A Special Power for Migrants & Refugees

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A Special Power MIGRANTS & REFUGEES for

A Special Power for

MIGRANTS & REFUGEES Migration is a giant tectonic force. One billion of the earth’s people have taken their lives in their hands and migrated: 244 million have moved to another country, and at least 66 million were forced to do so, with 21 million becoming international refugees. Most of this movement is hugely beneficial. In 2015, migrants contributed $6.7 trillion to the global economy, with 90 percent of that going to 25 host countries (McKinsey). And much of it is handled efficiently by airlines, employers, and many others. However, migrating from country to city or to another culture is also hard, even more so for those who had no choice. There is urgent need for reform in every step of the migrant’s journey. For decades, Ashoka Fellows on every continent have pioneered one important new reform after another to how migration works. Each of these entrepreneurs’ proven, practical social change innovations helps the others -- with everything from tools to deal with the psychological dimension to discovering new power levers to contributing to building public support. This is Ashoka’s special power at work. That power flows from the fact that Ashoka is the global community of most of the world’s truly leading social entrepreneurs and their partners. It is a community of trust and omnidirectional collaboration. The magnetic attraction of this community, much more than a network effect, is strengthening as (1) the community’s team of teams architecture grows new sinews and effectiveness and (2) the historic emergence of the “everyone a changemaker” world gives the members, especially if working together, opportunities to be midwives to big history. Here are a few examples of Fellows (1) fighting the causes, be they environmental or human, of forced migration; and (2) seeking to make transitions safe and integration successful. You will quickly see how their contributions fit together.



Environmental Push Environmental decline and failure are forcing more and more people first to suffer and then to flee. Too little water or too much, soils that are either waterlogged or hard as rock and white with salt all drive farmers and their families into the cities. Climate change and bad management are making such pushes more and more common. Biplab Paul has found a simple, strikingly economic technology that, combined with participatory grassroots management led by poor women farmers, addresses all of these problems -- ranging from standing pools that drown crops in Ghana to dried-out, hard-packed land that cannot absorb Northwestern India’s infrequent rains leading to both flooding and drought. Biplab’s solution, Bhungroo (“drinking straw” in Gujarati), is very simple. It’s a four-to-six-inch PVC pipe with filters on top and perforations, typically 60 to 110 meters below ground, which release water into porous, e.g. sandy, zones. Each such pipe drains a roughly one-kilometer area, with farmers organizing gradient channels to direct the water to the pipe. The result is no flooding Biplab Paul, India (2010)

Rewind ten years… A dusty wasteland caked with the white residue of salt stretches endlessly. When it rains, the air is not filled with the sowing song of women in the fields. Instead they are flooded with waste-deep water that makes cultivation impossible. Entire families of smallscale cultivators migrate… to cities looking for itinerate construction work.”


Arid land (top) and flooded plains (bottom) before Biplab’s Bhungroo system went to work.

and an ample pool of water stored underground that can be pulled up for use year-round by pump. This process also progressively removes the salt from the soil. This technology costs 10 percent of what a bore well would. It took Biplab several years to develop this technology. Then he focused on how to get it to become the new reality. First, he had to make it work at the village level. The key turned out to be putting the poorest women farmers in each community in the lead, backed by financing from local microfinance organizations. As Biplab says: “Yes, they can change the world … This learning and confidence are enabling them to be changemakers. They are able to think out of the box and also able to contribute in program designing.”

A second major design step came during an Ashoka Globalizer process. What Globalizer taught Biplab and his team is that Bhungroo doesn’t simply represent an innovative technology; it is an entire process of engaging smart networks, co-creating with partners different procedures for execution based on local people’s needs, and reaching the highest impact with the minimum cost. After deep reflection and in the face of a number of his colleagues fearing that they might lose control of the technology, Biplab decided to open-source his original and very successful technology. Anyone can now use it in any area of the world and adapt it to their local needs with the help of the Bhungroo team. These elements working together have in recent years allowed Biplab to expand rapidly. He is now in the program design and budgets of multiple government


Biplab and two of those leading Bhungroo in the same area, enjoying the results.

agencies and levels across India. Companies are investing. Biplab reports “we have expanded our work to all the areas where farmers are committing suicides for indebtedness.� He is active in all the drought and disaster affected areas of central, western, and southern India. He is extending his impact in several countries in Africa and in Bangladesh as well as in India -- and the demand is only increasing.

dense than other forests, and need little space to grow, which makes them easy to plant almost anywhere, including neighborhoods, schools, or deserts.

*** Shubhendu Sharma, India (2013)

Biplab has many Ashoka colleagues with highly complementary work in India and across the globe. Ashoka Fellow Shubhendu Sharma left his high-paying job at Toyota to found Afforest, which creates fast-growing, low-maintenance natural forests. With this flexible, adaptable technique, forests grow up to ten times faster than normal, are thirty times more

Afforest has planted forests in seven countries, extending from barren lands in Iran to marshy lands lower than sea level in the Netherlands. Afforest open-sources their methodology for maximum impact, and twelve cities in four additional countries have used its methods.

E N V I RO N M E NTA L PU S H Minhaj’s anion filtering approach is 100 percent effective; and it requires little or no electricity, recovers 99 percent of the input water, and only generates two percent of the (dangerous) waste produced by reverse osmosis. It is simple, it works, and it is highly economic.

Minhaj Chowdhury, Bangladesh (2010)

Ashoka Fellow Minhaj Chowdhury is dealing with another water-borne cause of people fleeing the land -- natural but deadly arsenic drawn up with groundwater. This is an acute problem the World Health Organization has called ‘the largest mass poisoning in human history’. Seventy-seven million villagers in Bangladesh alone are affected. Among its many ills, it is carcinogenic and stunts intellectual development.

Like Biplab, Minhaj’s chief challenge is how best to engage others on a very big scale. He uses a micro-franchise model facilitated by smartphones and water ATMs. He already has 200 operators in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, and India. IMPACT

“A lot of people want to change the world. Minhaj Chowdhury, cofounder and CEO of Drinkwell, is doing it.”

Human Push Humans behaving badly are also a prime cause of people fleeing. It is critical that the worst patterns of behavior be reliably and visibly punished. It’s also important to remove legal and other systemic facilitators for theft and exploitation. Andras Vamos-Goldman is making a game-changing contribution to the challenge of holding those who commit crimes against humanity and allied offenses accountable. His contribution promises greatly to increase the probability of such perpetrators being brought to justice and thereby others deterred. It is notorious that a very high proportion of those who behave in the most awful Andras Vamos-Goldman, Switzerland (2013) way towards others get away with it. This immunity of power has a terrible demonstration effect. As a result, the world has increasingly sought to articulate standards and extend the jurisdiction of courts. The most dramatic step forward was the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Originally proposed at the same time as the Bretton Woods institutions, the nation-states locked it in the attic for fifty years because it would undermine the monopoly of sovereignty that the nation-states have guarded jealously. The fact that the world finally did create it several generations later suggests the hunger for action.

Through proper investigation, and the consequent creation of accountability, JRR is challenging the individuals and groups behind the worst crimes internationally.�


JRR experts follow a victim-centered approach with victims and witnesses.

However, the ICC and other courts pursuing the same ends all face being ridiculed for being in major part ineffective because it is so difficult to marshal usable evidence. Evidence of crimes against humanity and allied offenses very commonly disappears or is destroyed quickly. Andras’s Justice Rapid Response (JRR) has stepped in as a private body to cut away this root cause of the immunity of power. His JRR gets highly trained experts to the site in hours or days rather than weeks or months. Moreover, these experts know the local scenes and languages. JRR currently has over 600 specially trained experts representing 60 different fields in all regions of the world, including hugely difficult and dangerous areas like Syria. To the degree Andras is successful, he will both be building effective deterrents to the sorts of behavior that lies

behind so much refugee flight and he’ll be breathing life into the ICC and its sister institutions and therefore building a global institution of global governance. Andras is a Hungarian/Canadian lawyer who jumped to join the ICC when it was established. He very quickly saw how urgent the need for a JRR was.

H U M A N PU S H Zadrak Wamebu was the first lawyer amongst the indigenous people of Irian Jaya (the Indonesian part of Papua). He took on the classic mechanism whereby a newly dominant group in effect takes the property of the people who were there before. The new people come with their legal system and don’t see that there is an underlying, preexisting legal system that, among other things, recognized property rights. If you don’t see the existing laws, it’s very easy to end up owning the land under your laws. Zadrak has helped the indigenous communities believe in their own rights and actively protect their land and other resources. His approach begins with analyzing and codifying the traditional laws of the clans governing land tenure and

use. He then makes them easily accessible in writing. He also develops resources that both local people and judges and administrators can use. His early work also included helping the clans to define disputed borders -- thereby helping them unite rather than fight. His training for the Irianese community and its religious leaders enable them to know and uphold their constitutional rights more broadly. Zadrak was born to the head of a small clan that has lived for 18 generations on Irian’s northern plain. As a young student, he organized and led various volunteer village community service programs. As the social crisis on the island deepened, he took on the job of having the laws serve everyone.

Transit and Welcome Once a person decides or is pushed to leave home and go to a very different place, both the journey and the welcome can either be easy or dangerous and very hard. Ashoka Fellows are changing the odds all along this life path. In the words of Flaviano Bianchini, an Italian Fellow who lived the illegal migrant’s experience moving from Guatemala City to the U.S. and then living there: “a voyage of hope from Guatemala to Los Angeles costs $8,000 a migrant and makes people smugglers rich, whereas a standard flight for the same route costs $100 and enables respectable companies to earn money.” Several days spent in a false jail designed to extract ransom was only one of Flaviano’s experiences on this route.

Fabienne Venet, Mexico (2011)

Fabienne Venet built a smart network of citizen organizations, the press, and other actors to engineer improving the rights of immigrants in transit across Mexico. One of its big successes was changing the treatment of migrant children and adolescents in transit, by incorporating them into Mexico’s general law of human rights protection for people their age, irrespective of migrant status. They also added to the law further special protections for these children and teens.

One direct consequence is that in Mexico migrant children and young people can no longer be held in detention centers for illegal or in-question migrants.

TR A N S IT A N D W E LC O M E Over the last two years, she’s also created the Regional Initiative for Labor Mobility (RILN) connecting organizations from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, the U.S., and Canada to advance the rights of temporary migrant workers. These workers are often the victims of abuse by unregulated recruiting agencies. Aided by a regional radio campaign using several indigenous languages, the Initiative surfaced many cases of abuse and translated them into a diagnosis and a design for government regulations. Fabienne and her team are currently working with the Guatemalan government in designing the regulations for temporary labor recruitment agencies.

ally with those in detention, serve as watchdogs, and use their knowledge to check abuses. They also have a national free telephone hotline for those they can’t reach or are just reaching. It handles 14,000 calls a month. Building on this knowledge base and working with others, Christina also initiates reports, class action suits, and discussions with multiple government offices and levels.

*** North of the border, Christina Fialho has been working to reform and eventually replace a far bigger detention system for those under question by the immigration authorities. (The number of people held in detention has increased more than a thousandfold since 1980.) At the heart of Christina’s strategy are 1,500 volunteers who connect person-

Christina Fialho, USA (2016)11)

Immigrants fully integrated into the workforce..1)

Like Fabienne, she is also building a more humane and far more economic and effective alternative system. Asylum seekers and others are given housing with a volunteer, legal services, transportation, and other supports along with training and door-opening. In college, Christina, the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, initiated the Friday Night Talent Show at a shelter for homeless people diagnosed with mental illness. After college, she worked for Ashoka Fellow Jane Leu’s organization, UpwardlyGlobal, which connects skilled immigrants to appropriate careers, liberating them from taxi driving. Following the home raid and subsequent detention of a friend’s father, Christina co-founded the first immigration detention visitation programs in California while in law school.


Truckers Against Trafficking member

Ashoka Fellow Kendis Paris has built the extraordinarily powerful Truckers Against Trafficking organization. Now 23 U.S. states have copied the model approach it developed with the Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency, and 453,000 (it was a quarter of a million a year ago) truck drivers have been trained to spot and intervene effectively against human trafficking. (This approach is very similar to Ashoka Fellow Dener Giovanini’s in getting the biggest bus company in Brazil to educate its staff and riders to spot wildlife trafficking.)

Hamse Warfa is showing that the use of blockchain methodology will allow migrants to build a safe, verifiable, and completely portable record based on their transactions. They can also add verified university and other records.

*** A root cause of the disempowerment of migrants, especially refugees, is that the network of relationships, and therefore knowledge about them that they had in their home community, is gone. They are unknown and have very few ways of proving who they are when they reach a refugee camp or a new country.

Hamse Warfa

Hamse conceived and is entrepreneuring this idea in no small part because of the experience he had living for three years in Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camp.

TR A N S IT A N D W E LC O M E Those on migrant or refugee journeys face psychosocial stress, some very acute stress. Working in Afghanistan, Inge Missmahl saw this every day vividly. A trained psychoanalyst, she recognized that there was a huge gap between the existing curative medical approaches and social work. She has created a culturally aware, empathetic, psychosocial approach to counseling. She recruits counselors from the ranks of those to be served, commonly migrants themselves, and trains them to consider the client’s full cultural, ethnic, and situational background and all the causes of stress so they can connect and help the patients become active participants in society again. Her approach has spread rapidly in recent years. As Germany and now Ukraine struggle with large numbers of stressed immigrants, her approach has spread rapidly in both countries.

Her counselors have treated over 110,000 people in need, and the Afghan national healthcare system has adopted her approach. More recently, she has expanded her reach through an online video platform.

‘Once you learn to tell your worries to a counselor and see it didn’t hurt you, you might have the confidence to open up to friends the next time,’ says Chahabi [a refugee-turnedpeer-counselor]. ‘It’s part of my job to motivate people to go on in their lives.’”


Jose-Pablo Fernandez with Latino parents in a participating high school.

After growing up in Mexico, Jose-Pablo Fernandez moved to Texas. There, he saw that Hispanic young people were dropping out of high school earlier and earlier. Why was this happening? He came to believe, after careful observation, that a major cause was that by late elementary school, Latino young people were losing respect for their first-generation immigrant parents, which, in turn, progressively lessened their parents’ ability to influence their kids. Jose-Pablo, in alliance with Tecnológico de Monterrey, generally perceived to be Mexico’s best university, worked out a program that would give those parents the opportunity to earn certificates and degrees from the university, doing work as much as possible in the high schools their kids should be in. This jujitsu, it turns out, was highly effective.

The idea has moved out broadly. In the words of the superintendent of Fontana Unified School District in California, “Thanks to the program, our parents are becoming role models to their children and galvanizing the community to take part in our students’ achievements.”

TR A N S IT A N D W E LC O M E Ultimately, whether or not the community to which a migrant comes will be truly welcoming makes more difference than anything else. One Ashoka Fellow, David Lubell, focuses here. His Welcoming America movement now works with more than 160 cities and towns across the country, plus pilots in Australia and Germany, to transform their communities into more welcoming places for all people, including immigrants. Welcoming America members commit to advancing and institutionalizing welcoming efforts that ensure ongoing inclusion and long-term economic and social integration of newcomers. It is a process of collaboration across the government and business sectors, and citizen and faith organizations, that deals respectfully with fears while building conscious understanding and support. The organization’s Welcoming Network provides ideas, approaches, training, resources, networking, certification, and leveraged funding for promising practices and new approaches to inclusion where everyone can thrive. The Welcoming Institute provides online and in-person training, and the Welcoming Refugees initiative offers support to ensure the success of refugees in their new communities, supported by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Local city councils have passed more than 600 policies that boost integration by accommodating second languages, facilitating ac-

cess to schools, sensitizing law enforcement agencies, and simplifying small business ownership for everybody. As every study has shown, immigrants bring energy and economic wealth. In Nashville, Tennessee, where David launched his work, there has been an $851 million growth in net business activity. In Columbus, Ohio, the figure is $1.6 billion. David is now developing a certification program ranking the most welcoming cities. Being welcoming pays.

[David Lubell] saw an opportunity for immigration to unite the city rather than divide it.� President Obama, at a 2014 town hall meeting in Nashville, Tennessee


Democracy begins with citizens taking the initiative on public problems. Ashoka Fellows are exactly the people pushing forward this frontier—both with their work and as role models for hundreds of others.” The Honorable Guido Calabresi Former Dean of Yale Law School

Ashoka is investing in the people, programs, cultures, and institutions that are supporting changemaking for the good of society.” Randall Lane Editor, Forbes Magazine

Ashoka has always been committed both to being truly global and to being open to any idea. The innovations are not ‘ours’; they come from the logic and values of leading social entrepreneurs who come from every continent and society with every imaginable perspective.”