Giving Compass’ Take:
• Research from the Migration Policy Institute explores how social innovation efforts can center migrants and refugees based on examples in Europe.
• What role can you play in driving migrant inclusion in your city?
• Learn about the role of immigrant workers in local economies.
The spike in migrant and refugee arrivals in 2015–16 marked a tipping point for many European cities’ approach to inclusion. Faced with large numbers of newcomers with complex needs, many localities were forced to experiment with new models of service provision, including working with non-governmental actors and relying more heavily on communities themselves to support the newly arrived. As a result, many cities have developed a fragile ecosystem of social innovation, made up of untraditional partnerships between government, businesses, and grassroots organizations. A number have explored innovative models of financing integration measures; inclusive strategies for engaging migrants and refugees in the design and delivery of services; creative approaches to community engagement; and human-centred, holistic service models.
As European cities begin to re-open after the lockdowns forced by the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, a major question is how they will support their migrant and refugee populations amid ongoing social distancing orders and other measures to contain the spread of the virus. In this “new normal”, cities facing rising social challenges and the difficulty of supporting vulnerable groups, all while grappling with tight budgets, may find that the social innovation infrastructure born out of the 2015–16 crisis could be the ticket to a more costeffective and politically viable response. Yet these nascent structures also risk crumbling under the tough economic situation and impending budget cuts, and much of what makes them work – personal interactions – has been rendered extremely difficult by social distancing measures. The pandemic could thus be a make-or-break moment for this innovative architecture for social inclusion. It is also a major test of European cities’ crisis resilience, and numerous lessons can be drawn from the experiences of the 2015–16 period.
Community-based reactions to the public health crisis and related lockdowns – for example, the uptick in volunteerism and forms of neighbourhood solidarity such as food drives – point to as yet untapped potential for European cities looking for innovative, whole-of-community approaches to social inclusion. In an extremely tough economic reality, some localities will have no choice but to hope that other, non-governmental actors step in to plug gaps in public services. But as the recession touches more groups, this may place pressure on the stores of social capital and goodwill on which social innovation ecosystems are based. At the same time, impending budget cuts threaten to wipe out resources that small civil society organizations need for survival.
In this rapidly changing social and economic landscape, local efforts to promote innovation for migrant and refugee inclusion will have to shift gears. In particular, cities will need to tackle the hard questions of effectiveness, sustainability, efficiency, and scalability if social innovation is to turn from a novelty into a robust tool for transforming local government. Cities can support social innovation in many ways – including by giving migrants and refugees a central role in designing the roadmap to recovery, thus moving from social innovation for inclusion to inclusive social innovation. And with civil society actors likely to face significant challenges in rebounding from the pandemic, cities may find that this is the right moment to apply the tools of social innovation within city hall – incorporating them into their institutional DNA – rather than viewing them as a prerogative of their non-governmental partners.
Cities will need to think and act strategically in the short term, resisting the temptation to sacrifice the progress achieved in recent years to the altar of new (and hasty) solutions.