Interview with Dr. Janina Stürner-Siovitz about Creating Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships to Address Urban Migration and Displacement in African Intermediary Cities

By Oğuzhan Açıkgöz, Law Student at Koc Law School, Koç University, Istanbul

Dr. Janina Stürner-Siovitz introduced the Equal Partnerships Policy Paper during the 14th Global Forum on Migration and Development. The policy paper focuses on the growing challenges and opportunities related to migration and displacement faced by local governments in African intermediary cities. These cities are directly influenced by mixed migration movements, (inter)national policies, and the presence or absence of funding, yet they are often overlooked by national policymakers, international organizations, and donors as significant partners in addressing mixed migration issues. This lack of collaboration is problematic given that human mobility plays a crucial role in the physical, social, and economic urban planning of intermediary cities. Implementing networked approaches could help bridge these cooperation gaps and dismantle existing policy silos.

To explore opportunities and challenges of multi-stakeholder partnerships for urban migration governance, the Equal Partnerships project (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, Samuel Hall, UCLG Africa, IDOS German Institute of Development and Sustainability with support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung) organized participatory research, workshops, and networking formats with six cities in East, West, and North Africa.

Find their paper in English, French and Arabic here.

1. The Policy Paper underscores the importance of building trust among stakeholders, particularly between local governments and civil society actors, national governments, and international organizations. How can local governments, NGOs, and migrant/refugee associations establish enduring relationships of trust, and what measures would you recommend for ensuring that these partnerships transcend political cycles and remain resilient in the face of changing circumstances?

Trust-based relationships are essential to develop joint visions around urban migration governance. Our research shows that local, national, and international actors but also public, private, and civil society actors often have quite diverging definitions and priorities when it comes to urban migration and displacement. This leads to misunderstandings and competition for resources, which could be avoided through open dialogues and joint planning processes. Such cooperation should be based on practical long-term agreements that last beyond election cycles because they create win-win situations for all stakeholders. Building stones for mutual trust can include sharing complementary resources such as physical spaces for activities, first-hand knowledge of the needs and potentials of migrants and refugees, training capacities, good practices gathered through city networks, information on calls for proposals, and funding opportunities.

2. In the context of placing migrant and refugee perspectives at the center of planning processes, the text emphasizes the challenges faced by these communities in participating in decision-making due to various barriers. How can local governments overcome cultural, language, and legal obstacles to ensure meaningful inclusion of migrants and refugees in planning activities, and what role can civil society organizations play in facilitating such participation?

Let me share with you a quote from an interview partner with a migrant background working for a civil society organization that I found very pertinent to explain the main challenge here:

“The migrant is the main migration actor. So if you want to develop, whatever, a strategic plan, an evaluation, recommendations, trainings and so on, you must invite migrants from the beginning to the end. So that the migrant is at the heart of the system, the migrant must be involved, associated, from the beginning to the end in any migration program. […] Since I came to Morocco, this was my first fight and it still is, because I cannot understand that meetings are held in five-star hotels and with the absence of migrants. I, I can be in my house or at the traffic lights to look for means to have something to eat. At the same time, the authorities and associations are doing activities in hotels, I don’t even know what they are talking about. Then they come and tell me: ‘Here is this program; we have tailored it to you.’ It’s not possible.”

Our interviews with NGOs and international organizations that have offices in different African cities show that direct cooperation with migrants and refugees – irrespective of their legal status – can strengthen the impact of these organizations on the ground. Such cooperation takes the form of hiring migrants and refugees as local staff, organizing community outreach, and holding multilingual coordination meetings. Local and regional governments should learn from these approaches, appoint focal points responsible for outreach to migrant and refugee communities, hold consultation and coordination meetings with adequate translation, create migrant/refugee advisory bodies for the city council, and hire staff with lived migration/displacement experience to work on issues such as social cohesion, basic services, and urban planning.

3. How can international organizations effectively consult with local governments, civil society, and migrant/refugee associations during the program development phase, and what changes in evaluation approaches would you propose to focus on medium-term impacts and community-level outcomes rather than short-term project metrics?

Throughout the Equal Partnerships project, we organized multi-stakeholder workshops in different cities. And the exchanges between local, national, and international actors showed us that local actors sometimes feel like they are told to reinvent the wheel when participating in international urban projects: They need the resources that development agencies or international organizations bring to their cities, but they are insufficiently included in planning processes, which means that international actors miss out on local knowledge regarding specific needs and opportunities. Donors and development agencies should include local actors in the development (prior to publication) of calls for project proposals in order to strengthen needs-based efforts and avoid creating “more of the same.” Donor agencies could do so by setting aside part of their budget for consultations with local coordination hubs. Ideally, several donor agencies would organize such consultations together in order to avoid overstretching local capacities and to build a base for complementary engagement. Such bottom-up approaches are key to international engagement to ensure that internationally funded projects are based on local realities. Furthermore, international actors should rethink their evaluation strategies. The aim here should be to focus less on the number of persons served within a specific project period, but rather on convincing donors that a responsible use of funds demands setting a budget aside to evaluate medium-term impacts on entire communities or city areas.

4. The Policy Paper highlights the Equal Partnerships project’s role in exploring opportunities for collaborative, urban migration governance in African intermediary cities through participatory research, workshops, and networking formats. Could you share lessons learned for policy-oriented research and main principles of engagement of the Equal Partnerships project?

First of all, it is important to understand how we worked throughout the project. The core team brought together research institutes from Germany (FAU and IDOS) and Kenya (Samuel Hall), an African city network (UCLG Africa), and six African intermediary cities in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, and Uganda. In each of these cities, our research teams established an initial cooperation with the local government, local NGOs, and researchers (often from local universities). Together we developed a mapping of local, national and international actors engaging on questions of migration and displacement in this city. During a period of 3-4 weeks, we conducted interviews with all these actors to learn about their work and to identify collaborations, competition, and partnership gaps. At the end of this research phase, we invited all stakeholders to participate in interactive local workshops that had two objectives: (1) for stakeholders to create a two/three-pager with concrete ideas for collaborative action in their city addressing a variety of migration/displacement related topics; (2) for stakeholders to develop policy recommendations targeted at national and international actors, which the Equal Partnerships project has promoted during our advocacy phase. Below you find some of the main elements that were central to us in developing policy-oriented research:

  • We focused on cities where we could identify political will to engage on questions of migration/displacement as a basis for multi-stakeholder partnerships.
  • We worked in cooperation with three kinds of local actors: government, research, and civil society.
  • We moved from practice to policy during the field research, and then back and forth (local workshops, impact-oriented research products, international advocacy).
  • We worked with a research and workshop framework that could easily be adapted to different situations.
  • We did not pre-determine forms of migration to be studied but let the research be guided by the specific city contexts and what we found on the ground.
  • We made use of political windows of opportunity when scheduling the field research and local workshops, e.g. in Oujda (Morocco) the research took place during a period when the city was holding broad consultations for developing the future municipal Local Development Plan 2022-2027 which features specific objectives on migration and development.