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May 2020

A French Suburb's Quest
for Employment and Inclusion

<p><strong>Seine-Saint-Denis:</strong><br />
A French Suburb's Quest<br />
for Employment and Inclusion</p>
General rapporteur
Agnès Audier

Agnès Audier possède une longue expérience dans les secteurs privé et public. Elle est aujourd’hui administratrice de grands groupes cotés, Senior Advisor au BCG, et experte des sujets digitaux ou sociétaux. Elle porte une attention forte depuis 25 ans aux politiques publiques telles que la lutte contre l’exclusion ou la mobilité. Elle a accompagné de grandes organisations privées, parapubliques ou publiques, en tant que spécialiste des enjeux de transformation, notamment dans leurs volets humains et digitaux.


The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the aforementioned people or the institutions they represent.

Institut Montaigne expresses its grateful thanks to the following people in particular for their contribution to this work.

    The people we interviewed or met during our work on this project

    • Mohamed Amoura, project manager at the office of the Prefect Delegate for Equal Opportunities, Seine-Saint-Denis Prefecture
    • Daniel Auverlot, rector of the Créteil academy of education
    • Matthias Avignon, director of operations for Île-de-France, Adie
    • Gilles Babinet, Advisor on digital issues, Institut Montaigne
    • Frédéric Bardeau, chairman and co-founder, Simplon
    • Anne-Leila Batel, manager of private partnerships, Groupe SOS
    • Jacques Beltran, Vice President Global Affairs, Dassault Systemes
    • Abdelkader Bentahar, delegate in charge of inter-company and institutional partnerships for Saint-Denis, SNCF
    • Jean-Jacques Blanc, managing director, NQT
    • Douglas Cabel, Director innovation and market intelligence, OpenClassrooms
    • Michel Cadot, Prefect, Île-de-France region
    • Thomas Cargill, officer in charge of economic attractiveness, ANRU
    • Corinne Cherubini, regional director, Direccte - Île-de-France
    • Yazid Chir, chairman and co-founder, NQT
    • Mathieu Cornieti, chairman, Impact Partenaires
    • Mariane Cuoq, officer in charge of social innovation and economic development, ANRU
    • Nicolas Divet, public relations manager, Bayes Impact
    • Christophe Divi, director ESS 2024, Les Canaux
    • Eloy Dorado, assistant regional director, Direccte - Seine-Saint-Denis
    • Jean-Benoît Dujol, director of youth, popular education and non-profit activities, inter-ministerial delegate for youth, Ministry of National Education and Youth
    • Maylis Dupont, assistant in charge of the center for experimentation and inclusive innovation, Strategy Department, French Ministry of Employment – General Delegation for Employment and Vocational Training (DGEFP)
    • Jean Dutoya, high-impact project developer, associate director, Groupe Amnyos
    • Frédérique Fragonard, associate director, TimGrid
    • Louis Gallois, chairman, Fédération des Acteurs de la Solidarité
    • Romain Gardelle, sub-director in charge of territorial development, Caisse d'Allocations Familiales, Seine-Saint-Denis
    • Hélène Genety, manager of partnerships and sponsorships, Les Compagnons du Devoir
    • David Giffard, managing director of group projects, Groupe SOS
    • Aurélien Gomez, director of territorial affairs, Air France
    • Nicolas Grivel, managing director, ANRU
    • Alexandre Grosse, former head of department of budget and territorial educational policies, Directorate General for School Education (DGESCO)
    • Paul Guis, co-director, Le Choix de l'Ecole
    • Jean-Baptiste Hagenmüller, director of the hospital project (AP-HP), Grand Paris Nord hospital-university campus, St-Ouen, AP-HP
    • Saïd Hammouche, chairman and founder, Mozaïk RH
    • NicolasHazard, chairman and founder, INCO
    • ThéodoreHoenn, project manager, Impact Partenaires
    • Jean-MarcHuart, former director, Directorate General for School Education (DGESCO)
    • Olivier Klein, mayor, Clichy-sous-Bois city hall
    • Céline Lains, director of the urban planning and territorial innovation programme, general secretariat for investment (SGPI)
    • Elisabeth Le Masson, delegate for economic promotion and employment, Grand Roissy - Le Bourget - Environment, CSR and Territories Division, Aéroports de Paris Group
    • Xavier Lemoine, mayor, Montfermeil city hall
    • Lorraine Lenoir, director of operations, Social Builder
    • Olivier Léon, head of the studies and distribution department, Insee
    • Catherine Lespine, senior advisor, INSEEC U.
    • Yves Lichtenberger, professor emeritus, Gustave Eiffel University
    • Esther Mac Namara, vice president for the public sector, OpenClassrooms
    • Vincent Marcadet, officer in charge of urban planning and territories, general secretariat for investment (SGPI)
    • Benjamin Martin, former director of public affairs France, Uber
    • Stéphane Martinez, founder, Moulinot Compost
    • Bertrand Martinot, Senior Fellow - Apprenticeship, Employment, Professional Training, Institut Montaigne
    • Christelle Meslé-Génin, chairperson and founder, JobIRL
    • Abdellah Mezziouane, director of the employment project at the general directorate of services, Île-de-France region
    • Anne-Claire Mialot, delegate prefect for equal opportunities, Prefecture of Seine-Saint-Denis
    • Marc-François Mignot-Mahon, CEO, Galileo Global Education
    • Jean-Baptiste Mouton, deputy secretary general to the rector's office, Créteil academy of education
    • Olivier Noblecourt, former interministerial delegate for the prevention and fight against child and youth poverty (DILPEJ), Ministry of Solidarity and Health
    • Marie-Christine Parent, regional director for Île-de-France, Insee
    • Bruno Peron, territorial director, job center, Seine-Saint-Denis
    • Matthieu Piton, officer in charge of employment, training, city policy and education, Île-de-France Prefecture
    • Julie Pomonti-Messas, head of projects and partnerships, Groupe SOS
    • Olivier Riboud, pedagogical director, education and professional integration programme, Total Foundation
    • Fabienne Rosenwald, director of the prospective and performance evaluation division (DEPP)
    • Olivier Salloum, sales director, Moulinot Compost
    • Marianne Sénéchal, project director - prime contractor of infrastructures for Grand Paris Express line 16, Egis
    • Safia Tami, director of partnerships and recruitment at Industreet, Total Foundation
    • Jérôme Teillard, head of the project to reform access to higher education, French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI)
    • Chenva Tieu, founder, Entretiens de l'Excellence


    • Baptiste Larseneur, project manager, Institut Montaigne
    • Jean Owona, consultant, Boston Consulting Group
    • Thomas Pereira da Silva, project manager, Institut Montaigne
    • Amaël Pilven, senior official


    • Victor Bus, research assistant, Institut Montaigne
    • Florian Rosemann, research assistant, Institut Montaigne
    • Emilie Siguier, research assistant, Institut Montaigne

    In addition

    The office of the president of the department of Seine-Saint-Denis and departmental services.

    Stuck between notoriety and opportunity, Seine-Saint-Denis is not just a regular suburb. France’s poorest department will also host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, and is home to the headquarters of major companies. Located in the Greater Paris area, and with a population of 1.7 million, this department walks the tightrope between decades of semi-successful public policies and real socio-economic assets.

    Why is Seine-Saint-Denis, sitting right next to France’s capital, still facing such high barriers to employment and development? What is keeping its inhabitants from accessing the opportunities available to other French residents? And, most importantly, what are the solutions for the current and future inhabitants of Seine-Saint-Denis?

    Seine-Saint-Denis was the second largest industrial area in Europe until the middle of the 20th century. In the 1970s, it underwent a period of rapid deindustrialisation, and its largely working class population has been struggling with unemployment and a lack of economic integration ever since. The French government has attempted to implement a series of policies in this department, which have yet to yield their best results.

    Seine-Saint-Denis complexity, both social and economic, merits particular attention and is an important case study in public policy for France and beyond.

    Its complexity, both social and economic, merits particular attention and is an important case study in public policy for France and beyond. While Seine-Saint-Denis has its own distinct features, the challenges of employment and inclusion in developed countries are by no means unique. The broader imperative of this study is to encourage the thorough and localized examination of public policies in such areas. After witnessing how the effects of Covid-19 were amplified amongst vulnerable populations, it is all the more important to zoom in on the case of Seine-Saint-Denis in this phase of post-crisis political reflection, in order to understand the causes behind its economic struggle, and to avoid ineffective blanket policies.

    With the support of J.P. Morgan, Institut Montaigne carried out a study on the access to employment and economic inclusion in Seine-Saint-Denis. Our purpose is to provide a better understanding of the implementation of national public policies in this department, as well as of the actions of local authorities, and to propose concrete solutions.

    We believe that a better cooperation among the various actors and stakeholders in Seine-Saint-Denis is necessary for the optimal implementation of policies there. Our work led us to interviewing over a hundred local actors, and to understanding the potential of a better coordination between companies, the Social and Solidarity Economy and local authorities. We will hence lay out the opportunities that we see with regards to the major construction projects planned in Seine-Saint-Denis over the next 20 years, as well as a possible digital transformation of the area.

    Seine-Saint-Denis: A French Suburb's Quest for Employment and Inclusion - Map - Where Is SSD Located ?

    Need some context? Five things you need to know:


    France is made up of 94 administrative departments (départements), each of which is made up of multiple communes.


    The name of department 93, situated in the north-east of Paris, and made up of 40 communes. It has a population of almost 1.7 million, and a surface area of 236 square kilometers. Its inhabitants are called the Sequanos-Dionysiens.


    Revenu de solidarité active, is a French welfare benefit in the form of income support, designed to assist those facing barriers to employment.

    Politique de la Ville

    The name given to the body of policies of the French government, aimed at the socio-economic development of certain urban areas. The quartier prioritaire de la politique de la ville (QP) is a designation of a number of priority neighbourhoods needing the most urgent attention with regards to reducing inequalities and barriers to economic integration. There are 63 QPs in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis.

    Contrat de ville

    Meaning city contract, this is a tool that is used in the framework of France’s urban policies in order to fix and organise projects in the neighbourhoods and departments included in the politique de la ville.

    How well do you know Seine-Saint-Denis?

    What part of the population is of a foreign nationality?
    23.2 %
    35.8 %
    48.1 %
    Correct answerWrong answer
    Seine-Saint-Denis is well known for its high concentration of foreign nationals. According to the latest data registered in 2015, they make up 23.2% of the population in the department, as opposed to 6.5% in the rest of France.
    How many white-collar job positions are available per employee in Seine-Saint-Denis?
    0.1 jobs to 1 employee
    0.7 jobs to 1 employee
    1.3 jobs to 1 employee
    Correct answerWrong answer
    In the department, the number of jobs increases more quickly than the number of employed persons. However these are jobs that require higher qualifications than are available to the inhabitants. There are 1.3 such jobs for each employed person in Seine-Saint-Denis.
    How many non-resident workers come into Seine-Saint-Denis every day for work?
    36 %
    43 %
    55 %
    Correct answerWrong answer
    In 2015, it was recorded that 274,811 of the people working in Seine-Saint-Denis did not live there. That makes for 43% of the employees in the department. On the other hand, 339,830 inhabitants of Seine-Saint-Denis worked elsewhere.
    How much in public investment is set to be spent in the department for the next 20 years?
    2 billion euros
    10 billion euros
    20 billion euros
    Correct answerWrong answer
    Some major construction and development projects are underway in Seine-Saint-Denis, with the aim of reducing the inequalities that set this department aside from the rest of the country. It is estimated that these projects will cost 20 billion euros.
    What part of the population is of a foreign nationality?
    23.2 %

    How many white-collar job positions are available per employee in Seine-Saint-Denis?
    1.3 jobs to 1 employee

    How many non-resident workers come into Seine-Saint-Denis every day for work?
    43 %

    How much in public investment is set to be spent in the department for the next 20 years?

    The paradoxes of Seine-Saint-Denis

    The palpable poverty and development challenges in Seine-Saint-Denis are alarming:

    • Eleven out of forty communes that make up this department have an unemploymentrate of over 20%. For the rest of the country, unemployment only stood at 8.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019.
    • The youth is particularly affected, with 28% of people aged between 18 to 24 lacking both employment and qualifications.
    • More than one in tenpeople in Seine-Saint-Denis benefit from the RSA welfare benefit, as opposed to only 5.1% of the population in the rest of the country.

    However, there are a few elements to consider:

    Seine-Saint-Denis’s heterogeneity

    The western part of the department is overall less developed, and characterized by higher population density and communal living. The socio-economic difficulties are more distinct here, paired with higher barriers to economic opportunities. On the other hand, the eastern part of the department faces less challenges, and is also characterized by large residential areas and a lower population density.



    Many employment opportunities

    Companies from the service sector have been moving to Seine-Saint-Denis since the 2000s, bringing with them more employment opportunities than elsewhere in the country. Unfortunately, these opportunities remain inaccessible to the Sequans-Dionysians, although the rate of new jobs in the department increases much faster than that of people employed (+8.5% vs. +0.9%). There is an overabundance of jobs that require higher qualifications than are available to the inhabitants of Seine-Saint-Denis (1.3 positions per employed person). Meanwhile, there is not enough demand for the blue collar work that the local labour can provide (6 positions per 10 employees). As a result of this skill mismatch, both the companies and the local workers need to look outside the department for labour and employment.


    Seine-Saint-Denis: A French Suburb's Quest for Employment and Inclusion - Infographie - Residents of Seine-Saint-Denis draw very few  benefits from the department’s economic dynamism


    The "airlock" effect

    There are 63 high-priority neighbourhoods (QPs) in Seine-Saint-Denis, as per France’s national urban policy. In these neighborhoods, the newcomers have less income than those who are already residents, who in turn have less income than those who eventually move out. These neighbourhoods therefore facilitate the transition into the middle class for those most vulnerable. The high turnover rate of inhabitants who reach a certain income level can therefore help to explain the permanent socio-economic stagnation in the department.

    The politique de la ville at work in Seine-Saint-Denis

    While much remains to be done, the politique de la ville has been employing various instruments to boost the socio-economic development in Seine-Saint-Denis: 

    Significant mobilization of the government and local authorities

    The government has been focusing on Seine-Saint-Denis for decades now, with the aim of reducing inequalities and improving the living conditions of its disadvantaged populations. This began with the Habitat et Vie Sociale (habitat and social life) processes in 1977, which led to numerous projects and designations, such as the quartier prioritaire (QP). These operations all aimed to boost investment and urban renovation in departments like Seine-Saint-Denis. 

    Major construction and renovation projects

    Seine-Saint-Denis has provided the space for the construction of some significant sites, such as the Stade de France, France’s national stadium, built in 1995. Undertakings such as this, expected to grow in the next 20 years, paired with the right actions by public authorities, can be used to increase access to employment in the department.

    20 billion euros have been allocated to five major projects (Greater Paris, the Cité olympique hosting the Summer Olympics, the addition of terminal 4 to the Roissy airport, the CDG express railway line and a new hospital), currently or soon-to-be underway.

    Making the players cooperate: a matter of efficacy

    There is ample to be discussed with regards to the funding, or the lack thereof, of various areas of Seine-Saint-Denis. However, our study rather aims to focus on the cooperation between local actors as a means of improving the resources and tools that are already at the disposal of the department. We believe that by improving the coordination of the various actors at play, the department will see significant improvement in the implementation of public policies that have been less than successful thus far.

    What drives the actors’ behavior in Seine-Saint-Denis?

    The actors and stakeholders tend to be driven by individual interest. This often leads to inefficient competition, and incompletion of projects that are complex and require long-term work.  

    There are two tools that are available to actors to carry such projects out: city contracts, and the call for projects. As it happens, these tend to slow down cooperation.

    What tools do the actors use to carry out projects?

    First off: contracts, specifically known as city contracts. Since 2014, these instruments aim to put in place projects that advance social, urban and economic development. Here is why this contractual method is not optimal:

    • These contracts tend to follow the funding, which in turn focuses on short-term fixes that do not necessarily take into account the long-term shared objectives of the project.
    • They do not focus sufficiently on the high-priority populations, and may favour blanket solutions.
    • Actors in the region can be unstable, lending a potentially volatile nature to the contractual agreements themselves. As an example, the department has switched between four different prefects in the past ten years.

    The second tool is the call for projects. Favouring the strongest proposal, these tend to leave out actors from the Social and Solidarity Economy, as well as collective reflections about common objectives. Thus, actors in Seine-Saint-Denis rarely find themselves in a situation where they need to put their heads together and cooperate, even if they would benefit from sharing their respective know-hows and resources. 

    Nine priority areas for better collaboration

    We have identified nine points on which the actors could increase their efforts for collaboration:

    1. HR management of public officials
    2. RSA funding
    3. instruments for French language learning
    4. options for people with disabilities
    5. childcare options for job seekers
    6. academic counseling
    7. options for job or business creation by job seekers themselves
    8. support for companies during the hiring processes
    9. security issues for big companies

    We will zoom in on two of these elements: HR management of public officials, and RSA funding.
    The lack of HR management strategy of public officials and civil servants seems to be a cause for the inefficiency of the government in the department, especially with regards to education. Oftentimes, young teachers are sent to the schools where the students are most in difficulty, which leads to a high turnover rate for teachers. 35.7% and 50% of primary and middle school teachers do not stay longer than two years in the same school. Moreover, there is only a 51.26% successful replacement rate for teachers who leave, as opposed to 78.41% in the rest of France. Sometimes students may miss out on a whole academic year due to this.


    Seine-Saint-Denis: A French Suburb's Quest for Employment and Inclusion - Infographie - Cooperation is necessary among Seine-Saint-Denis’ key players: examples of education and the RSA income support


    The funding for income support, known as RSA in France, presents a heavy burden for Seine-Saint-Denis. The department council needs to generate 215.2 million euros to continue funding RSA, which it can barely continue to afford if it receives no help or compensation for it. If this continues, the department will have no choice but to carve out from the budget dedicated to other employment and inclusion policies, coming full circle in the inefficiency of the process.

    A potential hub for digital experiments?

    Seine-Saint-Denis has an enormous potential for a digital transformation. On the one hand, the challenges of the department present the perfect incentives to find creative digital solutions. On the other hand, there are real assets in this department that could ensure a successful transformation. Such is the young population, its proximity to Paris, and access to the most digitally dynamic labour markets in France. Here are three possible ways to approach this:

    • Incorporating digital teaching methods - students in Seine-Saint-Denis tend to perform poorly in school, which in turn affects their employability later on. This could offer fertile ground for a digital solution that would allow for a more customized learning process.
    • Developing an E-administration - while there are some administrative processes that already take place online, further advancements in this respect could alleviate some of the challenges that the population faces when dealing with bureaucracy (waiting times, complex procedures etc.)
    • Optimizing data use for public policies - better use of data through artificial intelligence or big data could allow for more accurate analyses for better policy planning.

    Four objectives for employment in Seine-Saint-Denis, and how to reach them

    Increasing the credibility of government action
    In detail
    • Rewarding and promoting all efforts for collaboration between public and private actors, and sanctioning all lack thereof.
    • Pushing city contracts to evolve towards formats that favour common objectives and the complementarity of actions taken by  actors. This means identifying a list of priority populations in order to avoid blanket solutions.
    • Promoting calls for projects that are presented in a consortium, and that favour complementary action.


    Fostering effective cooperation on matters of employment, integration and education
    In detail
    • Making a concise assessment of the current public policies, and understanding which ones are most in need of reform and funding, and how that in turn limits the effectiveness of other policies. Such an assessment would allow for the unclogging of bottlenecks and dysfunctionalities in various institutions in the department.
    • Finding new ways to unlock or reorient funding for economic integration mechanisms (such as RSA).
    • Building a collective and better-funded plan of action for the recipients of RSA, in order to push them towards employment and integration. National solidarity should be an important element of this scheme.
    • Building a plan of action for job and business creation for the job seekers, especially those who are recipients of this income support. This would be a significant instrument for poverty alleviation and social mobility.
    Cooperating to maximize the impact of the major construction projects underway
    In detail
    • Favouring social clauses as powerful vectors for the employment of the Sequanos-Dionysiens. These would oblige companies to take into account the unemployed local population, especially in the framework of the construction projects. The department, for its part, needs to make sure that it can provide the right profiles for the jobs.
    • Making a clear assessment of the employment needs for the future projects in the department. This would allow for better planning in terms of employment opportunities and impact, and skill matching with the local population. There is currently no large-scale study carried out in this respect.
    Carrying out a successful digital revolution in Seine-Saint-Denis
    In detail
    • Asking the national agencies in charge of developing E-administration to regularly test out their platforms in Seine-Saint-Denis.
    • Creating a task force of experts to oversee the digitization.
    • Working with local actors in order to launch various digital initiatives that have been successful in other parts of the country.
    • Mapping out the public and private digital initiatives that already exist, and mobilising the institutions in charge to extend these to all more neighbourhoods.
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