Global Development Institute Blog

On Friday, 15th December, the Global Development Institute held an online community of practice session about supporting migrant- and refugee-led organisations. Organised in recognition of International Migrants Day (Monday, 18th December), the event offered valuable opportunities for alumni, academics, and practitioners to share ideas and experiences.

The event was hosted by Natalie Cunningham (Lecturer in Leadership for Development), with Pamela Hartley Pinto (Development Practitioner and Researcher), Matthew Cramm (Economic Development Programs Coordinator), and Oliver Bakewell (Reader in Migration Studies), kicking off proceedings by sharing their initial thoughts and prompts. Later, other participants shared their own insights and perspectives on the topic.

The following blog entry details Pamela’s reflections on the community of practice and its outcomes, including key lessons practitioners and academics can use to inform their work and improve the lives of migrants and refugees across a range of localities and contexts.

In conversation with academics and practitioners, we recently explored the conditions under which migrant-led or refugee-led organisations flourish. Recognising that we wear different hats and play different roles as facilitators, filters, researchers, and stakeholders, how can we, as development practitioners, support and empower migrant-led initiatives in the context of displacement, while prioritising socio-economic inclusion with the host community?

Looking at different contexts ranging from the Venezuelan displacement crisis to rehousing refugees at the US border, how can we shine a light on migrant- and refugee-led organisations? GDI alumni are working to support displaced communities. Working in different arenas, we are collectively supporting migrants and refugees.

Some key takeaways from our current work are as follows.

Shifting the narrative from beneficiaries to allies and stakeholders

It is vital we underscore the significance of acknowledging migrants and refugees as active contributors, partners, stakeholders, and specialists, rather than passive recipients of assistance or aid, and recognising the value they can add, promoting ownership and lasting solutions.

Fostering invited spaces

Developing inclusive and participatory environments where migrants and refugees have agency and actively participate in decision-making processes is essential. This involves advocating for their inclusion in spaces where they may have been excluded previously, to ensure their perspectives and first-hand experiences are considered in decision-making processes and project proposal scenarios. By doing so, accountability, ownership, and meaningful engagement can be promoted. It is also important to co-design projects that address a specific need and involve migrants and refugees in the process.

Authentic capacity building and trust

It is crucial to recognise the importance of building sustainable, genuine capabilities in migrant-led organisations while also fostering trust among stakeholders to ensure the long-term success of these organisations and empower them to take on a leading role to promote sustainable solutions long-term.

Finding better partners from the host community and mapping and cultivating synergies with unlikely actors

Building strong partnerships and collaborations with individuals and organisations from the host community is essential to gain access to other spaces and secure endorsements from local allies who can advocate on their behalf, thereby facilitating significant engagement and nurturing a network of reciprocal support as well as exploring unexpected collaborations and partnerships with individuals or organisations that may not seem directly related to migration but can contribute positively to opening new engagement spaces.

Engaging and collaborating in different topics of interest, not just migration

Acknowledging the varied interests and skills that migrants and refugees possess beyond their migration experience is crucial in promoting a comprehensive engagement with a range of topics, such as economics, gender equality, climate change, and more. By valuing their professional expertise and recognizing that being a migrant constitutes only a fraction of their identity, we can fully leverage their diverse skill sets for the benefit of all.

By embracing narratives that see migrants and refugees as allies and stakeholders, fostering inclusive spaces that amplify their voices, and forging collaborations that transcend traditional boundaries, we pave the way for a more integrated, empathetic, and sustainable approach. As academics and development practitioners, let us continue to shed light on the resilience, resourcefulness, and innovation of migrant and refugee-led organisations.

Pamela is a development practitioner and researcher from Peru. She is an associate researcher in the Research Group on Urbanism, Governance and Social Housing CONURB-PUCP. She holds an MSc in Urban Development Planning from University College London and an MSc in International Development: Politics, Governance and Development Policy from the University of Manchester. Her areas of interest are politics, urban development, grassroots initiatives, and migration. She currently works at GIZ as a technical advisor on social protection and socio-economic inclusion.  

Are you a development practitioner interested in getting involved with discussions about improving best practices in the field? Perhaps you’re a postgraduate student or alumnus looking to start your development career and share ideas with academics and experienced practitioners? We’re planning to host further communities of practice in future and welcome ideas for topics and speakers. Please get in touch with Natalie Cunningham for further information.

Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.