Embassy of Inclusive Society Conference: Vulnerability and Connection

That inclusivity is a continuous process of learning and unlearning became clear during the conference of the Embassy of Inclusive Society. 

Type Update
Published on 20 November 2023
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society
Embassy of Inclusive Society Conference: Vulnerability and Connection
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society

The conference was a moment of slowing down and reflection in a world that is “on fire” and when the trains weren’t running. The programme started that morning energetically and in ‘Rotterdam-style’. In the afternoon, there were three narratives being told on stage about working with experience experts and a panel discussion that gave voice to that transparent dialogue. Artist and storyteller Onias Landveld closed the programme.

Hip hop

The audience was welcomed with the beats of DJ Salesman on the morning of 26 October. When everyone was sitting quietly, moderator Jermaine Berkhoudt started his intro about the project ‘de Campus voor Alledaagse Kennis’ (the campus for everyday knowledge) that The Niteshop | Concrete Blossom conducted with residents of the Schiedamseweg in Rotterdam. In a way that only Rotterdammers can, Berkhoudt said, the room was shaken up with hip-hop from Shep 500, JAHMA and FABZ Pi. 

“Who was this new to?” Berkhoudt asks the audience. Some raise their hands. It was different, someone noted. Berkhoudt: “Different is beautiful, right? That’s why we’re here. To do things differently; things have been the same for so long. If we want different results, we need other ways to investigate how things could be done differently and better.”

In the boardroom

In conversation with a panel of five people. Three project participants (and local residents): Fabie Soares, co-founder buurthuis All Dae in Rotterdam, Vincent Akachar, founder of HEF Gym, Carolina Castro, co-founder & project leader of the foundation de Veerkrachtige Gemeenschap, and two people from The Niteshop: Richard Nazier (also DJ Salesman), coordinator of the project and Nabiha Zaid as designer.

The project started in the boardroom of the Niteshop, a remixed night shop, where established and up-and-coming designers, artists, hustlers and scientists meet and collaborate on the city of tomorrow, explains the website. The boardroom is a room where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor. Residents who did not know each other before started talking to each other about the street. A street where tram 8 is due to disappear, which in turn offers opportunities to do things differently.

It’s all already in the neighbourhood

Castro: “It was a wonderful process. Through the conversations and methods we moved from our experiences to practice. That was the richness of this process, it gave me insight into other cultures and helped break stigmas. It was not just talking, but mainly translating these ideas and dreams into a path in the neighbourhood.” Or as Akachar puts it: “We talked to each other in an informal way and that led to formal results.”

Zaid, together with Nacor Martina (designer at Concrete Blossom), translated the input into a design for the street. A design with elements from diaspora communities. People of African, Asian or South American descent live in the neighbourhood. Nazier: “It’s all already in the living environment. That’s where all the value is. So you can simply pick up that value locally.” Zaid: “The biggest challenge was making the elements suitable for the Dutch climate.”

Some people see that as loitering. For me that is home. When I look at it, I see people explaining something to each other. It's just a way of transferring knowledge. As soon as you can see that, then you start looking at the world so differently.
— Fabie Soares, co-founder All Dae in Rotterdam

Sharing knowledge on the street

“What is so beautiful, Malique (Mohamud, founder of Concrete Blossom, ed.) once told me, is that literally everyone is a researcher,” says Soares. “But you don’t actually realise it. Walking around the neighbourhood, there are some things that are just natural to a migrant community. I don’t find it strange when I see a lot of old men chilling at a bakery. Where they talk about some match. I don’t think it’s strange when I see guys chilling against a wall at a night shop, for example. Some people see that as loitering. For me that is home. When I look at it, I see people explaining something to each other. It’s just a way of transferring knowledge. As soon as you can see that, then you start looking at the world so differently.” Nazier: “Knowledge sharing happens in the shisha lounges, the tokos, the barber shops and on the streets. That’s why we speak of the ‘Campus of Everyday Knowledge’. You can remix anything as long as you start with the assets that are already there.”


Akachar: “I suddenly realise that I was hustled by my hairdresser (based at the Niteshop, ed.) for this project. As a man of Antillean descent, I have to go to the hairdresser every week. The conversations with my hairdresser felt like taking off a backpack. I immediately felt very safe. It was immediately very different from a normal hairdresser, we talked about relevant things.” Laughing: “That’s how I actually fell into the trap of the Niteshop.” 

The presentation was a teaser for the Culture of Currency Conference, the first national conference on the future of super-diverse cities, on 17, 18 and 19 November in Rotterdam. Then Niteshop presents | Concrete Blossom the entire project.

Designing with experience experts 

The afternoon programme featured three narratives about design processes with experience experts. The first narrative came from Arend-Jan van Dongen, experience expert, and Aafke van Welbergen, expert in inclusive design at Accessibility. Van Dongen is blind, “to the extent that I only see light and dark”. He has just retired and in his work as an ICT professional, he also enjoyed taking the time to share his experiences. “I have spent my life trying to approach everything as independently as possible.” For Van Dongen, self-reliance has a lot to do with inclusivity. The fact that it is certainly not easy to always be self-reliant is evident from a simple example in which Van Dongen thought he would order a jar of mustard online, but because it was a picture of a tube, he received a tube. “I can give hours of examples. you could say: ‘You can ask for help, right?’ But what beats being able to do it yourself?”

When you work with experience experts, a number of points are very important, Van Welbergen said. She introduced the designers and policymakers in the room to the Accessibility Foundation’s working methods. Lessons such as involving experience experts in every step of the process. Or make conscious choices in the target group. “Now I may hear some of you thinking: isn’t that actually an exclusive design? That’s true. Then my question to you is: isn’t that always the case? Because ultimately you always make choices, unconsciously or consciously, about who you do or do not involve. You’re often designing exclusively without meaning to. We say: make conscious choices, so that you can then consciously choose to expand.”

Taking the other into account

Other lessons were that you look at the preconditions, such as the availability and accessibility of your location, the time and the fee. That you continue to communicate with people throughout the entire process. “You form a bond with them. This way they are willing to cooperate again or sit on a stage with you.” Van Welbergen mentioned that the most important thing is that you should ask about the preferences of someone who is participating in your research. “Everyone likes it when you are taken into account. For example, does someone with an assistance dog want to be picked up from the station or not. And, not every assistance dog is the same.”

Van Dongen: “For once, people were not thinking for me, but with me. My knowledge from my experience was tested against the existing technology and feasibility. Some things could also be dismissed quietly, because they simply were not meant to be. What becomes clear to me again and again is that you can find each other by simply making it clear and showing where the problem lies. It’s often really about simplicity.”

Praat samen over de grens

In the project ‘Praat samen over de grens’ (discuss the limits together), design agency Ruimtekoers worked with twelve Nijmegen men to discuss sexual misconduct. Project leader and designer Renée Janssen went to Nijmegen for this project. She visited student associations, but also football clubs and she spoke with social workers. “That’s how I started to interpret the context.” Janssen found twelve men who were willing to participate. Together with Emancipator, an organisation committed to men’s emancipation, she organised workshops in which men discussed what it means to be a man, what gender norms are and how both of these underlie transgressive behaviour.

Janssen gradually discovered that that conversation alone was “super valuable”. Because of the connection they made with each other and the insights they gained from it. This is how the slogan for the campaign was born: Praat mee over de grens (join the debate about the limits). The gist is that Nijmegen men talk about sexual misconduct. A podcast was made with four men from the focus group and they had conversations with each other in videos. “All very vulnerable, they really came to terms with their own experiences.”


Rapper Roché Nieuwendam was one of those men and he initially found it quite exciting to participate, he admitted via video connection. Due to traffic he could not be physically present. “I know the problem, I come from the hip-hop scene and from Suriname. This issue plays a role in both scenes. When I sat down together with all those men, I noticed that I still found it nerve-racking. I wasn’t used to talking about these kinds of themes. About discrimination, racism and youth issues.” 

The workshops made Nieuwendam feel at ease. “I ended up learning a lot from the other men’s stories. Everyone had their own perspective, which was very educational.” In his work as a youth worker, this project has given him an opportunity to enter into conversations with young people, he says.

Accessible space

The narrative came from Sjaan van der Tol from Arcam, a centre for architecture in Amsterdam. She and a team of makers went through a process to redesign her own space, Arcam, and make it more accessible. Van der Tol: “We at Arcam had no experience with that at all.” A maker team was put together consisting of (experience) experts in access and inclusion. The team started visiting other projects, such as the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum) and the Van Abbemuseum housing the exhibition Dwarsverbanden (Delinking and Relinking). 

Next, the team went through the building, pasting numerous post-its. What is good and what could be better? For example, the glass doors and the line spacing of the texts were a problem. A ‘Universal Programme of Requirements’ followed from that survey, which was used to select a design firm. Eventually, that firm was research firm Dérive, operating at the intersection of architecture, public space and urban strategies, with the design ‘Universeler Maatwerk’. (More Universal Customisation). “Dérive had done the most research into how to make something accessible.” The plans were then developed and implemented within the available budget. Arcam will be open to the public again from November 4.

Panel - credits: about.today


Moderator Jasmin Sharif, programme maker and researcher at Boekmanstichting and founder of the YUMNA collective, moderated the panel discussion consisting of Marc Mulder, senior experience expert at Movisie, Karin Fischnaller, visual designer at The Anderen, Jeanette Chedda, speaker, model, business journalist and member of collective Feminists Against Ableism and Tarik Yousif, Director of Cultural Affairs of the Municipality of Utrecht. They started talking to each other about what ‘lived experience’ means. Sharif: “What kind of knowledge is that and how can you use it and link it to accessibility?”

Experience councils

Mulder: “I have a background in poverty and debt. With that experience I try to bring out the perspective of the people with those problems.” Among other things, he organises experience councils in which he brings together experience experts for a longer period of time. “These conversations provide knowledge that you can apply in practice. Instead of coming up with a study of what should be done, you ask people what they think should be done.” 

Feedback conversations

Information Designer Fischnaller does not necessarily have the lived experience of the theme she is dealing with, she designed the installation Lorem Ipsum for the Embassy of Inclusive Society, among other things, which visualises the important guidelines and advice for inclusive (physical) presentations. Through many feedback conversations with experience experts, she gains insights for her designs. “Those conversations are the most important thing for learning and for being open to others.”

Pure necessity

For Chedda it is a pure necessity to work as an experience expert. “It is not my wish to constantly explain to Dutch society that I also deserve a place, but I do this because I have the feeling that the position of disabled people is simply not good. Our society is truly an inaccessible society for people in wheelchairs. There is no such awareness, but rather the misconception that the Netherlands has arranged things well for disabled people.”

The conversation in focus

The conversation takes a different turn with the introduction of Yousif. His story puts the audience on edge. He talks about the city of Utrecht’s culture policy document ‘Kleur bekennen’, which the city council adopted in September. “In essence, we call on the cultural sector to implement a clearly transparent policy. As a society, we often avoid the tension between an inclusive society and scarcity, both linguistically and emotionally. We use all kinds of inclusive texts and projects where scarcity is actually ignored.”

His argument led to several reactions from the audience. A conversation arises about basic standards for the accessibility of buildings and joint programming as a cultural sector for the entire city of Utrecht. As someone from the audience put it, “The culture memorandum is an invitation to work together to design programming that makes everyone feel like they are welcome, but not in all the 100 cultural places, because that isn’t possible, but in 50 places.”

It was important for Shay Raviv to be able to have this conversation. “Although these conversations are difficult to have, they are very necessary. I am very happy that we were able to discuss this transparently.”

The ideal society

To conclude the panel discussion, Sharif asked all members for one last word. “What would the ideal society look like to you?” Chedda: “One without steps!” Mulder: “A world where we want to get to know each other.” Fischnaller: “In which we take the time to engage with others.” Yousif: “It’s a process of learning where you never finish. I hope for confidence that we as a society are allowed to make many mistakes together, as long as the ambition is there that we will be better off as a society.”

Onias Landveld - credits: about.today

Equal, that is inclusive

Onias Landveld, founder of production house Wosu, artist and narrator, closed the conference with a performance. In a poem ‘My story’ he reflected on everyone’s story. Landveld: “Personally, I do not believe that everyone can always be one hundred percent inclusive. We all have a backpack, we were raised a certain way and we have blind spots.

“I often have to say to people: playing together is sharing. So if you say that everyone should be able to participate, they should have the same opportunities to end up at your level, just like you. Sometimes that doesn’t work, because some people have a backpack. So then you have to help a little.” 

Earlier this year, Landveld was asked to participate in an exhibition about looted art. “I am a Maroon, my ancestors were enslaved in Suriname. They fled and then attacked plantations to free people. That’s what they did, I’m a rebel.” The objects used were stolen and some of them eventually ended up in Berlin. 

Landveld contributed to the exhibition that can be seen in the Mauritshuis in The Hague with ten narratives about stolen art. Just before the opening of the exhibition, he saw his story being told on TV, without him being there. “It would have made a difference if I had sat there and been able to tell you what it was like for me. Then it would have been made together. Then we are equal and that is inclusive.”

Inclusivity also means having a difficult conversation, daring to be vulnerable, because, Raviv looks back: “Every choice has a consequence. By being transparent in choices and continuing to work on improvement, I think we can make great strides.”


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