I had the fortune recently to attend the 19th Grantmakers East Forum in early October, focused on migration. I consider myself fortunate, because while I know the conversations I have at GEF are always helpful, the programming that I now work on does not relate explicitly to migration issues – or such was my fear in asking my manager to endorse a trip to Sicily!
But in keeping with the GEF motto of ‘learn, reflect, connect’, that’s exactly what I was able to do. Through the presentations and conversations, I quickly saw how our programming – working to modernize library systems to better serve their public – relates quite directly to the conversation that is happening within circles more squarely focused on the arena of migration.
As our grantee partners from Novateca Moldova and FRSI Poland astutely conveyed in their own conversations at GEF, libraries are a huge contributor to ensuring that we accomplish the ‘triple win’, which posits that migration can actually benefit not just the individual who moves, but the community left behind, the community receiving the newcomer, and employers too, due to various ripples that occur with mobility.
The value proposition of modern libraries is a combination of people, place and platform – a trusted institution where new community members navigate information needed to land well; where families can connect with loved ones abroad; and where people can gain skills needed to improve their prospects, wherever they find themselves. In this equation, libraries serve as drivers of development. With technology incorporated into library services built to address clear community needs, libraries provide a robust environment that can help facilitate best outcomes for all.
I left this year’s meeting hopeful that people doing great work to improve the process of migration will further explore libraries as a potential partner. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested deeply through the Global Libraries program to help transform the library systems of Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Ukraine into what are now robust and dynamic information environments. Our work in Moldova continues through 2018 and we’re just getting started in Turkey. The libraries in these countries – and the institutions that support them – are ready to partner with public and private stakeholders to serve community needs.
Melissa Pailthorp is senior program officer, Global Development, Global Libraries, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.