In its third year, the Map the System competition’s Global Final is set to be the biggest yet; with 15 competing teams arriving here in Oxford from six continents.
This competition is a chance for students and recent graduates, of participating educational institutions, to learn more about the issues they care about and present their findings to the world.
We believe that tackling global challenges starts with understanding a problem and its wider context, rather than jumping straight into a business plan or an idea for a quick fix. Participants are asked to demonstrate a deep understanding of a pressing social or environmental issue by mapping out the landscape of the current solutions and identifying missing opportunities for positive change.
27 educational institutions took part in the 2018 competition, with over 470 applications from teams within them. Australia, Canada, Chile, China, South Africa, U.K, and U.S.A are the seven countries represented in the Global Final from 1-3 June.
How will it work?
Each finalist team is made up of students or recent graduates working in teams of up to five, who have chosen a social or environmental issue to “map”. Prior to the presentations, finalists have each submitted three documents as part of the competition: a visual map or chart, a report summarising their research analysis, and a bibliography. Each of these has been reviewed by the judges.
On the day, students will have 10 minutes to deliver their presentation, followed by approximately 5-10 minutes of Q&A from a panel of judges. The purpose of the presentation is to highlight the key insights and learnings from the students’ research of their chosen issue. Each presentation will focus on four key areas:
Identification of gaps and levers of change
After all 15 finalists have presented on Saturday, the judges will select just six to present again in front of an audience on the Sunday afternoon. Then from those final six teams, just three winners will be selected as the 2018 winners, with each team awarded cash prizes of £4,000, £3,000 and £2,000. .
Meet the finalists
EYE OF THE AUTISM
Hainan University, China
Humanistic Concern. The team from Hainan University have focused their research on the current situation of social workers involved in autistic families, specifically those living in Haikou City. Their research investigates how to have a positive impact on them, for example, how to improve the child’s condition and family’s economic situation.
MEI YINGYING, WEI YUXIANG AND LI CHENGJIA
Henan University of Urban Construction, China
Environmental Sustainability. This team have researched the urgent needs of mining area reconstruction and urban transformation in Pingdingshan, Henan Province. Pingdingshan is the third largest coal producing base and coking coal production base in China, and hence is causing mass pollution and damage in the surrounding areas.
Mount Royal University, Canada
Healthcare. Roisin has focused her research on the opioid epidemic in Canada, with a particular focus on fentanyl. Many Canadians have passed away as a result of taking illicit substances whilst unaware they are laced with fentanyl, and this research investigates solutions aimed at educating and disseminating information on this topic.
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University USA
Peace & Human Rights. The Kellogg-Northwestern team have conducted their research about Colombian child soldier reintegration. Several team members are connected with Colombia or have attended an entrepreneurship course there, and are passionate about children’s rights and the implications on similar global uses of child soldiers.
TO THE ROOTS
Royal Roads University, Canada
Environmental Sustainability. Canada has one of the highest rates of food waste annually, and while other countries make policies to prevent and combat food waste issue, Canada remains complacent. The Royal Roads team’s presentation will shed light on these inadequacies and outline the opportunities for impact in this area.
Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts, China
Environmental Sustainability. Team IDEAL have explored ecological co-living residential design in Shanghai. Due to the close proximity of the residential properties to the main industrial area, problems with the environment and health issues in this area are prominent, and so IDEAL have mapped and designed a ventilation solution to help with this problem.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Simon Fraser University, Canada
Healthcare. Bridging the Gap has explored the mental health and mental wellness outcomes of Second-generation Asian immigrant youth aged 14-25 in the Greater Vancouver region. This group experience unique mental health challenges due to the mental stressors imposed by processes of acculturation.
+Chilenas en STEM
Teach for All, Chile
Education and Gender. Evidence has shown significant gender disparities in maths subjects at school where girls tend to get lower results, leading to fewer women participating in STEM careers. The +Chilenas en STEM team posit that part of this gap is produced by gender stereotypes, which can be unconsciously reproduced in the household and in the classroom. This team have therefore investigated a new initiative to work with teachers on gender-stereotype awareness.
Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Water and Sanitation. FemWash have looked at menstrual hygiene management and the barriers that women face with respect to water, hygiene and sanitation. They have focused their research on South Africa, particularly the rural areas, such as townships that often lack infrastructure, sanitation and water – but have also examined developing countries with similar geographies to the South African landscape.
The University of Melbourne, Australia
Healthcare. Team Luna Baby have researched the issue of premature birth, specifically looking into supporting parent and infant well-being in Australia. Due to the powerful role that parents play in the development of their premature infants, the team have focused their research on the support given to these parents in neonatal nurseries and how it can be improved.
University of Oxford, UK
Gender Equality. Team Daughters has focused on gender inequality in the U.S. State of Utah. With a team that have deep Utah roots, they have witnessed first hand the impact on gender disparity in their own families and in the community. Their research maps solutions to educate communities and reduce the impact of gender inequalities in this state.
RETHINKING REFUGEE CAMP FIRE DISASTERS
University of San Diego, USA
Emergency Response, Health and Wellbeing. After one team member’s direct experience of working in Thai refugee camps, the University of San Diego team were motivated to examine the issue of fire disasters in Thailand’s refugee camps. Based on their frustration at this seemingly intractable issue, they have endeavoured to understand the system so that potential solutions come from an informed perspective.
Utah Valley University, USA
Environmental Sustainability and Healthcare. Team Lakeridge has researched Utah’s Ogden-Salt Lake-Provo area (the Wasatch Front), and its unique geography that creates ‘inversion’ – a lid that traps cooler air in the valleys. This layer traps toxic air particles released by natural sources and human activity, which leads to health issues, stifled economic growth, and the general deterioration of quality of life in the region.
HEALTH BEHIND BARS
Vanderbilt University, USA
Healthcare. The team from Vanderbilt University have focused their research on the healthcare provided to incarcerated persons in Tennessee, United States. The team’s mix of disciplinary backgrounds in law, business, and community psychology has enabled them to recognise the need for a better understanding of the correctional healthcare system, in the hopes of increasing the health of incarcerated individuals and benefitting the overall state of health in the United States.
Watson University, USA
Mental Health. This team has researched the issue of depression and anxiety in American colleges. Motivated by first hand personal experiences of this issue, the team has examined the lack of resources in the current system and has mapped the solutions landscape with a view to positively impact this area.
On the judging panel will be;
Jasmine Lau, a social entrepreneur and educator from Hong Kong, Jasmine is also the Founder and Executive Director of Philanthropy In Motion (PIM).
Odin Mühlenbein, a Partner at Ashoka Germany and Lead of Advisory at Ashoka Globalizer.
Daniela Papi-Thornton, former Deputy Director of the Skoll Centre, and thought-leader in systems change education.
Chintal Barot, Founder and Director of CoSustain Consulting Limited.
Please join us if you would like to watch the concluding part of our Global Final to Map the System, on Sunday, 3 June. Learn about complex issues facing people and planet, and understand how taking a systems approach to tackling them can identify gaps and levers for positive change.
This weekend, we welcomed 400+ attendees across two days at the Saïd Business School for our 9th annual Emerge Conference.
People from across the globe came together for what was a jam-packed event, dedicated to showcasing innovation across a variety of trends within the social impact space.
We invited four writers to join us as our Communications Champions to capture the event in real-time using #Emerge17. And guess what? As per infectious disease specialist, Peter Drobac’s welcome speech and corny pun intended, we made it #GoViral!
Here are our four writers’ insights from Emerge 2017:
Claud Williams is a brand consultant, public speaker, and social entrepreneur. He currently serves as the Executive Chairman of the social enterprise Dream Nation, which is re-inventing personal development for millennials.
“We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it”
I had the pleasure of spending my weekend at Emerge 2017. A conference created by the Skoll Centre and the Saïd Business School at University of Oxford, focused on exploring big ideas that are disrupting and challenging unjust systems and practices.
Each session I attended has laid out a blueprint of what is needed to ‘invent’ the future. Although, we cannot say for sure which particular idea or business will eventually become the status quo, these principles should still be universally applicable. The four themes which stood out most to me are:
Katherine Li is a current MBA student at the University of Oxford – Saïd Business School. Prior to Oxford, she worked with early stage Bay Area, San Francisco, start-ups to enable future growth and is passionate about innovation, technology, and healthcare.
How Virtual Reality is Helping Grow Africa’s New World Wonder
What do global decision makers and an 8-year old Senegalese girl have in common? It turns out that they can inhabit the same space despite the many miles between them.
The initiative in question is an ambitious 8000 km long natural wonder termed “The Great Green Wall.” Their shared experience comes from a VR film entitled “Growing a World Wonder” led by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in partnership with Surround Vision. But they’re also the first to tell you that VR isn’t the answer to everything. “I know many people talk about VR as the ultimate empathy machine – but for us it wasn’t so much about empathy but about inspiration to see and hear the world from another human’s perspective. I think in that sense. VR breaks the square frame of traditional narratives,” says Alexander Asen, Communications Officer at UNCCD. To craft a compelling narrative, Alex and his team decided to place people at the center of the action, rather than simply speaking to the story through reports and visuals.
Khadeja is currently an MA student at Soas University of London. She co-founded Project Silphium, which was launched to create a digital space for Libyan women to share their stories and have their voices heard. She is also a Geophysics Graduate from Imperial College London and worked as a Geophysicist in Libya for 5 years.
Shaping the systems and practices surrounding us
We live in a time where we have the tools necessary to make a difference and impact the many systems surrounding us but sometimes we fall short of tackling the big challenges. Through discussions, conversations and exploration, the Emerge conference facilitates the sharing of knowledge and inspiration between members who are already part of the social impact drive in their own communities and participants who want to get involved. At the same time, remembering that we have a responsibility towards the environments that get affected.
“What would you do if you couldn’t fail”
Andy Middleton set the tone and started off the opening plenary highlighting the need to create networks of people in diverse places and be more focused on the real challenges affecting us. His work at Project Slipstream focused on preparing future generations to be more aware of their environment and food consumption, while teaching them the tools to be able to take on big goals to change the world.
Solene is a History graduate from the Universities of Warwick and Oxford. She uses her research and writing skills to help social enterprises better understand, address, and communicate human needs in the United Kingdom and internationally.
Conversation: An Untapped Resource?
Over the weekend, the halls of Saïd Business School were flooded with entrepreneurs, technologists, journalists, performers, and students for Emerge, the Skoll Centre’s annual conference on social innovation. As could be expected from such an eclectic mix, many quickly found themselves making new and unexpected connections, often an eco-cup of coffee. However the question of conversation was far from confined to the conference hall or corridors of the Business School. Several sessions addressed the importance of connecting with others be it across the social, economic, geographic, or political divide.
Skoll Centre Early Career Research Fellow Tanja Collavo hosted a workshop at Marmalade 2017 on the strengths and weaknesses of the social entrepreneurship sector in England… and where next.
The State of Social Entrepreneurship in England – Strengths, Issues, and Solutions.
What is the state of social entrepreneurship in England? In the course of my DPhil research at Saïd Business School I interviewed key people at social entrepreneurship organisations, revealing a snapshot of strengths, weaknesses, worries and ambitions for the future development of the sector. At this workshop I presented some of my findings and asked participants to give their thoughts and elaborate actionable proposals around the issues most important to them.
The debate was lively! The overall agreement was that the sector is growing, vibrant, diverse, exciting, and constantly changing thanks to the very low barriers to entry. Its core strengths are its ability to break silos across sectors and organisations, and its democratic nature, encouraging bottom-up solutions to social problems and the retention of the wealth produced at the local level. Additionally, the perception is that the quality of products and services delivered by social enterprises is constantly improving and that this is a great business card to increase their market penetration both in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets. In this sense, many workshop participants welcomed the shift of the sector towards business and believe that more and more social enterprises should aim to become business-savvy and competitive.
But participants also agreed that there are still many key issues holding back the growth and success of the social entrepreneurship sector:
No one talks about failures
There is very little learning inside the sector because media, intermediaries, social entrepreneurs and enterprises talk a lot about successes but hardly ever about failures.
The passion paradox
Most ventures start because of founder’s personal experience with or passion for the problem they are trying to tackle. This has obvious positives but also can lead to a “do something now” mindset promoting easy solutions and immediate action more than the elaboration of long-term strategies. Further consequences can be the lack of professional sectoral knowledge and lower inclination towards collaboration due to high levels of personal ownership and commitment, also associated with stress and burnout.
Difficulty accessing supply chains
A third issue present in the sector is the low presence of social entrepreneurial organisations in supply chains, both in the business and in the public sectors. In fact, in most cases, social ventures are too small to bid for contracts and too young to have a proven track record that would facilitate their winning supply or service contracts.
Too dependent on government and poor finance
Participants described the sector as still too reliant on government and as lacking appropriate financial support matching its funding requirements and specificities. Financial support was described as particularly scarce at regional and local level, with core sector and financial intermediaries being based in London and mostly focusing on organisations and areas geographically close to them.
Lack of collaboration amongst support organisations
Finally, the group agreed on one of the main findings of my research projects: the lack of collaboration among sector intermediaries. This leads to a duplication of efforts and to a degree of confusion among social entrepreneurs and enterprises about where to look for support and how to reconcile the different messages they hear from the different intermediaries they are affiliated with.
Out of this list of issues, the workshop participants picked two areas that they thought were especially relevant in order for the sector to keep on thriving: the access of social enterprises supply chains in private and public sectors, and the low collaboration among sector intermediaries.
Social entrepreneurship in supply chains
The group tackling the issue “access to supply chains” found several core causes for this issue. Some causes can be attributed to failings of social enterprises themselves:
a lack of transparency and metrics that would lower the perceived risk of social ventures;
a low understanding of tender processes;
and the inability of social enterprises to scale and integrate or collaborate in order to bid for big projects and commissions.
Other challenges are created by the surrounding ecosystem:
procurement practices and contracts that do not favour the involvement of social enterprises and small organisations in supply chains of corporations and public bodies;
the existing regulatory environment;
and the still low recognition of the value and specifies of social enterprises outside of the sector.
Proposed solutions to improve the situation relied on the involvement of social entrepreneurs and enterprises and/or in that of sector intermediaries. Social entrepreneurs and enterprises should, with the help of intermediaries, lobby both the government for changes in legislation regarding tendering processes, and private companies to convince them about the possibility to collaborate with social enterprises to enhance the sustainability and credibility/effectiveness of their CSR practices. Furthermore, on their own, social entrepreneurs and enterprises should collaborate to win contracts and present stronger evidence about their performance and competitiveness, which would reduce the perceived risk for procuring organisations. Finally, sector intermediaries and research bodies should: analyse where the Social Value Act has worked; prove the benefits of values-based supply chains; and ensure social ventures involvement in supplier network platforms like Ariba.
Increasing collaboration amongst intermediaries
The second group of participants decided instead to work on the problem of low collaboration among social entrepreneurship sector intermediaries. The origins of this situation can be found in the presence in the sector of multiple umbrella bodies and intermediaries that publicly state that they are cooperating and collaborating with one another but in reality are very territorial and not interested in what other intermediaries do because “they occupy a separate niche in the sector”. In addition, many intermediaries have very specific views and beliefs about the definition of social entrepreneurship, about what the sector should look like, or about its role in society. This makes it difficult for them to really collaborate beyond sporadic cooperation for specific projects and events.
In this case, the proposed solution was to start from existing successful platforms involving several intermediaries (such as the Social Economy Alliance) and create a “network of networks”. This would have shared ownership and governance, would avoid exclusive definitions, and would initiate collaborations among different organisations around specific projects, such as “improving the access to supply chains for organisations in the social economy”. Cooperation on specific projects could be a starting point to create trust and a mutual understanding. At the same time, this “network of networks” should map out all the different intermediaries present in the sector and develop an online list differentiating organisations according to their core competences and easily accessible for organisations interested in obtaining support from the ecosystem. The creation of such a database would simplify the research process for individuals and organisations in need of help and would create the opportunity for intermediaries to understand where their respective strengths are and, thus, for sharing best practices and outsourcing to each other non-core activities.
The meeting finished with some networking and the hope that these solutions could lead to some concrete initiatives in the sector as well as to other opportunities to meet and discuss also the other issues present in the sector and ways to solve them in a collaborative way. Is anyone there up for the challenge? From my side, the door is open to anyone willing to know more or to jointly organise something along these lines to help the social entrepreneurship sector as well as other parts of the social economy grow and thrive even more.
Global Health: Getting from Innovation to Implementation panel
Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.
Oxford DPhil candidate in Philosophy, Michael Plant, gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session “Global Health: Getting from Innovation to Implementation”.
As you start the marathon, crowds cheer you on. They’re with you for the first mile. And the second mile. Now you’re at the 15th mile. You hit the wall. You need support to keep you going – a glass of water, a single cheer – but no one’s there. Who wants to watch the middle of a long race? You know they’ll be crowds to cheer you across the line, but that seems very far away.
This, argued Barbara Bush, founder of Global Health Corps, is an uncomfortably apt analogy for the problems facing global health as it tries to move from innovation to implementation. People get excited about the start: creating a new vaccine. And people can get excited about the end: making sure that vaccine travels the last mile and gets to the child who needs it.
Yet, in the long distance between those two, cheerleaders are thin on the ground. It’s very hard to get people interested in improving health systems, scaling up interventions and finding better ways to distribute medicines around the world.
Why? Systems simply aren’t sexy, unsexy things get ignored, and so millions of people die or suffer from health conditions we already have the technology to solve.
Hence the question Barbara posed to the three experts on her discussion panel: if we want to improve the ‘unsexy middle’ of global health, what should we do?
Steve Davis, CEO of PATH, argued healthcare innovators should be designing with scale in mind and the road to scale is mostly clearly through health ministers, rather than patients or funders. For instance, there’s little point creating a new drug so expensive developing countries can’t afford it.
Yap Boum of MSF added progress is often slow because locals aren’t invited to be part of the innovation process. How much better could NGOs be if they had locals on their boards who understood the country?
Surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande agreed going from ‘zero to one’ – inventing something – was valued much more by funders than taking discoveries and bringing them into the existing systems. At least in part, this is because discoveries feel much more tangible. He suggested a way around this is for funders to focus on scaling an innovation by one order of magnitude at a time, seeing each as a serious and independent goal. Pioneering a new procedure in one clinic should be thought of as a victory. Getting that procedure from 1 to 10 clinics is different second achievement requiring different methods, getting it from 10 clinics to 100 a third, and so on.
As panel discussion moved to questions, the audience wanted to understand why there wasn’t more collaboration between all the different organisations. If so much of global health is just a co-ordination problem, why haven’t we solved it yet?
The problem, it seems, is people having priorities. If, as Atul shrewdly noted, the US can’t even agree on whether to provide subsistence healthcare in their own country, how could we reasonably expect NGOs, governments and donors to all be effectively pulling in the same direction on global health? He suggested we need a unified metric, or yardstick, to compare different potential health priorities and reveal the top priorities.
Two things struck me from the conversation today. The first was: if we’re worried we’re overlooking things because they’re not sexy, what else are we ignoring?
As someone who’s interested in how best to increase happiness – or put another way, how best to reduce misery – I had hoped mental illness would have been a bigger part of the discussion. Research suggests mental pain can, and often does, have a bigger effect on self-reported happiness scores than physical pain does. What’s more the way standard health metrics, such as ‘QALYs’ (Quality-Adjusted Life Years), are constructed fails to adequately capture the badness of mental illness (see Dolan and Metcalfe 2012). Perhaps due to the stigma, measurement issues, or the complexity of treating them, mental illness is the marathon almost no one is even watching.
Second, if we need to agree on a single metric so we can prioritise resources in global health, it seems obvious to me the right metric is happiness. I take it we don’t value health just for its own sake, but because it helps us live longer and enjoy our lives more. Not all health conditions make people unhappy and, where there’s a choice between reducing unhappiness or ill-heath, we should target misery. Whilst some may worry happiness is too ‘fluffy’, the evidence suggests ‘subjective well-being’, as it’s often called, can be reliable measured. The OECD now recommends countries collect data on it.
Neither improving healthcare systems or mental health care are particularly sexy, which is why they’ve been overlooked. However, as Steve Davis said at the close to the session: our outrage at avoidable deaths and suffering should drive us to do better.
Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017 MBA candidate 2017, Ahmed Abu Bakr gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session ‘A Work Landscape in Flux for Young People’
We all know that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate, but I regularly feel that we forget, often far too easily, that these changes aren’t entirely new. Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the future, reminds us that the technological disruptions we are witnessing today, aren’t really as rapid as we make them out to be.
The internet, the proliferation of mobile technology and sensors, and the big data revolution are a result of over thirty years of consistent investment and prioritisation in the space of communication technologies. She refers to the outcome of these technologies as greater “digital coordination”; and through this, she provides a broader definition for technology. If the internet and big data allow for coordination, then institutions and organised systems (for business, government, and otherwise) are also technologies in their own right- technologies for the coordination and allocation of resources.
‘A Work Landscape in Flux for Young People’ panel.
And it is important to keep in mind that organised systems that are being disrupted today- financial markets, healthcare systems, the transportation sector, etc.- were actually major innovations in their own time that disrupted the status quo back in their day.
There is no doubt that the nature of work is being radically transformed by what Marina calls “digital coordination” technologies. But is it really a source of disruption for the nature of work?
The remaining panellists attested that young people in Egypt and Africa were choosing to delve into entrepreneurship and the growing start up culture because of two primary reasons. Firstly, there is an undoubted frustration within the youth populations where they are dissatisfied with the available economic opportunities. Fhazhil Wamalwa, managing director at Disa Energy Management, recalled how he was led to believe that a good education would result in a decent job, and how his inability to get on after his master’s degrees was a painful but necessary disillusionment.
The second factor is a deliberate and concerted effort by many to promote entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial activities as a response to the failure of the existing systems. Dina El Mofty(Injaz Egypt), and Marwa Moaz (Bamyan Media) both talked about their sustained efforts within Egypt to inspire and develop an entrepreneurial mind set.
With this context, it becomes evident that the changing nature of work, the rise of gig jobs, and the proliferation of self-employment and entrepreneurship is a response to the failure of the existing econo-political system where digital technology is less of a cause and more of an enabler.
One thing remains uncontested- the old institutions have to be reformed, and in some cases completely revised. For me personally, the key question is around the evolution of these new systems. The topic of the day seems to be around growing wealth inequality. But wealth inequality is a result of inequalities in the distribution of power- social and politcal. What’s even more troubling is the feedback effect on power from the accumulation of wealth. The 21st century has seen tremendous concentration of wealth because of a tremendous concentration in power. What can we learn from history to design new social and political institutions that distribute power rather than concentrate it?
Ahmed Abu Bakr is an MBA 2016-17, Skoll Scholar at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and Co-founder ofJeeon
Alexander Betts gave a guest lecture at the Saïd Business School entitled “Transforming a Broken Refugee System”. Audience member and Oxford MBA 2016-17 candidate, Sagar Doshi, shares the key takeaways from the talk.
When Professor Alexander Betts takes the stage at the grand Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre at the Saïd Business School, he doesn’t waste time. He just smiles at the audience and lays out his argument. His first point is a shot across the bow to the mostly European audience before him.
“Europe is not the centre of the refugee crisis today,” he asserts.
What? Really? A casual consumer of recent news might find this suspect. But Betts backs up his statement. Yes, Europe has significant problems of migration, he says, but these are primarily political and social problems. The actual challenge of dealing with refugees in Europe, while difficult, is nowhere near as acute as elsewhere.
Imagine you’re a Syrian refugee, fleeing Homs or Damascus or some other place of conflict in the civil war. Generally speaking, you have three choices:
First, you could bring your family to a refugee camp, expecting stigma and stagnation.
Second, since you are likely an urbanite yourself, you could move to another city, facing limited rights to work and a potential life of destitution.
Third, you could commit to a dangerous journey over Turkey or across the Aegean Sea into Europe.
For years, many refugees—especially from Syria—opted for the third choice. Unfortunately, this occurred just as Europe’s political situation became increasingly delicate. As nationalism and xenophobia increased among European populations, refugee policies followed suit.
Famously, Germany, took a different path. But the environment, even for Germany, was caustic. By the time Angela Merkel gave her “Wir Schaffen Das” speech, she had to make her bold stand in a very muted way: “Germany will manage,” she announced to her people and to the world. She hoped, of course, that other countries would follow suit.
They didn’t. “There was collective action failure,” notes Betts. The UK, Denmark, Austria, and Europe as a whole took pains to limit refugees, so much so that by 2016, Merkel had to make an about face. Betts reminds us that although the door to Europe hasn’t completely closed today, “it’s very difficult to cross Turkey without the right documentation.”
So far, Betts is sharing a known story. It’s a sad and unfortunate story, but it is known.
But then Betts reaches the predicate to his lecture: “We need moral clarity about who we protect and how” he says. In other words, we need to understand what refugees really, actually need and provide that.
“I would argue that there is no moral right to migrate,” says Betts. “What’s needed isn’t migration per se, but rather a safe haven, where they can get access to their most fundamental rights.”
So what provides that safe haven, and what do refugees need? For Betts, those needs come in three categories:
Rescue – safe havens in host states, basic assistance
A route out of limbo – reimagined resettlement policies, updated visa systems, spontaneous arrival as last resort
Consider where refugees get to live. Today, many refugee aid regimes conceive of refugees as living in camps. Camps can provide rescue—though those on the Turkish side of the Syrian border might contest even that point—but they typically do not offer refugees autonomy or a route out of limbo. It’s not surprising that today’s refugees often opt to avoid encampment.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees —the international organisation meant to focus directly on this population—is struggling to adapt to this new paradigm. UNHCR is not present in urban areas, even though that’s where many refugees are . Take Turkey, which is host to more refugees than any other country in the world. UNHCR supports only about 10% of refugees in Turkey. Why? Simply because UNHCR is set up to support camps, whereas most refugees in Turkey are in what Betts calls “urban or peri-urban areas.”
So what are we to do? What can governments and aid organisations change to make these situations better? For one thing, all our assumptions should be checked. For instance, many refugees aren’t necessarily looking for permanent resettlement. A large number of Syrian refugees, for example, have tried to return to areas of conflict when their home regions appeared to quiet down. Indeed, when Canand’s Justin Trudeau offered a hand of welcome to refugees in the Gulf, his government targeted those in Lebanon and Jordan. Refugees were contacted by phone and SMS to ask if they wanted to resettle to Canada. 70% of those contacted declined. They preferred to stay close to their region of origin.
The refugees of today’s conflicts are distinct from those of the past. There’s a political implication here. Today, most countries have complex and differing notions of what separates a refugee from a voluntary migrant. The 1951 Refugee Convention that gave UNHCR its mandate doesn’t provide all the answers to today’s challenges. This could be updated to reflect more modern realities of the refugee experience.
And clarifying that refugee experience is critical. Sitting with many of these refugees, Betts found that a very small number are unemployed. Many, in fact, are self-employed. They have built their own forms of autonomy and have contributed to their host country’s economy at the same time. Even governments who are wary of allowing rights to work for refugees en masse might see the benefit of taking advantage of a skilled, available population of idle workers.
Could host country governments “help refugees help themselves”? By making the refugee environment as human as possible, governments can think of refugees as a resource, rather than as a burden. If host country governments are going to organise camps for refugees, and if many refugees do live in those camps, then at least governments should provide some physical connection to the rest of society. Some properly human, interactive environment for a micro-economy to thrive. That means offering rights to work when possible, even if only on a limited basis.
This is a complex problem, and Betts doesn’t claim to offer any simple solutions. Nor is he blind to the lessons of modern geopolitics that underscore the fact that the refugee crisis and the west’s new nationalism are intertwined. But that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t possible. The 65 million forcibly displaced people—and our own consciences—demand it.
Find out more about Alexander Betts’ research and other publications.