Plan Einstein

Utrecht Refugee Launch Pad

Edited on 09/01/2024

Project proposal by

  • Institution : Municipality of Utrecht
  • City : Utrecht
  • Country : Netherlands
  • Type of region : More developed
  • Population : 370 000

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The Utrecht Refugee Launch Pad project’s Plan Einstein (PE) is an innovative approach towards reception and integration of newcomers in cities from the first day of their arrival. It has developed safe environments for newcomers and their new neighbours in Utrecht (the Netherlands) by investing in inspiring spaces and activities where they can engage in meaningful encounters. It transformed the restrictive and dividing practices which separated newcomers from their host societies until they received a residence permit.


It is based on three pillars. Firstly, free open meeting spaces (hubs), in a housing complex where asylum seekers live next to young people. Here activities are organised, and meaningful encounters can take place. Because of their youthful and creative energy, youngsters play a special role in connecting the newcomers to their new neighbourhood. 


Secondly, building a social network, to unlock the potential of professional networks to build a vital social network for newcomers and neighbourhood members; to support integration, mixed living, educational courses, access to the labour market, and activities to facilitate network building.


Thirdly, personal development, through activities that further develop skills and increases the self-sufficiency of participants, and also enable meaningful encounters between participants who get to know each other beyond the 'labels' of "refugee" or "local".  


What SOLUTIONS did the Urban Innovative Action project offer?


PE is an adaptable approach which swiftly responds to emerging needs.   


Inclusion from Day One: i) through a holistic and inclusive approach PE involves asylum seekers from the outset; ii) newcomers and neighbourhood members can participate; iii) it offers learning opportunities through entrepreneurship, ICT, and English courses and voluntary activities; iv) fostering mutual assistance and cultivating positive encounters; v) ensuring a supportive and resilient environment for all stakeholders.  


Community-Building: i) through housing newcomers alongside youngsters; ii) by engaging participants in sports, volunteering activities, cultural events and communal meals; iii) enabling a sense of belonging. 


Personal Development: i) by offering personalised support and mentorship by experienced coaches; and ii) activities to increase empowerment and professional skills development to support self-reliance of participants.  

What DIFFERENCE has it made at local level?


Utrecht is currently developing the fourth Plan Einstein Hub tailored to the needs of the newcomers (from Ukraine) and its new neighbourhood. The project evaluation showcased positive impacts on asylum seekers' well-being and development, facilitating swift integration into society and the labour market ( PE has been embedded in local policy. It is used as the guiding example for future reception centres. Observations reveal strong local support for new shelters because of residents' understanding of the PE approach and its potential positive impact.  


At national level, a parliamentary motion requested the government to research the possibility of developing more Plan Einstein hubs. In 2019, a nationwide asylum reception policy embraced mixed living and active engagement from day one, aligning with the PE concept. Multiple (international) entities are visiting, seeking to implement similar practices in their communities.

What PARTICIPATORY APPROACHES have been put in place for the project?


The City of Utrecht has high ambitions to develop policies and initiatives together with stakeholders and its inhabitants, such as 'Make the City Together'. Within this context, Plan Einstein has been designed after engaging with local residents and understanding more about their needs and concerns for their neighbourhoods. Across all locations, PE has been soliciting input from both local residents and asylum seekers to collaboratively design welcoming 'Free open space for meaningful encounters' spaces, often in partnership with artists and interior designers. Incorporating recognisable symbolism from various cultures further enhances a strong sense of belonging and shared ownership.   


Furthermore, there are highly skilled professionals working in the Plan Einstein centres to offer the right advice and guidance to the participants to engage them in the offered activities, but also to support their own ideas and initiatives for events in the centre. This results in parts of the programme being facilitated by former participants (newcomers and neighbourhood residents) in a peer-to-peer format. It not only involves them transitioning from participants to instructors but also encourages their development into volunteers, role models, and mentors.

How does the project tackle different aspects with an INTEGRATED APPROACH?


Plan Einstein (U-RLP) was named a good practice by UIA in the context of Integrated territorial development (ITD).   


Economic: Plan Einstein unlocks professional networks by, for example, connecting people with employers, and LinkedIn courses. PE invests in professional development by fostering entrepreneurship (EG women in business programme) for self-sustainability. This increases opportunities to access the labour market or start-up businesses.  


Social: Plan Einstein invests in an inclusive and resilient neighbourhood by enabling a safe space and inclusive activities. The approach promotes active engagement from Day 1 which not only improves quality of life but also strengthens community bonds. Plan Einstein hubs can become vibrant centres with creative and professional activities in the city.   


Environment: The City of Utrecht has high ambitions in the field of climate adaptation, circular economy and healthy urban living. PE has a positive impact on the environment by creating awareness about these city ambitions and the part everyone can play in achieving these goals. PE offers courses on circular living in Utrecht with a strong focus on waste reduction.    


Furthermore, there are several public gardens and food forests in the city, which are often managed with the help of volunteers. The Plan Einstein Centres show a high rate of voluntary activities conducted by the residents and newcomers.  

Why should other European cities use the solution the project explored?

Plan Einstein (U-RLP) is a UIA top 10 project with an URBACT Good Practice Label. Its uniqueness lies in the alternative it offers to the pre-dominant migration discourses. Plan Einstein offers pragmatic solutions to cities through its realistic future free approach embedded in a careful social design which prevents polarisation.


The project’s Innovation Transfer Network (ITN) can inspire European leaders with effective solutions, which can enable responses to fluctuating migration flows. The flexibility and focus on the local immediate surroundings of reception centres will enable any city who joins the ITN to develop their own version which connects their locals (neighbourhood members) and newcomers. With significant interest from across the globe, PE serves as an excellent platform to share experiences and enable mutual learning amongst Utrecht and its ITN partners.