In order to address unique challenges that we, migrants and refugees face in our attempts to be meaningfully included and lead our lives with dignity, Migrants Organise developed a new model of organising, which draws on several traditions and is combined with movement building and service provision to make sure refugees and migrants receive the support they need so as to re-establish their lives in their countries of arrival.
This is an organic, bottom-up, and long-term approach to leadership development and therefore social change. Our theory of change is based on an approach that is both organised and strategic, seeking to change prevailing power dynamics by influencing public discourse, changing policy, and reshape core societal values. We believe this is the only way to deliver long-term meaningful integration for refugees and migrants and restore their basic rights and dignity.
We had to develop our own organising methodology to address the unique situation faced by migrant and refugee communities in the United Kingdom. From our work with communities, we have found that existing approaches to organising are often not designed for migrant communities or the particular circumstances in which they organise. Hence, our approach has developed from three key sources:
Along with our long-standing capacity building and advocacy experience, this has enabled us to create a context-specific approach to organising attuned to the needs of migrant communities. Our experience testing different approaches provides us with exceptional insight into how universal tools combine with diverse traditions and contexts to create long-term change.
The training that Migrants Organise provides is designed for migrant, refugee and BAME organisers and their communities working to bring about social change themselves, making sure that those directly impacted and struggling for justice, dignity, and equality are at the heart of the movement for change.
As the restrictive policies against refugees and migrants and the dehumanising public discourse have led to an increase in hate speech and attacks, grassroots engagement, including traditional, consultative, and capacity building, are not sufficient to secure basic rights and protect equality.
For this, our training pays special attention to media and communications, advocacy, and policy work within a frame of organising that focuses on creating sustained community structures for engagement in civic life.
Through our organising training and work we will:
Migrant and refugee leaders organising for change are not merely members of a particular immigrant group, or those with a particular immigrant experience, education or class. Rather, the qualities required for leadership are a rootedness in the community based not only on their social capital but also their social and emotional intelligence and willingness to take action.
This is the ability to connect in a relational way with their community and with wider society and an ability to listen and co-design actions with their communities in a relational, accountable, and strategic manner. Our training programme focuses on embedding these basic relational skills to enable leaders to enhance their community work and alliance building.
We call our training an action planning, which is delivered as part of a longer-term collaborative engagement with community leaders through one-to-one mentoring. Our regional organisers, working across five regions in the UK, are establishing long-term working relationships with migrant communities and utilising training to consolidate information as part of a bespoke programme to develop skills.
Our training is delivered by migrant organisers and leaders with practical and personal experience of migration, integration, and organising. Some have achieved significant policy change, such as ending the detention of children for immigration purposes in the UK. Each training is designed according to the needs of participants. A typical training covers the following:
Understating Power. What is power? Who has the power to influence a change? How to conduct power analysis and problem-issue analysis –how to break down overwhelming issues such as poverty, inequality or racism into manageable and actionable local actions that have relevance and resonate with leaders and their communities. How to win campaigns: build alliances, grassroots organising, and electoral organising.
Role in the Community. The training challenges participants about how we speak with, engage, and organise in our communities. What is our role as advocates, organisers, and leaders? What is the difference between organising for/with communities? How do we make sure fair representation, accountability, and equality within our communities?
Relational, Universal Value of Organising. How to conduct one-to-one meetings? Develop story of self, us, and now – how personal issues of individual members, when shared, become a public concern and how these can be formulated and actioned in the community and wider society to increase understanding, change values, and influence policy in a strategic and organised way. This module includes strategies for listening within the community, in a manner that goes beyond consultation and representation, by focusing on building legitimacy and accountability of leaders within their communities and wider society.
Building Alliances. How to develop a personal and strategic relationship with someone we don’t agree with. Building common ground does not require ideological agreement on all counts. Combining services, advocacy, campaigning, movement building and organising. How to work with and not for?
Communication Skills and Strategies. Both internal and external. Developing messages, capacitating and supporting spokespersons, and working with mainstream media as well as using social media.
Planning and Evaluation. How to plan and evaluate strategies and action? Build skills and create strategies to develop leaders and their communities. How to engage communities in planning and evaluation?
Established in 1993, Migrants Organise has accrued substantial experience in training community leaders across the UK and in Europe. Leadership development is embedded into all of our organising and community work. In addition to the individual experience of our staff (Please refer to the trainer profiles), below is a brief summary of some our most recent training experiences in the UK and Europe:
Since 2014 we have delivered this training to more than 200 leaders in the UK.
We are founders of the Transatlantic Migrant Democracy Dialogue, where we work in partnership US-based immigrant organising coalitions and EU grass roots organisations and have delivered leadership training for 80 migrant and refugee leaders from 26 EU countries and delivered training sessions at the US immigrant organising convening in Nashville 2016, Arizona 2017 and Arlington 2018.
Our CEO and Campaigns Officer provide training for migrant communities across the UK as a part of our organising model. They have trained and mentored more than 200 refugee and migrant community leaders in London, Northern Ireland, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Hull, Halifax, Hastings, Cambridge, Leeds etc. Additionally, each regional Migrant Organiser provides specific training and skills development for leaders in their area on an ongoing basis.
Since its inception, Migrants Organise has been part of EU wide networks on refugee and migrant rights. In addition to our strategic advocacy work in the UK, we have worked with our MEPs to ensure our voices are heard in the democratic institutions in the EU.
We took part in two EU wide projects –Light On project against hate speech online and Together in Europe, both working in partnership with organisations in other EU countries to address different aspects of integration experience of immigrants.
Our work was featured as a model of good practice in urban integration in ENAR’s toolkit. More recently we helped to launch Ben and Jerry’s EU wide campaign on resettlement, which is another example of building alliances with the ‘unusual suspects’, in this case, an ice-cream business with a social mission.
We have also been on the frontlines of some of the responses to the refugee crisis, for example, collaborating on civil society and policy responses as well as legal challenges in relation to the crisis in Calais. This has engaged our staff in site visits to France and Greece and collaboration with international and regional bodies in ensuring an adequate response to the unfolding crisis.
More recently, we collaborated on a transnational initiative to share learning on civic participation and integration between cities in the United States of America and in Europe and co-designed a pilot training with colleagues from Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix, Nashville, Dublin, Athens, and Helsinki. Migration, especially to cities, will pose challenges for the UK, regardless of its status within the EU.
We are keen to cross-fertilise knowledge and models of good practice of integration in urban areas. What we have learned so far is that despite differences in migration patterns and or national or regional policies, cities have more in common in patterns and challenges of integration of migrants and refugees and that these similarities transcend national frameworks
Zrinka Bralo, Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, is involved in the delivery of training and organising. She has been organising with Citizens UK for 10 years, prior to her 2014 Churchill Fellowship in the US where she trained with immigrant organising collations in 10 states.
The experience she brought back from the USA inspired the process of change internally that lead toward the shift in Migrants Organise’s strategic approach.
Zrinka has an MA in Community Organising from Queen Mary University of London and an MSc in Media and Communications from the London School of Economics.
Zrinka is a former journalist and a refugee from Bosnia, and has been outspoken campaigner for refugee and migrants’ rights. She has established an anti-deportation network in London and South East, now known as the Right to Remain, served as a commissioner on the Independent Asylum Commission and led negotiations to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. In 2012, she has founded Women on the Move Awards and is a member of the Board of the Women’s Refugee Commission.
Over the past four years, working with partners in the USA and EU, she has designed and delivered the first Transnational Organising Training in Hamburg for 30 refugee and migrant leaders in the EU and 2018 training in Dublin for 50 leaders. Zrinka he is the winner of 2011 Voices of Courage Award for her work with refugees in urban areas.
Akram Salhab, as Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, is involved with delivering the training programme. Akram has more than seven years’ experience organising with migrants and refugees across the Middle East and Europe. Recently, he has worked with unaccompanied refugee children in the UK and France.
Prior to joining Migrants Organise, Akram worked with Palestinian institution BADIL, an NGO coordinating the work of a community-based organisation in Palestinian refugee camps. He also worked for two years as the coordinator of a national campaign for enfranchisement of Palestinian refugees through elections to the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Whilst at Migrants Organise, Akram has supported integration by working with volunteer refugee welcome groups and designing a voter registration for migrant and refugee communities for the UK [snap] General Election 2017. Building on previous experience of organising communities in refugee camps and amongst exiled communities, he is currently leading on an innovative learning project to map, reclaim, and learn from traditions of migrant organising in the UK, and has delivered organising training in the UK and across Europe.
Akram holds an MPhil from Balliol College, University of Oxford. His thesis focused on participation in public life models of citizenship in Europe (including community organising) and further afield, and how these inform democratic and participatory politics.
Contact: Zrinka Bralo, CEO
The key new feature of Migrants Organise is a transition towards community organising and the first step in organising is the development of people who will do it.
Organising methodology is relational, value-driven and needs-based. Organising is a technique and an art form. It is a discipline and it requires discipline – it requires all organisations in membership to learn and implement a shared organising practice internally in order to build strong, accountable organisations that reflect the experience and self-interest of their people with an aim of participating in public life and acting for positive change.
Organising is not a one-off campaign or a movement to get a single-issue win. It is a way of participating in everyday democratic life for common good.
Organising is about understanding power – its form, context, history, geography, motivation and timing. Most importantly, power analysis is about understanding our own power as an ability to act – and using it to affect change.
Community organising is an on-going process of holding power accountable, and is essential for democracy. It is also about the internal accountability of both Migrants Organise and its members. It is an avenue for inclusion of new communities and as such facilitates better integration on both local and national levels. The key features of organising that we are working on are:
Without relationships, there is no organising. It is essential that the leaders and other members of the relevant institutions enter into and maintain public relationships with each other through face-to-face meetings. This emotional connection and understanding of what makes us engaged in public life needs to happen amongst individuals inside organisations and within organising alliances. And it is an ongoing process of building trust.
Listening is not just consultation or a focus group. It is a method of establishing what people care about and what they are prepared to act on together, as a community. It is a way of building consensus about what the problem is and breaking it down into more manageable issues that can be addressed. It is a way of building power and the power is defined simply as an ability to act. Listening is the first step of taking that powerful action.
Everyone has a story. Testimony is a valuable tool for empowerment, not only because stories have the power to move us emotionally, but also because stories have the power to move us to relate to one another, as well as the power to move us to act for change. For migrants and refugees, testimony is crucial in recovering dignity and respect, so often stripped away by bureaucracy and the experience of living on the margins, with no control over our lives. Testimony is not just an illustration of a problem, it is a tool of building individual and shared power. So often, the lives and experiences of refugees and migrants are reduced to a case- study for the purposes of a particular campaign. Testimony gives migrants and refugees ownership of their story, it gives them agency and it gives them an ability to act. Testimony gives migrants and refugees power.
In community organising, action is not simply a form of protest. Rather, it is a transformation that occurs through our relationships with others. The “what” and “how” of action requires power analysis and the final aim of action is always accountability. That is, whom do we need to hold accountable and why? An action in organising can and should be fun and imaginative, and it needs to be about building relationships even when it is confrontational. The advantage of proactive, educated action is that it has to be clear not only about what it is against, but what it is for.
What is the point of organising? What are we training all these leaders for? What are they testifying to? The answer to all these questions is to achieve social change and for that we need to build a movement.
The definition of social movement for change that is the most useful for our ambition is the one developed by Masters and Osborne in 2010:
Social movements challenge conditions and assumptions about people’s lives.
In doing so, they strive to reshape certain core values widely accepted by the mainstream of society. Because these core values influence the distribution of power; movements for social change must, ultimately, seek to change prevailing power dynamics by influencing the public discourse and public policy.
Fundamental to any movement is the active involvement of communities and residents directly affected by the current conditions.
Therefore, community organizing and mobilization must be a core strategy.
However, grassroots engagement alone is not sufficient to create a movement or change. It must be complemented by data and research, advocacy, key allies, leadership, and, most of all, a common vision and strategy that can knit together different issues campaigns, goals, and leaders.
And a movement must be able to transcend and reach groups beyond its base to, ultimately, engage the public. All of these elements must be coordinated through some type of movement infrastructure.