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Social Innovation for Refugee Inclusion

A seminar to discuss strategies of refugee inclusion and propose innovative and collaborative solutions was organised in Brussels on 12-13 September by the European Council of Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the United States Mission to the EU, the Council of Europe and its network of Intercultural cities, the Economic and Social Committee and the Canadian Mission to the EU.

Held over two days, the seminar promoted exchanges between more than 250 social innovators, representatives of NGOs, local authorities, businesses and service professionals in order to create stronger local partnerships between public/private sectors and increase the involvement of refugee communities in integration actions.

All the initiatives presented, as well as the lessons learnt and conclusions, can be found in the conference report. In a nutshell, for societies to become really inclusive, innovation is needed at all levels (political, administrative and grass-roots). Innovation not only as an idea leading to a “project”, but first and foremost as a vision of how people and institutions should collaborate in order to put in place processes that can lead to real systemic change. Social innovation initiatives presented during the seminar, if scaled up with the support of institutions, could become a tool for systemic change.

Furthermore, a key success factor for refugee inclusion is the recognition that refugees themselves know best their needs and can effectively spread information within their respective communities. When traumatised and destitute people arrive, it is normal to care for and help them, but it is also easy to forget that they also have skills, resources and desire to shape their own destiny. On the other hand, innovation, especially through technology, can significantly reduce the threshold for refugees taking part in society. Innovative initiatives which rely on refugees as key actors and promoters demonstrate the diversity advantage and show the win-win within power sharing, reciprocity and cultural/social symmetry within the community.