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Transformative Leadership in Action

Action-based training for professionals partnering with refugees to create ethical, sustainable and innovative solutions for social change.

Photo of Julia Frei

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The fact that an unprecedented 68.5 million people are displaced in the world, living in uncertain circumstances with insufficient support and protection, signifies the need for global citizens to share an ethical responsibility to care for each other – as individuals, non-profits, businesses, and governments. Yet, opportunities for collaboration between different sectors on solutions for this social issue are often overlooked, resulting in unsalvaged potential and wasted resources. Further, refugees are often poorly perceived; seen as vulnerable and considered a burden on the host communities and governments. In some countries, they are treated as illegal immigrants due to the lack of awareness among local society. The divide is strengthened because most decision-making processes do not sufficiently involve refugees themselves. “Transformative Leadership in Action” is a blended-learning programme where (aspiring) leaders from a variety of backgrounds collaborate with refugees. Participants study online courses, and are connected to the experts who developed them through video conferencing. Participants then apply their new knowledge as a team. They consult the communities to assess the context, and then co-design and implement a refugee-led solution. As half of the programme participants are refugees who live in the country of project implementation, these members will manage the project long-term. Further, participants are connected with a leadership coach who helps them to translate this new experience into their own contexts.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

This programme can be implemented in any community (even in development contexts). Same Skies currently works in Asia because many countries have not signed the Refugee Convention, hence there are no domestic legal frameworks protecting the rights of refugees. They are not allowed to work or study, and they have limited access to other human rights. Additionally, durable solutions like resettlement are diminishing, so these so-called “transit countries” are becoming the permanent home of many.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Since the refugee participants are responsible for all steps involved in planning and implementing the project, there are frequent examples of positive interaction, growth of trust, and mutual understanding between them and the local host community. Refugee-led initiatives demonstrate that refugees are serious and passionate about contributing to the community and making themselves useful. Ultimately, this will help us change the perception of refugees, and mobilise more support for integration.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

This programme not only creates lasting impact on people who benefit from the refugee-led initiative, it also leads to transformative change for the refugee participants. The facilitation of meaningful engagement, personal development, self-confidence, hope and aspiration is critical to the coping strategies, resilience and overall mental wellbeing of refugees. Our projects can help them to add purpose to their lives, and lift themselves out of a state of inactivity, situational depression and trauma. Further, Transformative Leadership in Action differs from other leadership programmes in that it focusses not only on personal development, but also on strengthening civil society through the creation of a community of like-minded people who collaborate across borders to contribute to social change and lasting impact. By sharing their experiences with others, participants broaden the impact locally and internationally.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our theory of change is that by strengthening the capacities of refugee teams, the self-determination and wellbeing of refugees is enhanced. Refugee-led initiatives can fill gaps in humanitarian action and provide displaced communities with a much-needed sense of belonging and community. They help build their resilience, contributing to the community-based social protection system. To determine the specific focus of initiatives, programme participants consult communities and co-design solutions. Same Skies conducts regular assessments of the capacities and capabilities of the teams. Surveys are conducted to capture their strengths and weaknesses, and to determine training and support priorities. In mid-term evaluations, progress is compared to the results of the baseline to measure the efficiency of the training and support and to adjust priorities. The final evaluation concludes projects, at which point the progress is measured against the baseline study and the mid-term assessment.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Over the last five years, Same Skies has developed and tested a community-based approach emphasising strengths, resilience and access to human rights called “Refugee-Led Action”. Through the Transformative Leadership in Action programme, we disseminate this approach, and promote global citizenship and collaborative leadership. Rather than seeing refugees as vulnerable or even as a burden, we believe that every individual has capacities that can contribute to society. We think that refugees should be allowed to take charge of every step involved in seeking and implementing solutions to the challenges they face. At the same time, this programme is a vehicle to create further and stronger partnerships between the humanitarian and corporate/private sector. We are convinced that all people can learn from each other, due to and despite their differences. This programme allows us to share positive practices and continue to build a better world together.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

For thousands of refugees in Asia, the possibility of resettlement has become increasingly limited due to global developments. They have been informed that they should seek to integrate into the local communities, however, they are still denied the right to work and study, and have limited access to other basic services. There is limited interaction between refugees and host communities, which leads to poor understanding of their situation. In the absence of formal support systems, refugee groups are willing to take matters into their own hands. Same Skies has been supporting groups in Indonesia and Malaysia, but we believe that our programme is flexible to adapt to different contexts. The above video was made by the team of Refugee Learning Center – one of the first projects we facilitated. If you want to learn more about them, visit their website ( and social media, or watch this video:

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We believe that conventional top-down service-delivery approaches often lack consultation on needs, and lead to dependency. Refugees are not given enough decision-making rights over their lives; their skills and ideas go unutilised. Remote oversight and support is a management approach traditionally only used as a last resort due to perceived constraints and risks. We transform the limitations of this management approach into opportunities to reinforce decision-making, ownership and autonomy. All our projects are led and managed by refugee teams. Our role is to advise, mentor and coach them by providing educational, technical, and financial assistance. Participants in the Transformative Leadership in Action programme utilise our approach to consult displaced communities on their most significant needs, and then co-design relevant community-based solutions. The refugee participants take ownership, conceiving, designing, implementing, and evaluating their own initiatives.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

This programme has been developed and is implemented with the support of experts from partners such as UNHCR (Indonesia and Malaysia), the Centre for Education & Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH), the Border Crossing Observatory of Monash University, BOOKBRIDGE, HOST International, Beyond the Fabric, The Make it Right Movement, and others. Further, programme participants are introduced to several refugee-led and community-based organisations, such as Refugee Learning Center, to learn from their experiences. UNHCR Hong Kong has expressed great interest in the programme, and we are currently jointly working on mobilising a network of humanitarian and private sector partners who would like to bring the programme to Hong Kong. We are always looking for new connections with like-minded organisations and initiatives. If you are interested to discuss – whether as an individual or institutional partner - please do not hesitate to contact us ( Thank you.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Same Skies

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Same Skies is a non-religious, politically neutral non-profit organisation. Our aim is to drive leadership and innovation, while taking care of each other, future generations and the planet. We are a multicultural and interdisciplinary team of compassionate professionals who work together towards a more peacefully and ethically shared world. In Indonesia, we successfully supported the establishment of Refugee Learning Center and Refugee Learning Nest ( Both centres are entirely run and managed by refugees, jointly providing access to education for nearly 500 refugee children and adults. Last year, Transformative Leadership in Action in Kuala Lumpur brought together eleven professionals from ten different countries. Jointly they established Refugee Network Center (, which now provides a platform for refugees to share skills to help each other improve livelihood opportunities. We work with and view these refugee groups as our partners

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

Henggart / Zurich


Join the conversation:

Photo of Zulfiqar Deo

Julia Frei Thanks for sharing your project. Its great you are highlighting how long the average life span of refugees tends to be. Most is 17 years - in some cases can be 20 if not 30 years.

Our approach is help them access entrepreneurial training so they can take ownership of their own lives Business financing for refugee entrepreneurs . Be great to have your thoughts on our approach.

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