#12, September 2022


Putting immigrants at the heart of the transformation of immigration systems

What if migratory movements were not the permanent crisis of our time, but instead an opportunity to build communities that are more inclusive, resilient, and supportive? What would immigration policies look like if they were designed to value and nurture the capacities of immigrants and refugees?

An interview with Hello Europe and Hola América

Positioning immigrants as agents of change and, through social innovation, encouraging them to reach their full potential: These are the core missions of two initiatives, Hello Europe and Hola América, led by Laura Batalla Adam and Marianny Pacheco, respectively. As part of Ashoka, a global network of social entrepreneurs and changemakers, these two initiatives seek to transform immigration paradigms and practices. Raccords recently had the opportunity to speak with Laura Batalla Adam and Marianny Pacheco representing both initiatives.

Raccords 12 : Placer les personnes migrantes au cœur de la transformation des systèmes migratoires - Une discussion avec Hello Europe et Hola América

Raccords: According to Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently more than 100 million refugees and displaced persons in the world. They are fleeing war and violence, as well as persecution and discrimination, and their vast numbers calls upon us to address immigration’s root causes—to propose innovative and transformative solutions for our broken system. Hello Europe and Hola América are helping to bring about systemic change in immigration. Can you talk about how you’re accomplishing this?

Laura and Marianny: Hello Europe took root in 2016, during a period marked by a massive influx throughout Europe of refugees from Syria. While the media coverage described this event as a “crisis,” what we actually observed on the ground was an unprecedented wave of solidarity. The question then presented itself to us: Were we witnessing a crisis, or were we actually seeing the emergence of a network of innovative solutions to facilitate the integration of refugees? Hello Europe was created in order to seize this opportunity to transform the paradigm of questions around immigration. Our mission, anchored in empathy—both for people who are immigrants and their host communities—is to position immigrants as agents of change enthusiastic about participating in their new communities.

Through our approach— which is described in a guide we’ve produced, by the way —we seek to sustain and amplify the impact of innovative immigration solutions which already exist on the ground. Our unique contribution is to support these different social initiatives so that they influence and positively transform the systems that frame immigration movements. This work requires, firstly, understanding and strengthening the existing ecosystem of organizations, institutions, and social innovations that address issues of immigration and integration. To take one example, Hola América—which is itself a recent scaling up of Hello Europe—has identified nearly 300 solutions deployed by entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs across Latin America. We are currently holding a series of roundtables that bring together social entrepreneurs, makers of public policy, and international organizations to discuss such topics as status regularization, labour law, and the battle against racism. These stakeholders rarely have the opportunity to sit down together at the same table to reflect on the development of social innovation-focused immigration policies. Hola América is compiling the highlights of these conversations in a guide to public-policy development. The launch is planned for the Hola América festival in Santiago de Chile this year.

A second important aspect of what we do is to accelerate the development of innovative solutions that have a high potential for systemic impact. We offer specialized coaching and mentoring to expedite the scaling of these initiatives. Sometimes we find that it is not just individual initiatives that need support, but entire ecosystems. In Europe, for example, there is no real entrepreneurship-support ecosystem designed around immigrants’ specific needs, whether it’s legal hurdles or simply opening a bank account. We’re currently working to put in place a support ecosystem rooted in social-innovation practices that would make it possible to move from an entrepreneurship of “necessity” to a truly flourishing entrepreneurial culture.

Raccords: Your organizations have identified three key challenges in moving immigration from a system of divisions to one of solutions. These have to do with changing the scale of promising innovations, rethinking public policy on immigration, and transforming dominant narratives. Let’s consider the challenge of scaling up, for instance: How do you coordinate the deployment of proven solutions in other countries? What approaches do you take to promote the scaling up of social innovations?

Laura and Marianny: A great example of our approach to scaling is the collaboration between Welcoming America and Hello Europe. Welcoming America, which was founded in 2009 by David Lubell, seeks to make American cities more welcoming—both socially and in terms of public policy—to immigrant populations. The organization accomplishes this by facilitating cooperation between leaders from the community, civil society, business, and decision-making authorities. Among other things, this cooperation makes it possible to transfer successful approaches and policies on inclusion from one host community to another. Today, more than 160 cities in the United States participate in the Welcoming America network, and this scaling-up work continues in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere.

Hello Europe’s contribution has been to help translate Welcoming America’s practices into a set of recommendations that can influence public policymaking on an international scale. This has led to a collaboration among several actors—including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—to develop the Local Inclusion Tool, an instrument which enables municipalities to assess their level of integration and inclusion. Together, we are seeking to expand the adoption of this tool around the world.

That said, there is still a need to coordinate social innovation on multiple scales because different levels of government share jurisdiction over immigration issues. In Europe, for example, the legal framework for immigration, including labour law, is primarily the responsibility of national governments. It is therefore essential that our policy work, whether with the European Union or with municipalities, takes into account this sharing of roles and powers.

Raccords: There is often a significant gap between citizen-driven innovation and the public sector. What approach do you and your community of social innovators take in order to bridge this gap? What tools and strategies do you use to get buy-in from political decision-makers? Is advocacy the only way to try to change regulations and policies?

Laura and Marianny: Hello Europe’s approach departs from more “traditional” forms of advocacy. Public policies evolve, first and foremost, through the creation and cultivation of relationships of trust with politicians. But we quickly realized that the social entrepreneurs who bring social innovations to immigration don’t know these politicians, and vice versa. In order to remedy this situation—in order to promote trust—Hello Europe acts as an intermediary between the field and the institution. In other words, we open spaces for dialogue that allow for mutual discovery. We believe that the presence of immigrants and social entrepreneurs at the table of public officials—upstream of any decision—will ultimately lead to public policies that are better and more inclusive, and adapted throughout the course of an immigrant’s journey.

In this regard, we have welcomed the recent creation of the Expert Group on the Views of Migrants. This is an advisory committee of the European Commission which includes, among others, social entrepreneurs from the acceleration program of Hello Europe. The objective is not for Hello Europe to do direct advocacy work by having a seat at the table, but instead to seat immigrants themselves at the table, at the heart of the system-transformation process. We hope to see this formula—in which immigrants and refugees participate in the decision-making process on issues pertaining to them—institutionalized and systematized within different public entities.

Raccords: You’ve highlighted the impact of popular narratives on the management of immigration challenges. You’re proposing to revise those dominant narratives in order to position immigrants as agents of change, rather than as passive subjects. How can these new narratives on migratory movements make the popular mind evolve—and even lead to systemic transformation?

Laura and Marianny: Hello Europe and Hola América are part of the Ashoka network, which brings together several initiatives to reframe public discourse on immigration. In Spain, Ashoka Fellow Gonzalo Fanjul and his organization, Por Causa, have documented the economic and fiscal contributions of immigrants in order to argue for the regularization of their status. Another Fellow in Spain, Clara Jimenez Cruz, takes action against misinformation through her organization, Maldita, by monitoring the accuracy of stories circulating on social networks on different themes, one of which is immigration.

In a complementary manner, Hello Europe and Hola América seek to transform collective narratives by providing a platform for immigrants and reinforcing their ability to tell their own life stories and highlight their own contributions. The platform Changemakers for Migration or the microdocumentary “Changing the Narrative” are examples of how we’ve given visibility to their voices. Our efforts have also contributed to the creation of a project, co-funded by the European Commission, that aims at changing current media narratives by enabling migrants and refugees to share their stories and shape the public debate.

This touches on an issue that is really at the core of our work: too often, we talk about immigrants without their actually being present, both in the elaboration of public policy and in the media space. By multiplying immigrants’ opportunities for visibility, voice, and influence, we seek to place their own narratives and perspectives at the heart of the transformation of immigration systems. Ultimately, the amplification of these new narratives contributes to the creation of systems that are more humane and inclusive—systems that value the capacities and contributions of immigrants, and are truly adapted to their needs.

Laura Batalla Adam is Ashoka’s Hello Europe Migration Policy Representative and Secretary General of the European Union Turkey Forum.

Marianny Pacheco is General Coordinator of the Hola Argentina-America Program at Ashoka Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

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