alexander betts

alexander betts

intro’d to Alex here (ted2016) – Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it

more than 1 mill arrived in europe needing our help…our response has been pathetic… so many contradictions..

we mourn 2 yr old curdy death.. since then more than 200 children have drowned in med…

international treaties see refugees a shared responsibility.. yet tiny lebanon hosts more syrians than whole of europe combined

lament existence of human smuggles.. yet make that only viable route to asylum in europe

labor shortages.. yet prevent those who fit econ/demo needs from coming to europe

proclaim liberal values…opposition to fund islam.. yet have repressive policies… detain child asylum seekers.. separate children from families… sieze property from refugees

bullshit ness

what are we doing.. how has it come to this.. i don’t believe it’s because we don’t care.. but that we lack a vision…

2 questions we all need to ask: 1\ why is current system not working  2\ what can we do to fix it

theory and practice so opposed.. the system isn’t broken because the rules are wrong.. it’s that it’s not adapting to a changing/globalized world..

1\ encampment – might get assistance.. but in bleak arid locations.. ie: can hear shells.. restricted econ/ed activity.. 80% of refugees in camps have to stay for at least 5 yrs.. only 9% of syrians choose that option

2\ urban destitution –  75% of syrian refugees taken…  don’t have right to work or to assistance… like

3\ dangerous journeys – that’s what we’re seeing in europe today..

i think we can reconsider that choice..  we limit those options.. we think only ones.. politicians frame issue as zero sum… but doesn’t have to be… ways to expand choice set and still benefit everyone else..

four ways.. to transform paradigm… all 4 ways in which we take opportunities of globalization and mobility and markets and update the way we think about the refugee issue

1\ enabling environments.. starts from basic recognition – refugees humans like everyone else.. ie: uganda – exceptional host country.. uganda has given right to work.. freedom of movement.. in kampala.. 21% of refugees own a business… refugees are making jobs for citizens of host countries.. look beyond emergency stage..

2\ economic zones ..  ie: jordan – jobs to syrians… while supporting jordanian plans…. incubate refugees.. looking to rebuild syrian… pilot begins in summer

3\ preference matching.. we rarely ask refugees what they want…  matching markets – alvin roth –

matching via self-talk as data

4\ humanitarian visas

or none.. no? what do we need.. disengage from irrelevants

we really need a new vision…

imagine one for all of us..

a nother way

for (blank)’s sake


find/follow Alex:

link twitter

Professor at Oxford. Director of the Refugee Studies Centre.

Alexander Betts is the Leopold Muller Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs, and the Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. His research is on the politics and political economy of refugees, migration and humanitarianism, with a geographical focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. He is author or editor of numerous books, including Forced Migration and Global Politics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), Protection by Persuasion: International Cooperation in the Refugee Regime (Cornell University Press, 2009), Refugees in International Relations (Oxford University Press, 2010),  Global Migration Governance (Oxford University Press, 2011), UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection (Routledge, 2012), Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement (Cornell University Press, 2013), and Implementation in World Politics: How International Norms Change Practice (Oxford University Press, 2014).  He has worked for UNHCR and as a consultant to the Council of Europe, UNDP, UNICEF, IOM, and OCHA, and his work has been funded by, amongst others, the MacArthur Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Economic and Social Research Council. He sits on UNHCR’s “i Circle” and is a member of the World Humanitarian Summit’s Thematic Working Group on Transformation Through Innovation. He is founding Director of the Humanitarian Innovation Project.

In 2010-11, Alex spent a year at Stanford University, which opened up a new way of thinking about refugees and humanitarianism. Being based within Silicon Valley and surrounded by technology and start-ups,..

he was struck by the potential of some of these ideas to transform humanitarian assistance. 

Returning to Oxford to take up the position of Associate Professor in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, he founded the Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP), with a grant from Stephanie and Hunter Hunt, with an initial aim of exploring the role of technology, innovation, and the private sector in refugee assistance. The project has undertaken pioneering work on Refugee Economies, building one of the first data sets on the economic lives of refugees based on a survey in Uganda, as well as developing cutting edge thinking on how the conceptualise a people-centred approach to humanitarian innovation. The project also led to the creation of the annual Humanitarian Innovation Conference. Alex was final shortlisted for the TED Prize in recognition of this work.

short – problem/desire deep enough for 7 billion, mechanism simple enough, system open enough.. we can’t not give it a try.


from  humanitarian innovation project site.. under research:

Beginning with an initial focus on the role of innovation, technology, and the private sector in refugee assistance, we have expanded the scope of our work to four main areas.

1\refugee economies – Explaining variation in economic outcomes for refugees, and identifying opportunities for market-based interventions.

2\bottom up innovation – Examining how crisis-affected communities engage in innovation, and conceptualising a people-centred approach to humanitarian innovation.

3\military humanitarian innovation – Exploring the process of knowledge creation, diffusion, and exchange between the humanitarian and military communities.

4\governance innovation – Engaging with the politics of humanitarian practice, and identifying opportunities for institutional reform.

notes from pdf – refugee innovation (2015) – found in #2 – bottom up innovation

p 2

even under most challenging constraints, people find ways to engage in creative problem solving….. although ‘humanitarian innovation’ has been increasingly embraced by the humanitarian world, this kind of ‘bottom-up’ innovation by crisis-affected communities is often neglected in favour of a sector-wide focus on improving the effectiveness of organisational response to crisis. this oversight disregards the capabilities and adaptive resourcefulness that people and communities affected by conflict and disaster often demonstrate.

let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

for (blank)’s sake

what kinds of infrastructure and ecosystems are needed to support innovation..?

agile infrastructuremechanism simple enoughio dance et al…

p 3

refugee populations offer examples of bottom-up innovation. they represent a wide spectrum of people affected by humanitarian crisis spanning the emergency phase through to protracted displacement crises. they are also an important population of focus in their own right given that the world now has more displaced people than at any time since the second world war.

indeed… spot on for giving a nother way a try.. ie:  1 yr to try commons.. to be 5..  via ie: y combinator bi initiative or whatever… to model for all of us..

this report examines refugee innovation in five countries:

uganda – have right to work.. strong presence of innov entrepreneurship.

jordan – (syrian refugees in za’atari camp) – focus of many ‘top down’ efforts to intro innov products/processes by international community… we highlight famous ‘shams-elysees’ market street.. as well as architecture and space.. and econ activities by women in camp

kenya – (nairobi and kakuma camps) – security challenge esp for somalies

s africa – (zimbabwean refugees in johannesburg) – self settlement strategy.. allowing right to work w/limited govt assistance.. work including ed

us (dallas).

suggested cities.. et al

the humanitarian system so far lacks a good model of facilitating and nurturing innovation by refugees and other crisis-affected communities..

key elements of positive enabling environment for bottom up innov:

a\ a permissive environment with the right to work and freedom of movement

spaces of permission w nothing to prove ness

b\ access to connectivity

app chip ness – via self-talk as data

c\ access to education and skills training

rna ness.. as the day

d\ good infrastructure and transportation

walk able.. bike able.. io dance able

e\ access to banking and credit facilities

and/or none.. ie: radical econ ness and beyond..

f\ transitional networks..

redefine decision makingdisengage from consensus.. et al… small world network ness.. io dance et al

we need to rethink the humanitarian sytsem in order to provide a better enabling environment for innovation by crisis-affected communities, including refugees..

including all of us.. or it won’t work.. ie: www ness. none of us if one of us.. ness

p 4

longstanding challenge – intentions often end up as hollow rhetoric against backdrop of top down aid interventions..

graeber model/revolution law

how can people’s own creativity and ideas be supported rather than undermined by expensive ‘top-down’innovations brought in from the developed world

graeber min/max law

this is hugely – fractal ish – all people are in need of this.. and that’s good news.. since we need all people for the dance to dance..

what people-centered approach to humanitarian response can actually mean. innovation is the way in which individuals or organisations solve problems and create change by introducing new solutions to existing problems. contrary to popular belief, these solutions do not have to be technological and they do not have to be transformative; they simply involve the adaptation of a product or process to context.

? – adaptation of a product/process..? not sure what’s meant by this..

or the making of whatever.. everyday.. ie: whimsy as map/guide.. antifragility as stance..  ie: rev of everyday life.. trusting that. we do need a revolution/transformative/leap.

for blank’s sake.

dynamic problem solving among friends..

indeed.. a and a.. matching that.. matching us..

affected communities, who are more typically thought of as vulnerable and passive victims..

so .. to with Ed et al.. as we perpetuate not us ness.. ie: science of people in schools

feedback loop broken.. because we’re missing most valuable part.. people.. alive/unafraid people… via love.

although there are a variety of ways to conceptualise innovation.. we have found it useful to think of a four stage process: 1\ specify problem 2\ identify possible solution 3\ pilot/adapt 4\ scale solution..

or perhaps.. we do preventive and solutional at same time..  via – iterating detox/play

p 5

how can the voices of affected communities be adequately involved or represented?

via a mechanim simple enough for 7 billion people to use/access today.. that listens w/o agenda/judgment.. and then connects locally daily and leaves a trail.. ie: app chip ness – via self-talk as data

again – redefine decision makingdisengage from consensus.. et al… small world network ness.. io dance et al

p 7

sharing borders with five other east african states, uganda is host to almost 360 000 refugees from a range of nationalities and backgrounds..

hamza – kampala

stories..  rebel architecture and iwan baann ness.. self-organizing ness..

p 9

above ie’s demo that innov is not limited to a product or business model alone

or at all. no?

rather, these stories show that innovation is more about a journey or process that is unique to each innovator and their experiences.. iterative.. cyclical process..

exactly..equity – getting a go everyday.

iterating/rapid prototyping to slow ness of us.. groundhog day ness.. based on 7 bill people living via daily whimsy.. everyday.

p 10

i don’t craft sculpture which i don’t want to  make. i don’t want to be forced to carve what other people want. before i start carving, i use my imagination and follow it…

gershenfeld something else law.. that’s our energy.. and that’s our security.. ie: ps in the open et al

p 12

on needs for basics..

would/could show that don’t need middle parts.. if we just trust have/have not ness.. frees up/upcycles.. resources..  reallocation ness

p 14

in kampala – on working against regulations and discrimination…

why it has to be all of us.. something else to do .. for refugees, regulators, inspectors, discriminators.. et al..

p 17

jordan – at za’atari refugee camp.. 83 000 syrians.. focus of many discussions about innovation since it opened in 2012…. however as the sustained crisis in syria continues unabated and international resources continue to dwindle, it becomes necessary to question the longevity and sustainability of these more ‘top-down’ innovations... our za’atari case study takes a closer look at everyday life in the camp, revealing a wealth of bottom up innovation by syrian refugees that both challenges humanitarian norms and fills important gaps in goods and services..

syrian refugees

p 18 – several orgs in camp allow spaces for refugees to… convene, skills training, work on projects such as building maintenance for agency offices and making uniforms for the schools.

imagining a world.. where we are all doing things.. of value.. ie: beyond making school uniforms…. ie: beyond doing things of value.. ie: being..

so .. this is a huge opportunity before us.. for a revolution. a quiet soul led revolution.. of everyday life. we can’t ignore what’s going on.. and.. we can’t miss this opportunity..

p 19 – pitching tents

hexayurt ness. re\silience ness

p 22 – ie’s of people’s craftmanship and fixing up spaces

total iwan baann ness

p 24 – important to note that social media, such as facebook, currently provides the only abailable platforms for truly independent reporting and news in teh camp.

a nother way – io dance ness – not just reporting news.. but using data such as self talk

p 27

kenya – over 530 000 refugees, mostly camps of kakuma and dadaab.. do not have right to work.. and can’t leave..


kakuma camp established in 1992 and currently hosts over 150 000 refugees.. s sudanes and somali make up largest nationalies..

p 28

on wifi changing life in camp in many ways..

disengaging from need for transportation… and too.. perhaps.. disengaging from need for ie: casework with unhcr… et al..

p 29

somali population remains the primary target of discriminatory policies and surveillance

p 31

these case studies demo the importance of further research and developing micro-level understandings of how refugee innovation rakes place in different contexts.

ie: how people are.. beyond ie: science of people in schools; and/or people confined by supposed to’s.. and/or confined by assumptions of ie: money et al..

without recognising and exploring the ways that refugees drive innovation on the ground, top down policies will perpetuate bureaucratic constraints that limit refugees’ access to the resources, mobility, and flexibility that they need to make their economies flourish..

so… need to try a diff experiment.. one not yet tried… where we trust people.. and set them free.. in a ie: rat park for people..

p 35

south africa – 315 000 refugees and asylum seekers.. slow processing of documentation by govt and xenophobia at institutional and community level are two key impediments for zimbabwean innovation in johannesburg.. hundreds of thousands.. left in limo.. forced to work informally at low salary.. refused medical treatment

perhaps we disengage from documentation.. ness

p 36

education is everything

and.. from education .. ness (ie: if ed was so great.. it would have changed world by now.. no? but rather.. we’ve got – schooling the world ness.. going on)

p 39

refugee innovation in johannesburg was being facilitated at three diff levels: business provision, assistance from org’s, and support from grassroots initiatives… facilitated at a wide scale by companies, churches, and uni’s..

godfrey phiri acting as a catalyst.. a lesson can be take from this type of facilitation – it is built on respect and personal engagement, and humbly connects like-minded people to grow on their ideas no matter how small they seem at the start

so imagine a chip or whatever – mech simple/humble enough.. being a godfrey for 7 billion people..

p 41

u.s. – for refugees there are generally considered to be three durable solutions: repatriation, local integration or resettlement. us known as largest destination of resettled refugees and has hosted over 3 mill in last forty yrs.. ie: dallas.. from iraq, ethiopia, myanmar, somalia, bhutan, burundi

in dallas.. first housed in area north of city .. vickery meadow…. reports of bullying as schools, fear of leaving homes.. et al.. some did well via food sales.. transportation tough.. some have vertical gardens..

p 43

there are support services.. but again a focus on lifting and supporting the existing skills and creativity of individual is something that is lacking – in similar vein to the rest of the humanitarian system

notes from pdf – principles for ethical humanitarian innovation (2015) – found in #4 – governance innovation

p 4 – principles understood to be a statement of values, w purpose of helping to guide actors through moral dilemmas.. require application and interpretation in relation to practice…. as w other principles and codes of conduct, it is envisaged that a complementary governance structure (eg ethical review boards) might emerge over time to support authoritative interpretation.

whoa. isn’t that unethical..? – authoritative interpretation.. of values.. codes of conduct..?

supposed to ness

whoa .. perhaps why we’re not there yet.. ie: #5 … experimentation… is… by certain rules?
p 5
all aspects of humanitarian innovation should be subject to evaluation and monitoring, including an assessment of primary and secondary impacts of the innovation process.
evaluation and monitoring .. by who..? i’m guessing this is coming from the innovation being done on other people..?
perhaps we simplify.. and call everything an experiment.. evaluated/monitored by each individual.. everyday. as the day. trust that. trust each heart.
of course this begs we let go of any control.. no matter how kind.. or we’ll never see the dance. of the trusted/loved hearts..
this is something we haven’t yet done. we should try it. we can’t not try it. esp now that we have the means to ground/facilitate the chaos of 7 bill people set free..
p 6
humanitarian principles are intended to regulate a response to a contrast, because of the way in which humanitarian innovation generally regulates a relationship to individuals, it requires a distinct set of principles.
there are currently no authoritative guidelines on ethical humanitarian innovation. principles are propositions that govern a system of belief or behavior they serve as ‘guides to being and doing’. they may be absolute, obligatory, or aspirational.
let’s be brave enough to try for eudaimoniative surplus.  let’s just try/trust.
with respect (because i don’t believe it’s ill intended).. medical field.. humanitarian field.. innovative field.. are doing plenty of harm et al … currently. perhaps we question the systems/policies/principles we keep insisting on.. in order not to do harm.. ie: hippocratic oath et al..
p 10 – yet another consideration is the counterfactual risks inherent in decisions to engage or refuse new innovations and tech’s
yes. so can we apply the do no harm principle.. to not having all these principles clog up a nother way to live
on principle 5 – no experimenting w/o following existing standards.. et al
too much.. B and b.
in general. experimentation in social contexts raises concerns about the ethicality of offering one group a service or resource that is withheld from control groups..
fine.. we don’t need control groups. we have them: ie: science of people in schools.. just look around.. at all of us. we’re seeking something beyond the control group that exists already.
under 6 – equity at its core.. beyond anything we understand/practice today..
under 7 – in most cases, those in affected populations lack the option to be able to choose whether to adopt a new product or service, or to seek alternatives..
this all becomes irrelevant.. w/in ie: rev of everyday life ness… where self talk is the driving data..


refugee camps

syrian refugees


jun 2016 – tedsummit – why brexit happened and what to do next

We are embarrassingly unaware of how divided our societies are, and Brexit grew out of a deep, unexamined divide between those that fear globalization and those that embrace it, says social scientist Alexander Betts. How do we now address that fear as well as growing disillusionment with the political establishment, while refusing to give in to xenophobia and nationalism

next day.. asking for a replay.. everyone was blaming everyone else..

that melt down made worse by most tragic element.. xenophobia and racism..

my question is.. should we have had the degree of shock that we did overnight

1\ what does brexit represent

hindsight.. brexit teaches us .. highlights.. how divided our society are..

politics no longer about right/left.. tax/spend.. it’s about those that embrace/fear globalization..

if we look at why those that wanted to leave 1\ immigration 2\sovereignty.. people to take back control of own lives.. unrepresented by politicians.. a retreat back toward nationalism/borders… liberalist internationalists.. need to write ourselves back into the picture in order to understand how we got to where we are today..

5 min – it suggested that people like me who think of selves as inclusive/open/tolerant.. perhaps don’t know our own countries and societies nearly as well as we’d like to believe..

the challenge that comes from that.. *we need to find a new way to narrate globalization to those people.. to recognize that for those people.. not uni/internet/travel.. they may be unpersuaded by the narrative we find persuasive in our often liberal bubbles..

or perhaps not a narrative.. but a model..  ie: model a nother way to live..

we need to reach out more broadly

this replicates around the world.. the specter of brexit is in all our societies.. so..

2\ what can we do about it.. how should we collectively respond..

we urgently need a new vision.. one that brings people with us rather than leaving them behind..

a nother way

has to start w positive benefits of globalization.. free trade/movement of capital/movement across borders.. benefits everyone..globalization brings interdependence.. which brings coop.. and peace..

but also has redistributive effects.. creates winners/losers.. ie: immigration is net positive for econ as a whole.. but also have to be aware there are redistributive consequences.. ie: low skilled immigration can lead to reduction in wages for most impoverished in our societies.. so more people have to share in benefits..

9:00 – 2002 – former sect general of un.. gave a speech at yale.. on inclusive globalization.. the glass house of globalization has to be open to all if it is to remain secure.. bigotry and ignorance are the ugly face of exclusionary and antagonistic globalization.. briefly revived in 2008.. conference.. but it made austerity.. concept almost disappeared in financial crisis of 2008… it needs to be reclaimed on a far more inclusive basis than it is today..

10 min – social science offers a place to start.. transformation has to be about ideas and material change

4 ideas:

1\ civic ed – brexit shows gap between public perception and empirical reality.. suggested we’ve moved to post factual society where evidence/truth doesn’t matter.. and lies have equal status to the clarity of evidence..  how to rebuild respect for truth/evidence

2014 survey on attitudes to immigration.. showed .. as #’s of immigrants increase.. so public concern increases… could be to do w political/media narrative… but same survey revealed huge misunderstanding about immigration..

can’t just be left to schools.. has to be about life long ness

rev of everyday life

2\ encourage more interaction across diverse communities

highest tolerance.. have highest immigration.. encourage exchange programs.. access to internet.. more interaction with people we don’t know.. and who’s views we don’t agree with

3\ we have to insure that everyone shares in the benefits of globalization

ie: those that voted to leave benefited most from trade.. but those people didn’t perceive selves as beneficiaries… in order to encourage integration.. also have to address concerns of host..

4\ we need more responsible politics…

what we see today.. a failure to have dialogues.. call on politicians to drop a language of fear and be far more tolerant of one another..

2 convos..ness



Nice reflections by @alexander_betts. UN summit on refugees fails to offer solutions… via @IrishTimesOpEd

overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees receive no assistance whatsoever from UNHCR or its partners

we need a bigger vision



Refugees Deeply (@refugeesdeeply) tweeted at 3:21 AM – 24 Nov 2016 :

Understanding refugees & markets, an extract from Refugee Economies by @alexander_betts et al @refugeestudies (

Why a Market-Based Approach Is Key to Unlocking Refugees’ Potential

Better understanding the unique economic position held by displaced peoples could transform policy concerning them, write authors Alexander Betts, Louise Bloom, Josiah Kaplan and Naohiko Omata in an extract from the pioneering study “Refugee Economies.

Refugees represent opportunities for business and entrepreneurship. Perhaps more importantly, they themselves can be entrepreneurial and create businesses.


What has been largely missing, however, is a firm grounding in data and a clear theoretical framework. This is in part because although economists have focused on immigration more broadly, they have rarely looked at questions relating to refugees and forced migration.

We therefore seek to develop a theoretically informed and data-driven approach to understanding the economic lives of refugees. Our key theoretical undertaking is to develop the concept of “refugee economies.”

dang.. in an opp to free us from market ness

We define “refugee economies” as the resource-allocation systems relating to the lives of refugees. This represents an attempt to look holistically at what shapes the production, consumption, finance and exchange activities of refugees, and to begin to explain variation in economic outcomes for refugees themselves. Our goal is to examine refugees’ own interactions with markets, both for their own sake and as a means to understand how externally driven programs might build on what already exists, rather than be based on abstract – and sometimes arbitrary – interventions.

What makes refugees’ economic lives distinctive is the unique institutional context of being a refugee. As we know from a body of economic theory called New Institutional Economics, markets are shaped by their institutional context.

‘Refugeehood’ represents a particular institutional framework that introduces a set of constraints and opportunities into the economic lives of refugees.


It is a country (uganda) that has adopted a relatively progressive refugee policy called the Self-Reliance Strategy. Unlike many other refugee-hosting countries around the world, it has given its 420,000 refugees the right to work and a significant degree of freedom of movement.


Rather than designing abstract projects and programs that exist in a vacuum, this understanding might enable international organizations and NGOs to build meaningfully upon and nurture the skills, talents and aspirations of displaced communities. This may enable us to move collectively from a logic of dependency towards greater sustainability within our responses to refugees.

great if works.. but sounds more like stu voice ness..  spinach or rock ness.. not offering this perfect opp for a do over.. a do over..


RefuAid (@refuaid) tweeted at 1:39 AM – 10 Mar 2017 :

We must update the way we think about refugee response, expanding the choices that are set. @alexander_betts #Solidarity #RefugeesWelcome (

a nother way