Multifaith collaboration around refugee integration in the UK

Last Thursday I helped organize and facilitate a policymakers roundtable that elicited deep discussion amongst faith leaders, policymakers, researchers and practitioners on “Multifaith approaches to refugee integration in the UK.”  It was a lively and focused event hosted by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in partnership with the Centre of Religion, Reconciliation and Peace at the University of Winchester and Faith in Society.

At core, we wanted to explore how to improve cross-sector collaboration. How could we increase our collective effectiveness and impact in supporting the integration of refugees?

Some of the questions we asked included:

  • How can we as academics, practitioners, policy makers and religious leaders improve cross-sector collaboration on refugee integration in the UK?
  • What resources (e.g. relationships, information) would support collaborative enquiry and working?
  • What are the barriers to collaboration?
  • How could we address these barriers?

Each of the roundtable working groups was hosted by a facilitator with a volunteer taking notes of each new comment, idea or suggestion.  In the coming weeks we will be reviewing these notes and developing a paper on our findings, so stay posted!

Until then, I’d like to share a few reflections of my own stimulated both through the process of collaboratively organizing this event and in participating in the working groups.

1 –  Meaningful collaboration can transform our access and use of common resources. 

In a competitive funding environment, charities and organisations are under increasing pressure to demonstrate that they are delivering on their charitable objectives and having measurable impacts.  We heard practical examples of how unlikely partnerships with museums and other local organisations enabled the discovery of win-win arrangements that increased the impact on charitable objectives for both sides.

2 –  Collaborative impact works with leadership and design, not by accident. 

When asked about their experience with collaboration, many shared stories of drawn out processes with no clear direction and no identifiable benefits added.  By contrast, successful collaborative projects were spearheaded by strong leaders who focused on building relationships, enhancing communication in their networks, and organizing efficiently.  The intention to collaborate isn’t sufficient – we must also apply the right skills and knowledge.

To create an environment where collaborative projects are nurtured, the charity sector needs to invest in developing leadership and collaboration skills with all stakeholders including service recipients, trustees, staff, volunteers and funders.  Like businesses, charities will need to develop organisational structures that enable flexibility, communication, mobility, and exchange.

3 –  We won’t understand the greatest benefits of collaboration until we take a leap of faith and try it.

As the lead organiser for this roundtable event, I didn’t truly understand the meaning or purpose of the event until after it happened.  In working with our partners at the University of Winchester and Faith in Society, it was a long process to identify where our common interests lay, establish our objectives, organize our strategy, and delegate responsibilities to make this roundtable happen.

As it turns out, organising a policymakers roundtable is no small feat!  We researched and wrote a concept note, designed  invitation lists, invited and prepared speakers, outreached in our networks to convince key players to attend, developed the facilitation agenda, designed working groups to balance representation, and recruited facilitators and volunteer notetakers!  In order to make this distance collaboration possible (the first time I met my colleague from Winchester face to face was on the actual day of the roundtable) we developed various strategies using Skype, Google Drive, and good old-fashioned emails and phone calls to ensure everyone kept engaged in shaping the project.

What I will remember of the day, though, is the joy of people working together well.  Those who initially walked through the doors with wary expressions on their faces were contributing excitedly at the tables.  The speakers laid their notes aside and spoke to the room from their hearts, sharing stories about their work.  People came up to us afterwards, asking us when we would next be doing something.

If I am certain of one thing, it is that we will not know what the true value of having held the event is until much further in the future where these seeds of curiosity and collaboration have taken root and established themselves.  I can’t wait to see where it goes.