Social innovation could help build public trust in refugee integration, MPI Europe report finds
BRUSSELS — Three years on from the European migration and refugee crisis, hundreds of community-led ideas, practices and partnerships have emerged that offer new ways to help newcomers settle into their new countries and cultures. Many of these—such as co-housing schemes that pair newcomers with local families or individuals of similar age, or mentoring programs that match retired professionals with newly arrived refugees—offer a "win-win," by building social ties among different groups and facilitating economic integration.
But many initiatives have failed to deliver on their promise. As the intense public interest in refugee matters that followed the crisis has calmed, the social innovation field is at an inflection point, and it is unclear whether these new solutions will outlast the hype, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe report finds.
"At its most ambitious, social innovation could sow the seeds of a more efficient yet fundamentally human approach to integration, one that better meets the needs of newcomers and members of receiving communities, who gain a sense of stake in the integration process," write authors Liam Patuzzi, Meghan Benton and Alexandra Embiricos. "But the field as a whole has yet to deliver."
The report, Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion: From bright spots to system change, distills knowledge and recommendations from a series of convenings, advisory board meetings and informal discussions with representatives from governments, civil society, social entrepreneurs and the private sector. These activities occurred under the auspices of the Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion conference, a platform for exchange of ideas since 2016 co-organized by MPI Europe, the Canadian and U.S. Missions to the European Union and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
Overall, social innovation initiatives have been successful in counteracting government blind-spots and biases, developing new ideas and technologies to integrate migrants, tailoring needs to local communities, engaging refugees and migrants themselves and offering market-led solutions to the social challenges of immigration.
However, many efforts have failed because of lack of funding, shifting focus or rapid creation without attention to what solutions were already in place. "The tech community, in particular, saw hundreds of innovators competing for attention and resources, with some intent on disrupting 'existing' structures and creating something from scratch, rather than collaborating with government, humanitarian organizations or one another for incremental change," the authors note.
They identify areas that demand greater attention from civil-society organizations, tech start-ups, social enterprises, NGOs and the private sector to fulfill social innovation’s promise of refugee inclusion:
- It is not enough to be innovative. To be effective, partnerships between actors with different institutional cultures and uneven power dynamics require clear communication, a shared vision and agreed-upon division of labor.
- The best story is not necessarily a sign of effectiveness. Successful assessment and evaluation of social innovation initiatives is lacking, and there is a limited understanding of what to measure, when and how.
- Plugging the gaps. Social innovation often falls through the gaps of traditional public and private funding, and new funding models, for example social impact bonds, must be developed, particularly for grassroots initiatives.
- Growing and spreading good ideas. Whilst platforms proliferated after the migration crisis to encourage exchange between stakeholders of all stripes, most have struggled to promote more in-depth conversation.
Amid a significant backlash to migrants and refugees, initiatives that engage communities could hold the key to rebuilding public trust. But the authors caution that most social innovations have been preaching to the converted. To generate greater value, they will need to have greater reach—including to geographical regions more unused to or skeptical of social and cultural change.
And in the decades to come, European societies will have to grapple with a number of fundamental structural challenges—from changes in the world of work to new pressures on housing and health-care systems. Much will depend, the authors conclude, on governments’ ability to build on and extend the reach of the current surge in innovation, and to make the case that "innovation for refugee inclusion can be innovation for all."
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MPI Europe provides authoritative research and practical policy design to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders who seek more effective management of immigration, immigrant integration and asylum systems, as well as better outcomes for newcomers, families of immigrant background and receiving communities throughout Europe. MPI Europe also provides a forum for the exchange of information on migration and immigrant integration practices within the European Union and Europe more generally. For more, visit www.mpieurope.org.