The Starter Kit for Conceptualizing ‘Neighborhood mothers’

What does ‘neighborhood mothers’ mean? How does it work? Why is it important? While it may be clear to those who are working within the ethnic relations field, it might not be as self-evident to those who are not familiar with the field. For this reason, I try to answer these questions in this article from the basics.

‘Neighborhood mothers’ is getting more attention in Finnish mainstream media. Earlier this year in July, the national television YLE reported ‘neighborhood mothers’ stories. See the YLE story ‘Neighborhood mothers help new immigrants integrate‘ (source: same article)

I have never heard of ‘neighborhood mothers’ before knowing the ‘neighborhood mothers’ project of Nicehearts in 2015. Not a clue. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I searched on google with ‘neighborhood mothers’ in Mandarin Chinese as key words. I thought with 1.2 billion people speaking Mandarin Chinese, there must be something about this ‘neighborhood mother’ that I could find out. Nothing came up.

It turned out that ‘neighborhood mothers’ was a project initiated here in Europe. In Denmark, it was called ‘Bydelsmødre’ and was originally a local project aimed to support primarily immigrant women. It was then rapidly grew and became relatively well-developed across Denmark. Relevant materials on different ‘neighborhood mothers’ modules can be found on their official website.

In Germnay, it was called ‘Stadtteilmütter’ and was implemented in Berlin-Neukölln area in 2004 (Metropolis). It was originally served as a function to reach out to immigrant families and to bridge the gap between Berlin’s Bureaucratic integration policy. But why Berlin-Neukölln? It was because the conventional method was not suitable for this neighborhood. Berlin-Neukölln was an ethnically diverse community and 20%-25% of Neukölln’s residents are non-German nationals. It was also a region with diverse religion: it had a population of around 300,000, with one in four (75,000) are Muslim (Brantley, Cho & Langer, 2009). If we put it in the context of Vantaa, the whole population in the municipality of Vantaa is 0.7 times compared to the population of Berlin-Neukölln. In terms of foreign nationals, Berlin-Neukölln was as diverse as Veromies (24%), Havukoski (20.7%) or Mikkola (20.5%) (Vantaan Kaupunki, 2016). As suggested in the name, ’neighborhood mothers’ also tried to dialogue with the intersectionality of gender and ethnicity. The participants of ‘neighborhood mothers’ were mainly immigrant women, who played essential roles in creating safety and stability for the family. To sum up, it was an initiative that was timely and important. It could be considered a key grassroots measure to respond to the current immigrant situation in Finland, and Europe as a whole.

Figures about displaced people (source: UNHCR)
Asylum seekers and decisions concerning them 2015 (source: MIGRI)

I feel fortunate and privileged to get to know ‘neighborhood mothers’ project in Finland. Now I have more idea what historical context ‘neighborhood mothers’ originated from and what kind of supportive network it aimed to build. I look forward to participate in the events of ‘neighborhood mothers’ and get to know how it is done in practice.

– Author: Grace Gao



Metropolis. ‘Neighbourhood Mothers’

Brantley, Ally, Cho, Michelle and Langer, Ruth (2009) Stadtteilmütter: Approaching Integration Through Education in Berlin-Neukölln

Vantaan Kaupunki (2016). Vantaa Alueittain 2015.



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