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Helsinki, Finland

To ensure that the fast-growing immigrant youth population was well integrated, Helsinki used a human-centered design approach to rapidly prototype, pilot, and implement citywide programs and services.


More than 14 percent of Helsinki’s residents are immigrants, and this percentage is rising. At the same time, 25 percent of young immigrants are not enrolled in school or employed, which is a rate six times higher than those with Finnish backgrounds. Immigrant youth also have a higher risk of mental health problems and loneliness. As the immigrant population continues to grow, addressing these issues is vital to the city’s future success and its goal to become the most functional city in the world.


Helsinki used a human-centered design approach to develop citywide programs and services focused on immigrant youth, using their personal experiences as the basis for new programs. The city assembled a 30-person design team that included youth workers, policy experts, citizen activists, and others, and formed an expert group of 10 young immigrants. The city worked with these teams to obtain information and feedback from immigrant communities and various stakeholders to help develop new initiatives, which were then tested over the course of a year.


The city prototyped and tested 13 pilots, resulting in the creation of five new programs: Buddyschool, an immigrant youth mentoring program, impacting 1,300 students in more than 20 schools; Job’d, a program that has helped 400 young immigrants find over 15,000 hours of work, providing them with experience and recommendations that will help them gain future employment; a peer-based youth court that has served 300 young people; an outreach program that supports immigrant parents; and Make Some Noise, a leadership and public-speaking training program through which 16 immigrant youth have been trained to date. The programs are designed to be easily replicated across the city and the city continues to test and refine them with citizen input. Through this human-centered design process, the city is closer to becoming a city that works for everybody.

“Migrant Youth Helsinki provides new methods for employing young people while helping other people. And when an operational design begins to work, we can expand it into other areas in its original form or with slight modifications.”

– Sami Komppula, coordinator of Migrant Youth Helsinki


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