Meraki in Wonderland
First a caveat if you will as this is not the most diplomatically phrased posts, so please don’t let that put you off the other fine posts on the Meraki blog. With that said, let’s begin.
My day to day work these days finds me tunnelling down the humanitarian-development nexus. This new way of working that recognises that protracted crises requires humanitarians (like myself) and development actors to work together on collective outcomes. There is a lot to be said for the merits of taking a long term perspective at the onset of a crisis, or better yet having prepared in advance for a crisis and planning to continue to respond to it for decades. It is absolutely correct to find new ways for people to work together rather than plugging away in their respective agency or sector silos, to work more closely with States, and to avoid rolling out unsustainable parallel humanitarian systems that crumble as soon as donor interest is shifted elsewhere.
But yet, and here’s the rub, this new way of working hasn’t changed much of my way of working at all. Maybe I am an outlier, maybe I don’t just get it, maybe I haven’t read the right brochures but to my life the biggest changes are the terminology we are now expected to use, much talk of apparently broader access to new modes of ‘innovative’ financing, as well as, wondrous new partnerships with development banks and the private sector. I wonder how those people displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change on the ground feel about living in the nexus.
While the architecture of the humanitarian-development nexus establishes itself, here is a whole of system change I would like to see happen independently and concurrently; namely that responses and solutions are defined by and led by the people themselves. People are already equipped with the capabilities to network, to collectively organise, to define, demand and receive what they ask for. That seems sustainable, and dare I say it, cost effective. Exhibit A the incredible and inspiring Fridays for the Future strikes that are challenging public inactivity globally and pressuring for immediate action on climate disruption. Erica Chenoweth’s studies demonstrate that it takes circa 3.5% of a population to engage in non-violent civil resistance to topple a dictator or successfully challenge an injustice. Despite the injustices being meted out to the protestors in Sudan, they cling firmly to the demand of a civilian governments and will follow a non-violent route of civil disobedience to achieve it.
Refugees and migrants have capabilities, have skills, have desires, ambitions, wishes, but when on the move they lack, or have restricted access, to social and bridging networks that they can utilise to fulfil these abilities. Having a network that spans social and professional relationships is critical for anyone to find solace when you are alone, safety when you are under threat and access to income or work when your funds are drying up, as well as legal advice when you are detained or jailed. How can we prepare people before they move to have the right set of soft and hard skills available to them to maintain, build and develop their networks as they move? How can we support people on the move to identify threats fast, collectively organise to protect themselves and make clear demands from the systems that are purportedly there to protect them?
Education is one answer, putting migration, refugee and human rights on school curricula or providing flexible, alternative education models is one avenue. Giving people, especially young people, the hard skills in technology to remain connected and the soft skills to empathise and be creative is another. Community mobilising as part of emergency preparedness and response is a third.
Sexual violence, harassment, abuse and assault is a clear and present threat for all women, regardless or age, legal status or choice of route who have been displaced and are on the move. What are the networks that these women need to have developed in advance of travelling and what are the networks they must be aware of and build on arrival to recover from the experiences they have encountered and to prevent the same from happening to others that follow? We cannot expect to know or propose solutions to any of these questions until we have really spent time living, moving, eating with them and with the groups that purport to either support or impede them. Only with time, building new groupings of people and the move and front line workers seeking radical change can we expect to define and develop new methods of strengthening people to protect themselves.
As new frontiers in the humanitarian-development conversation open up for debate and discussion, the same economic realities sustain and maintain a system that drives rising inequality and the flows of displaced people from conflict and climate change remain unquestioned and unmoved. I see a need for supporting the strategic, coordinated and collective movements of the displaced to change that. There is one term that resonates with me in humanitarian action as I see it as closely related to freedom. It is accountability. The displaced can and should hold us accountable for the systemic failures and transgressions that forced them from their homes. We should be accountable in working with them to achieve that.