Building intercultural skills in Austria

In cooperation with the Austrian Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs and the Austrian Integration Fund, UNESCO conducted the fourth pilot of the UNESCO Manual on Intercultural Competences based on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria (for the Europe and North America region) from the 25 to 26 of September 2018.

Building on the previous pilot sessions in Bangkok, Thailand; Harare, Zimbabwe; and San Jose, Costa Rica, the Austrian pilot provided an additional opportunity to test the manual’s adaptability and effectiveness in different contexts, both from the perspective of facilitation, and with regard to its ability to build individual capacities for intercultural dialogue and understanding.

Over the course of two days, UNESCO led a training of trainers session with some 20 educators and government staff as well as 2 pilot sessions – facilitated by the newly trained local personnel – with over 50 young people aged between 13 and 15 within a school with a high proportion (over 80%) of students with migrant backgrounds.

Against the backdrop of higher levels of immigration and greater intercultural contact within the region, the methodology proposed in this manual provides an accessible activity based on story-telling to bring people together to reflect upon their differences and challenge their preconceptions. It provides a unique opportunity for participants to improve their capacity for empathy, tolerance, listening and understanding, and therefore reflect on sources of misunderstanding and exclusion.

The pilot sessions included a particular focus on the integration of migrant populations, and participants reported that the activity built their curiosity to learn more about the backgrounds and often difficult personal stories of their peers, as well as building their ability to listen for understanding, a skill that they attributed as being particularly important for group integration.

Indeed, given the serious global challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, learning how to live together is an imperative for advancing sustainable and inclusive development. To this end, learning to be intercultural competent - in other words, having the skills needed to enhance connections and understanding across difference – is essential.  

The lessons learnt from this pilot session will inform final adaptions to the manual to maximize its relevance once released, including within Europe and North America. It also contributed to building a strong foundation of trained facilitators to help mobilize the manual’s wide dissemination and use following its expected publication at the start of 2019.

Euan Mackway-Jones,
Ann-Belinda Preis,