Our CEO, Enver Solomon, introduces the Refugee Council’s new Refugee Involvement Strategy
A year ago the Refugee Council published a new strategy to 2025. It made an ambitious commitment to ‘ensure people with lived experience are at the heart of what we do by developing a whole organisation approach to their engagement and involvement in our work’. We knew we had much work to do and were well behind many others in the immigration sector and in other sectors who were far further forward.
After months of exploration, discussion and development we have now completed a new strategy for refugee involvement and a clear delivery plan to make it happen. In the spirit of full transparency we are publishing the strategy and detailed delivery plan online, which you can find here and below.
Our plans are very much about sharing power. We are firmly committed to both lived and learned experience. Our intention is to ensure both are given equal weight, respect, value and importance.
We have chosen to call our plan a Refugee Involvement Strategy so that it clearly indicates what we mean and are seeking to do. The staff and people with lived experience involved in developing the strategy felt that the term refugee involvement was clearer and avoided the risk of different interpretations or understandings. We are very clear what we mean by it:
Refugees work in partnership with staff in all parts of the organisation, to shape and influence decision-making at all levels, from strategic management through to frontline service delivery. The knowledge and lived experience of refugees is valued and respected, and combined with staff expertise to make well-informed decisions. Staff and involved refugees share power and responsibility for the decisions that are made.
To achieve this will require us to work differently. We are realistic, however, that it will take time and can’t be rushed. We also know we must allocate resources and enable staff to have the capacity if we are to make it happen. It also requires us to have an organisational culture and working practices that support meaningful and effective refugee involvement across the organisation. We must also work with, learn from and share best practice with the wider refugee and asylum sector.
We know that there are a number of key principles that are so important to underpin our refugee involvement plans. We will have to create a culture that supports meaningful refugee involvement and avoids tokenism. This requires a shift from seeing refugees as people in need to seeing them as people with knowledge and experience that can help staff and, of course, a willingness to share power.
Building a strong foundation is vital. I have seen too many organisations embark on the involvement journey only to fall foul having not putting key building blocks in place. One element of this is allowing staff time to develop the confidence and experience to work with refugees in a meaningful way. At the same time we will need to build the capacity of refugees to be involved. Amongst other things this will require enabling refugees to move beyond sharing their story, providing emotional support as required, and adopting flexible approaches to involvement that are inclusive and ensure staff ‘meet people where they are at’.
There is ‘no one size fits all’ solution to implement an involvement strategy. Each organisational context is unique. Toolkits and guidance alone are not enough to help staff to know what to do and how to do it. Therefore, our delivery plan emphasises learning through doing, and sharing that learning across the organisation. This will help to create a supportive culture and the change in mind-set and behaviour necessary for refugee involvement to be meaningful.
The overall goal is to ensure staff and refugees feel motivated, confident and supported to build a strong foundation from which to develop the Refugee Council’s own approach to involvement.
We have purposefully been ambitious in our intentions. We know it will be a long and challenging road ahead. For us quality will matter more than speed. And, while we won’t get everything right, we will seek to continuously learn and hold ourselves to account on progress.
Photo: James Glossop/ The Times Alaa Sharif and Ahmed Al Msharee Roe Wood allotments, Sheffield, Yorkshire For The Times Charity appeal article by Charlotte Wace. 25/11/2021