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Open Society Foundations Partnership

Concordia and the Open Society Foundations have partnered since 2016 on innovative programming dedicated to enhancing partnership efforts related to the global refugee and migration crisis. While international collaboration between the public sector, private sector, academia, and civil society has improved over the years through the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, deploying capital to support refugees, or the 2017 Global Mayor’s Summit, the forcible displacement of humans within and across borders has only increased. The world now has more refugees and migrants than ever before and, while positive interventions exist around the world at the individual level, there are major challenges faced in creating a systematic, macro-level response.

In advance of the historical adoption of the Global Compact for Migration and Global Compact on Refugees (hereafter “Global Compacts”), planned for December 2018, Concordia partnered with the Open Society Foundations (OSF) for a number of high-level sessions designed to identify proactive and impactful roles for the private sector and municipal governments in the implementation of both Global Compacts. These sessions took place at the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit in New York City in September 2018. The below reflects key findings from the discussions that Concordia and OSF co-hosted.


Growing recognition around the world that the policies of national governments are falling short of providing adequate, coordinated support and protection for the large number of refugees and migrants globally has prompted a rethink on the role of unconventional policy actors: the private sector, city governments, and local communities around the world can achieve meaningful strides through leveraging their unique capabilities and responsibilities. Increasingly, as far too many national governments turn inward in response to high flows of migrants and refugees, there is a growing need for these new actors to elevate their engagement. To meaningfully address the scope of the challenge and opportunity, cities, companies, and communities must consider what their capacity is towards scaling different impact models, sharing best practices, encouraging diverse entities to work together, contributing their unique expertise, and influencing national- and global-level policy.


City Leadership on Supporting Refugees and Migrants

As much of the world faces the broad range of policy implications brought on by the continuing refugee crises and increasing numbers of migrants, a discussion has emerged on the role local government can play on this international issue. Especially as national-level policies stall, the question of city leadership is an important one. The 2018 Concordia Annual Summit (hereafter “Annual Summit”) brought together city leaders from around the world to share learnings on their motivations to step up and explore what can be done at the municipal level. The conversations made clear that cities, as global centers of migration, have started to look to each other for support politically and to share ideas for how to best address migration challenges. There is a call for increased collaboration. Further, both the private and nonprofit sectors can assist city governments in cultivating more welcoming and productive environments for all city dwellers regardless of their immigration status.

Individual jurisdictions have significant capacity to affect wider outcomes by setting an example that other cities could follow. Throughout the discussion, the innovative practices and collaboration being deployed by U.S. cities was a frequent conversation point. With national-level policies on immigration and refugees divisive, local governments have assumed more responsibility. Seemi Choudry, Director of Office of New Americans, City of Chicago, stressed that it is “incumbent on mayors to increase their level of support on the symbolic and policy level towards the immigrant and refugee population.” In line with this thinking, cities around the country have stepped up, with national coalitions emerging of cities working together and sharing best practices in offering an array of key services to immigrants, such as healthcare and legal support. On family separation in particular, city leaders, as expressed by Liora Danan, Chief of Staff for Immigrant Affairs, City of NY, “know [they’re] on the front lines on this work,” and have stepped up accordingly. In New York, for example, the city partnered with the Lumos Foundation to coordinate its response on health and other assistance, and also allocated $4.1M to help children at risk of deportation with legal representation.

Foundational to the dialogue was an agreed-upon sense of responsibility of mayors towards people living in their cities, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. Cities can foster inclusive environments and defend the human rights of local populations. Many cities around the world, including some of those represented in the dialogue, have do not differentiate between documented and undocumented migrants, despite national policies that do. In terms of social services and education, some cities have adopted a non-discriminatory approach and in the United States, major cities like Los Angeles and New York have engaged in a parallel process of refugee protection, which was urged to be expanded to a global level.

A call was made from multiple participants for more collaboration amongst cities to elevate their voice and contribute city innovations to the international migration policy debate. The 5th Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development in Marrakesh in December 2018 provided an opportunity to advance these contributions. Cities furthermore discussed the Marrakech Mayors Declaration which added cities voice to the commitments following the GCM and was delivered by Mayor Valerie Plante to the Intergovernmental Conference. The Mayoral Forum also featured the launch of the Mayors Migration Council, a new initiative to help cities around the world engage in international diplomacy concerning migration.

++ Marrakech

Mayors and senior city executives from across the globe participated in the 5th Mayoral Forum on Human Mobility, Migration and Development (“Mayoral Forum”) in Marrakech, Morocco on 8 December 2018. Launched in 2013, the Mayoral Forum is the annual global gathering for municipal and regional leaders on migration, development and displacement, supported by local, regional and international partners. 

The 2018 Mayoral Forum took place during “UN Migration Week” in Marrakech, and is entitled “City Leadership in Implementing the UN Global Compacts”.

“UN Migration Week” concluded a two year process in which the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was negotiated and agreed. It culminated with the UN Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration from 10-11 December where the GCM will be endorsed.

70+ city representatives, over half at the mayor level, attended to discuss local implementation and leadership towards the GCM and GCR.

At the Forum, mayors celebrated the launch of the Mayors Migration Council, a new initiative to help cities have their voices and interests reflected in international deliberations and policies concerning refugees and migrants. The objective of the MMC is to empower and enable cities with knowledge, connections, and technical assistance to engage in migration diplomacy and policy making on a regional and international level.

Numerous mayors attending the Annual Summit cited their city’s history and immediate need to deal with all of their inhabitants as being particularly influential in their decisions to preserve and guarantee rights for refugees and migrants. Despite constituent preferences and city legacies, we were reminded that cities operate within a broader national context, and that sometimes those policies do not align. For many municipal leaders in the U.S., the federal government’s unsupportive policies toward migrants and refugees proved to be a catalyst for stepping up their role, as evidenced by the City of Atlanta: for Hon. Keisha Lance Bottoms, it was partly Atlanta’s internationalism and partly a consideration of Atlanta’s long history of leading on civil rights as the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. that helped drive her administration to end Atlanta’s involvement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including the ultimate forfeiture of a long-standing $7M contract. This decision was made in response to the recent wave of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the lack of adequate guarantees that victims of the separations would not be placed in Atlanta facilities, illustrating the power of city governments to engage in a national dialogue.

Another driver of city leaders’ intense focus on the migration issue is the fact that cities can be understood in terms of being first responders in the face of migration. In a way, it is only natural for cities to lead in supporting newcomers because they are their residents, neighbors. Further, cities are often ground zero for many significant refugee- and migrant-related risk factors, ranging from environmental crises to political instability, economic volatility, and violence. It is a paradox then that, as several participants reminded us, mayors are often at the receiving end of national policy issues, rather than driving the discourse and agenda.

The unique role of cities in this context signal two important points. First, cities must have systems in place that enable access to services, foster solidarity, and create partnerships for a sustained, local response for everyone. They cannot rely on top-down support from the federal level. Second, city leaders must work to collaborate and influence national and international policymaking, so they are helping drive — not just receiving — policy. The more mayors can be given a platform on a national and global level, the more influence over broader policy they will gain.

++ 2017 Global Mayors Forum: A Look Back

In 2017, Concordia and OSF joined the City of New York and Columbia University’s Global Policy Initiative to host a historic Global Mayors Summit on Migration and Refugee Policy and Practice. Over the course of three days, city level leadership from the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Latin America joined thought leaders from the public, academic, and private sectors to discuss local solutions and city-level opportunities in response to global migration and refugee challenges.

In the 12+ months since the Summit, the network has reconvened virtually and in-person to advance statements and pledges of commitment and solidarity in the wake of national and international decision making related to refugees and migrants.

Cities of Migration

As cities around the world become more global, they also have to deal with challenges related to emigration and return. By fostering a better, safer life for those residents at home, the imperative to embark on, often dangerous, journeys to other countries can be reduced.

Noting that each year about 5,000 people from Freetown leave Sierra Leone to make the journey to the West, Hon. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr highlighted the fact that many migrants face great perils in trying to get to Europe, sometimes ending up dead or beaten. Working with public-private partnerships, she is leading the Freetown City Transformation Plan, a four-year plan prioritizing the environment, employment especially for young people, sanitation, and transportation in order to mitigate some of the drivers of emigration and “change the story of our city,” in her words. Through the efforts of working groups drawing from the private sector, national and local governments, community stakeholders, and NGOs, along with the creativity of young people, Freetown has been fostering greater human development. In order to continue guiding this process, appropriate structures and platforms for collaboration must continue to be put in place.

++ Partnerships for Socioeconomic Integration

The Freetown City Transformation Plan is working to show citizens of Freetown, as well as diaspora, the value of their taxes. Through innovative partnerships with digital payment and telecommunication providers, the City utilizes mobile payment mechanisms to collect taxes. This has led to an increase in tax collection of over 300%. The results have been directly felt by Freetown citizens in the form of enhanced service delivery, including flood prevention and protection and improved city sanitation systems. The aspiration behind this platform and strategy is to enhance the quality of life for Freetown citizens with an impact on emigration.



The Private Sector’s and Local Communities’ Support for Refugees and Migrants

Driven similarly by the deficit in adequate national government policy, the private sector is also increasingly seen as an innovative stakeholder that can contribute to tangible social and economic impact for migrants and refugees. Discussion at the Annual Summit on practical steps the private sector can take in this area congregated around three main areas: community-based refugee sponsorship, impact and human capital investment, and corporate advocacy. At the Annual Summit, discussions brought together leaders and recipients of all three discussion areas for a candid overview of what works, what should be scaled, and why these solutions have yet to be widely adopted.


Community Sponsorship of Refugees

Canada has demonstrated notable leadership in designing and deploying a community-based refugee sponsorship model, and through the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (hereafter “GRSI”) is supporting the development and implementation of similar sponsorship programs around the world.

Community sponsorship programs empower individual citizens to welcome and integrate refugees in their own, local communities. In most systems, sponsors provide for the sponsored refugees’ basic needs like finding housing, orienting them to their new community and country, and providing emotional and moral support. In some cases, sponsors must also fundraise to cover some of the costs of resettlement. At a time of overwhelming global need, community sponsorship can help increase the availability of resettlement by engaging communities directly to resettle refugees. The very direct and personal interaction between sponsors and sponsored refugees results in quicker and better integration outcomes for refugees.

Examples of the benefits of community engagement for both refugees and local communities were highlighted during the Annual Summit. A point of emphasis from Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, was Canada’s “whole-of-society approach” to community sponsorship and local immigration partnerships, encompassing employers, municipalities, settlement organizations, and other members of the host community. Community leaders, sponsors, and beneficiaries from around the world were at the table to share their experiences from a variety of perspectives, including how sponsorship can help address the global context; how workplaces can be leveraged to directly engage in sponsorship;   strategies for community advocates to encourage governments to set up new programs locally and globally; and the advantages of sponsorship from a beneficiary’s perspective.

Professor Jennifer Bond, Chair of the GRSI articulated that “Sponsorship at its core is about very deep empowerment of individual citizens, it’s about trusting people in our communities to do the hard work of welcoming and integrating newcomers, not as someone who’s outside of them … but as a partner.” Deeply related to this, refugee sponsorship enables communities to channel their compassion. In fact, it even strengthens these communities through mechanisms including responsibility sharing and the social cohesion that results from building networks around the newcomers. This local community development has the capacity to influence national-level policies toward refugees as well, as local constituencies that grow around support for refugees will put pressure on higher levels of government.

++The Influence of Positive Outcomes on Policy

A recent survey found that nine million Canadians report a connection to the refugee sponsorship program over the past two years; while traditional resettlement programs typically involve a tiny fraction of citizens. Overall connection to the sponsorship program is most evident in Ontario and Atlantic Canada (36% in each case).

Individuals who participated in the community sponsorship program are in many respects reflective of the broader Canadian population. 82% of Canadians believe that their country can make a difference in global migration and refugee issues, and consider it the most important contribution their country can make to the world. Citizens expect the government to reflect their values, which is why refugee sponsorship has support across Canada’s political spectrum.

Canada also enjoys positive outcomes for refugees, which also helps to contributes to the wide-ranging support for its sponsorship program. Statistics Canada reports that the children of refugees and other newcomers outperformed children with Canadian-born parents in terms of high school completion and university completion. Another Statistics Canada analysis shows that a majority of migrants, including refugees, have a strong sense of belonging to Canada. Research on the Canadian community sponsorship  model specifically has shown that refugees resettled with the help of community sponsors also have very positive integration outcomes. For example, Statistics Canada has reported that within five years of arrival, seventy percent of sponsored refugees were earning employment income. A further analysis reveals that twenty years after arrival (1993-2013 cohort), the median income of privately sponsored refugees was higher than the median Canadian income.

There is also considerable consensus that Canada’s model could be successfully scaled to other regions. The United Kingdom, Argentina, and New Zealand are implementing community sponsorship programs, and Germany, Ireland and Spain are designing models of their own. Earlier this summer, ministers responsible for immigration six countries issued a statement fully endorsing the concept of community-based refugee sponsorship and inviting other countries to join them in adopting similar programs. According to GRSI, over twenty other countries, including Australia, are exploring the feasibility of community sponsorship within their own contexts. The Migration Policy Institute, has also called for the European Union to support private sponsorship for refugees, and the feasibility of sponsorship programs in Europe was recently confirmed in a report by the European Commission.

Community sponsorship is a powerful tool to counter the negative rhetoric stemming from political polarization and migration-related anxieties across the world, as it repositions citizens from passive onlookers to active participants investing in the sponsored refugees’ success. These sponsors in turn form a new constituency deeply invested in refugee issues.   —


Business Sector Investments

Businesses continue to be a leading actor in developing solutions to economic opportunity for refugees as well. According to a Tent Foundation report, investing one Euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two Euros in economic benefits within five years. Although refugees represent a largely untapped talent pool, there are initial investments that must be made before they can become resilient and reclaim their full livelihood. Among them are language competencies and lack of industry recognition/standardization of refugee skills and background that do not directly translate into the qualifications laid out in the existing system. Promising solutions are in place to address these obstacles, such as Google E-Certifications, upscaling & training programs, and inclusion initiatives at large companies like Starbucks and Wework. Still, more diverse strategies and a broad change in workplace culture is necessary to make further strides which is why encouraging welcoming initiatives at the workplace is a good place to start

To develop sustainable and impactful solution sets, policy transparency and consistency is key. Some destination countries, such as Jordan, experience lack of clear guidance regarding the policy environment surrounding refugees, compounding confusion and dissuading private sector leadership. The Annual Summit called on full-of-society engagement in the policy process to address these challenges.


Investing in Solutions

Technology can play a role in reducing barriers for refugees as well. Mobile access has become an essential part of refugee communities, with 90% of all living in mobile coverage. Representatives from the telecommunications industry characterized mobile access as essential to refugees’ economic and general wellbeing. However, policy barriers such as complexities with ID documents hamper mobile access and financial inclusion, making further collaboration with governments to address this policy area needed. Some countries, like Germany, have developed a database that is capable of sorting refugee candidates based on qualifications as well as more accessible training in language or skills, accelerating and improving the job placement process. Blockchain technology is also being considered as an innovation that can address challenges related to documentation, service delivery, and employment.


Rising Corporate Advocacy

With evident roles for the private sector in facilitating sponsorship, investing in individuals and solution sets, and giving voice to the issue, the session also noted that there is motivation for more companies to join the movement: consumers are increasingly conscious of social issues and apply pressure on corporations to take a stance on debates such as the refugee crisis. In short, corporate activism can be good for business. As evidence, Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber Shandwick, cited that 77% of Americans believe CEOs have a “responsibility” to say something when their values are under fire. There is emerging talk from prominent private sector corporations linking their decisions to speak up about issues like family separation and the travel ban to a “values-driven” approach to their business, with positive consumer reaction.

++Uber Family Reunification

U.S. federal policies over the summer resulted in the separation of over 3,000 families at the border and across the United States due to asylum status. In partnership with FWD.us, Uber and other transportation companies (to include United Airlines and Lyft) spoke publicly on this issue, and also donated transportation in support of family reunification. Uber also donated meals (via UberEats platform), and $1000.00 to the Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) legal fund, which represents unaccompanied migrant children in court.

In an age where political polarization is robust and social media is prevalent, public-facing CEO activism in general is a growing trend. Although some political leaders are taking polarizing stances, insightful and actionable analyses of public opinion can help corporations communicate on these sensitive issues. Their close ties to consumers, workers and supply chains grants the private sector unprecedented opportunities to step up, as they did during the corporate response to the travel ban or when investors held corporations accountable during the family separation crisis. However, not every company who wants to help knows how to, making it critical to showcase the important work being done by private sector actors as examples and for knowledgeable groups to invite interested companies to the table to discuss opportunities and best practices.


The Importance of Partnerships Between Different Sectors

As we consider the ways in which the private sector, municipalities, and communities can contribute to supporting refugees and migrants in alignment with their individual strengths and competencies, it is imperative to consider ways in which they can work together, as well. Especially as the private sector looks for ways it can add value overseas, the importance of forming partnerships with smaller local nonprofit groups cannot be overstated. These groups often have a much better understanding of how to deal with a humanitarian crisis than international NGOs, but are chronically underfunded and face capacity challenges.

As an example, when the Greek government transferred over 4,000 refugees out of their makeshift camp at Idomeni into a variety of dilapidated and dangerous warehouses and tented camps, lacking facilities, — a Canadian businessman and philanthropist Frank Giustra and his partners launched the Elpida Home Project. The partners rented a factory approved by the Greek government – then worked with local groups and the refugees themselves to renovate the facility to living standards. They then set up adequate security and medical services for the refugees. Finally, they worked with local partners to develop social and educational programs.  Combining the advantages of a business-minded approach to solving social problems, while utilizing local expertise and knowhow, the private sector can play a key role in elevating the conditions of refugees and migrants in need.

Similarly, even as cities have a unique responsibility and ability to drive impact, there are many opportunities for both the non-profit and private sector to provide assistance for municipalities in dealing with immigrants and refugees.

An important question is how the international community and private sector can support cities that are dealing with large numbers of refugees yet possess fewer resources. Cities such as Kampala, Uganda have hosted refugees for decades despite their own internal political instability. Partnerships are forming that show the financial, as well as insight or reputation, value of the private sector against these challenges. Even cities in wealthier countries like the U.S. face financial shortages, opening the door for advice from companies with a knack for resource efficiency. This is where various task forces that are being instituted, which bring together the business community, nonprofit groups, and city governments, can play a robust role.

Secondly, investments in immigrant communities can be made by bringing in philanthropists from the business realm, especially as it relates to supporting detained persons, particularly children, and refugees. Throughout the discussions, city governments recognized the significant power public-private partnerships can have in improving opportunities and access for migrants and refugees in need, as well as defending human rights. The question becomes a matter of how city governments can draw in more private sector investments to launch various programs that can offer a wide range of badly needed services to vulnerable people. The most pressing areas where assistance is needed are access to legal attorneys, education, and healthcare.

Creative ways to engage the private sector should be encouraged. Within cities, community organizations too can help provide the backbone of investments in immigrant communities. They can afford to take larger risks when experimenting with new integration initiatives and are operating at the level of residents.


  • Cities can set positive examples for one another by showing initiative in providing better support and protection to migrants and refugees. They can consider signing commitments of solidarity, such as the #WithRefugees global statement of city solidarity.
  • Addressing the underlying drivers of migration is essential to complement a longer term solution to the risks faced by migrants and challenges faced in their host communities.
  • Many cities in the Global South are as affected by international migration as the US and Europe, which are more usually seen as the countries of destination. These developing cities can offer valuable expertise on socioeconomic integration programs and partnership development.
  • Local nonprofits and other civil society groups, and especially migrants, are integral actors to incorporate into partnerships, given their greater understanding of local circumstances, implementation obstacles, and opportunities on-the-ground.
  • Beyond its business acumen, the private sector adds important experience in entrepreneurship and innovation that can help solve problems and improve outcomes for refugees.
  • Community sponsorship, as deployed in countries like Canada, can create returns for refugees and their receiving communities, and also offers a model that can be applied in other regions.
  • More collaborative work needs to be applied toward reducing the barriers refugees face in entering the workforce in countries they enter, starting with language training when necessary.
  • Companies should be encouraged to demonstrate activism on issues like refugee protection and migrant rights, which includes connecting them to advice on opportunities for engagement.
  • Mayors should continue working together with each other to share best practices on a municipal policy-level, as well as collaborating to influence national and global policymaking. They can participate in convenings like the Mayoral Forum on Human Mobility, Migration and Development (“Mayoral Forum”)  to share their progress and challenges in real time.
  • Cities with large migrant and refugee populations can and should play a leading role in advocating for better migration governance around the world.
  • Cities can be more effectively prepared to respond to and take care of influxes of migrants and refugees with the help of partnerships with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and NGOs, which each bring a different perspective and skillset to the table.

While the above reflects a summary of key discussion themes and calls to action, it is not a consensus document reflecting the views, attitudes, or opinions of all session participants. Further, additional research was applied to the above as necessary.


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