Friday, January 22, 2016

Bringing it Home: Personal Responsibility and Social Justice

Photo from the National Museum of Italian Emigration, Rome, Italy
“An ethically centered and balanced approach to human migration needs an analysis of hospitality as a societal responsibility and a human right. It requires understanding the core of a hospitality ethos centered on the notion of human dignity and social justice”. Marco Tavanti
During a week-long academic global immersion (AGI) program, students of the University of San Francisco’s School of Management, specially graduate students of public and nonprofit administration, studied issues related to refugees, human trafficking, and forced migration. This issue may be more urgent than ever. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded. In their 2014 Annual Global Trends Report: World at War, it is reported that the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 rose to 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. "We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

Half of the world’s refugees are children. And nearly 90% of refugees are from countries considered economically less developed.

The issue was real and present in Rome, Italy, the site of the program, with Italy having accepted more refugees than ever in 2015 and leading advocacy to allow refugees to relocate within the EU. Humanitarian aid organizations like UNCHR, Caritas, and Jesuit Refugee Services spoke with students. Many students asked, “What can we do?” Basic actions were discussed:

1) Donate

2) Advocate, help to spread awareness (the imperative and urgency of the crisis) and dispel myths ( such as myths that refugees are manipulating systems, threatening economy, and driving crime)

3) Volunteer to provide technical assistance an organization, such as JRS, improve strategic planning or evaluation.

What also can emerge, though, is a bigger idea about the global systems of oppression and inequality that promote refugees, human trafficking and forced migration. As individuals and as nonprofit or public sector leaders, we can examine our participation and responsibility in these systems.

Examining our personal lives, we should be aware of the daily choices we make, the services we use, the origin of goods that we purchase. The biggest driver of forced migration is conflict. New conflicts are emerging with old conflicts unresolved. How are we creating, affirming, and promoting politics of peace? Imminent, and in fact underway, will be people forcibly displaced due to climate change. What choices, what political focus, can we use to mitigate this crisis?

Who are “refugees” in our local communities, who are the marginalized? Are they youth fleeing poverty and family violence? Are they people with mental illness or chronic substance use disorder seeking a place in the community? How are they afforded opportunities for upward mobility, for finding places of value in community, and how are they treated with dignity?

We can challenge ourselves to examine how we are incorporating the “ethos of hospitality” into only our daily interactions. But also, as leaders in nonprofit and public administration, honestly assess the systems that we can influence, and become proactive in addressing the circumstances of marginalization that create displacement and refugees in our own communities and around the world.