of ten participants have gone on to work placements, been accepted for vocational training obtained employment.


Working in parallel with language lessons and vocational advice/training has had an enormous impact. This is an active working method in which participants can see their objective early in the program; namely, to get a job. The collaboration between teachers, job coaches and other stakeholders is important to strengthening participants in the best possible manner. Frequent feedback to participants and parallel courses have created an efficient and active training platform.

It is crucial to the method that participants have been granted financial support by the public employment service for travel and preschool expenses. Alfa Near Work is approved by the regional public employment service as a training program.

The opportunity for participants to develop at their own pace has allowed them to grow based on their own circumstances; their self-belief, self-esteem and skills have all been strengthened.


Alfa Near Work encompasses a very extensive network of some 80 organisations; for example, public employment services, migrant reception centers, dutch-language centers, adult education institutions, community centers, preschools, prisons, etc.

Resources and funding
  • Project funding come from the public employment service
  • Regional funding

If you have any questions about the method, please contact EVA.