Migration and refugee crisis: Is venture philanthropy reactive enough?


Andrew Milner


The short answer to this is probably ‘no’ and the long answer would probably have been the same, though the session didn’t in the end address it. Instead, three panellists presented the projects they were working on, all of which were extremely good.

Sayida Goedhoop talked of the work Stichting de Verre Bergen was doing in Rotterdam, buying houses, renting them to migrants and with the rents, providing other services to migrant communities. They had realized she said, that housing them was only the first step and this had led to a more comprehensive approach to integration, including language training. Interestingly, she noted that Stichting is learning by doing, that things were happening differently from how they had envisaged, but that they had been prepared to go with that.

Kivanc Cubucku of KOIS Invest spoke of how KOIS was using a social impact bond as a way to fund a solution to high unemployment among young migrants or children of migrants in Belgium. The bond was helping to fund mentoring project Duo for a Job between young unemployed migrants and elderly Belgians. This had a double benefit, he said, it not only helped the young people get a job, it also brought them into personal contact with a group of Belgians who otherwise would have little to do with them. In other words, it helped produce another form of integration, too. This was a striking feature of all the projects – they had a wider significance than their declared aims.

The houses bought in Stichting’s project, for instance, weren’t isolated blocks, they were among houses tenanted by Dutch families. Anticipating a difficulty, the fund had gone round knocking on doors, introducing the new families to those already in residence….and there had been absolutely no problem when the migrant families moved in. The abstraction of the ‘migrant’ did not survive personal acquaintance with migrants. The other programme was a French initiative, Refugeek, run by Simplon which was in the early stages of a programme training migrants for jobs in the digital industries. All three had success stories, all three predictably faced problems.

‘Were the graduates of the Simplon scheme not those who would have got jobs anyway?’, someone asked. What about the hard-to-reach, the illiterate? It was conceded to be a fair point, but the consensus was that you had to start small with difficult issues and get the concept accepted. Others noted the difficulty of terminology – in France and Italy, asylum seekers could not legally work. Central governments could be obstructive and bureaucratic but against that, local authorities, even on the face of it unpromising ones, could be more creative. Sayida said the local government of Rotterdam has set up a special task force, while the City of Paris had been supportive of the Refugeek programme. Others from the floor could point to successful examples of work with refugees and migrants and it was suggested that there might be a role for EVPA in cataloguing these efforts and also in beginning to frame a pan-European response or at least in charting how the land lies and where the gaps are.

What about the use of the social impact bond? How could it combine being an innovative approach with attracting investors, many of whom wanted proven ideas that would produce winners? Again, a good point… but somewhere among the questions and the detailed explanations of this or that point the question posed in the session’s title got lost. So, too did the venture philanthropy angle. It appeared here and there like a ‘will’o’the wisp’, but it’s portrait wasn’t hanging constantly on the wall. All the projects seemed to be about social enterprises and social investors and while both of these ideas feature in the venture philanthropy canon of concepts and acceptable terminology, there didn’t seem any specific venture philanthropy dimension to most of the projects – a funder taking a venture capital-style approach to an initiative. Or maybe I missed something…..

But there was a job for philanthropy to do, though, if not specifically venture philanthropy – the biggest challenge all of them, presenters and floor participants alike, face is scaling up. For that, you need investors and for them you need proof of concept…and that’s where philanthropy, of whatever complexion, comes in.

Andrew Milner is an associate editor, Alliance
Email: am@andrewmilner.free-online.co.uk

For further reading, see the Alliance March edition focusing on refugees and migration.

Tagged in: EVPA Annual Conference 2016

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