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Transformative Leadership in Action: rethinking leadership in the corporate & humanitarian field, and facilitating global Refugee-led Action

We build a community of innovative leaders who enhance their own skills, while creating social impact by shifting the perception of refugees

Photo of Julia Frei
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

According to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 65.6 million displaced people in the world. Refugees are often perceived as a burden by host countries and have been increasingly used to polarise societal opinion. Conventional refugee assistance follows top-down approaches; service delivery lacks consultation on needs, and creates dependency. Refugees are not given ownership and decision-making rights over their own lives, and therefore their integration into the host community is often limited. Transformative Leadership in Action (TLIA) is a 7-month programme that brings together leaders from around the world in diverse professional contexts, including leaders with refugee backgrounds living in Malaysia. Participants follow online courses and share their knowledge through modern communications technology to develop and strengthen their own leadership approaches – despite and due to their differences. For two weeks, the participants will come together in Malaysia to create a strong team and become familiar with the Malaysian context. During the two weeks, they will co-design services that will be offered in a refugee-led centre in Kuala Lumpur to meet the educational, health and social needs of the refugee community. This centre will be led and managed by the refugee participants henceforth, while the others collaborate remotely as a team for the remainder of the programme. TLIA responds to challenges on several levels. Apart from creating social impact for the service users, it makes professional development accessible to refugee leaders (through scholarships) and creates for them employment opportunities. Further, bringing together people from various professional and cultural backgrounds creates a global community of like-minded people who can change the way refugees are perceived in the world, namely, as people with skills, resilience and capacities to contribute to society.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The beneficiaries are the programme participants. They will be trained in management and leadership, and will develop their leadership skills through interaction with experts, coaches and peers. TLIA also creates employment opportunities for the refugee leaders, as they will manage the centre. Further, the wider refugee community will be indirect beneficiary as they gain access to the services offered through the centre. Depending on identified community needs, the centre will likely offer education for adults and children, health consultations, and also address other needs. TLIA aims to shift the paradigm of how refugees are perceived in host countries. These countries will benefit from recognising their capacities, and greater social and economic inclusion of refugees will perhaps follow with this recognition. In addition, the participants will take what they have experienced back to their professions. The development sector and others may learn from TLIA and its new approach.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Same Skies was established by a multidisciplinary team with the aim of finding ways to strengthen the capacities of refugees, and including them in their own protection. We have spent the last four years testing, and adjusting our approach of Refugee-Led Action. Our experience has shown that the skills within displaced communities have the potential to bridge existing gaps in humanitarian assistance at a global level. TLIA builds bridges between people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, connecting them to one another to manage a genuine project. Further, the programme is managed mainly online, making it accessible to a large number of people, and requiring only easily accessible technology. What makes the programme more attractive than other online courses is the practical focus that allows participants to truly understand the context and put their new knowledge into practice. Further the participants can see the social impact they are creating, while improving their skills.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Same Skies is a non-religious, politically neutral, not-for-profit organisation, and our mission is innovative Refugee-Led Action that strengthens existing community-based capacities. We are legally established in Switzerland, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The co-founders have vast experience working with organisations using conventional approaches in refugee assistance and protection. After working in the Australian offshore-processing centres on Nauru and on Manus Island (PNG), a need for change became apparent. TLIA was developed in partnership with experts from the Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action in Geneva, Swinburne University, the Border Crossing Observatory of Monash University, BOOKBRIDGE and HOST International.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

The well-being of refugees in Malaysia is directly influenced by the lack of domestic legislation. Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocols. The government does not allow refugees to stay permanently. UNHCR is responsible for refugee status determination and for finding durable solutions, but is faced with limited resources. Diminishing resettlement options lead to long periods of limbo for refugees. Refugees are not allowed to work, and have limited access to education and health care. TLIA improves the prosperity of the refugee community by offering education and employment opportunities. Its replication will help to spread Same Skies' approach of letting refugees take over responsibility for projects. This will help with the shift of paradigm (to change the way refugees are perceived in the world) as more people join the programme which ultimately leads to more prosperity and peace for refugees and host countries.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Individuals from various professional backgrounds have shown great interest in the programme, and the course content has been developed by experts in the respective fields. Each participant will be connected to a leadership coach who will help them to translate the knowledge and experience into their own personal and professional context. The coaches have longstanding experience in leadership and management. Refugee Learning Centre in Indonesia will be a mentor for the TLIA team to share their experiences in setting up a community centre. Official partners are BOOKBRIDGE, Swinburn University, KYS Business School, the Border Crossing Observatory of Monash University and HOST International. UNHCR Malaysia is contributing through a presentation during the residential session, and has expressed interest in becoming a partner.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The greatest strength of TLIA is the diversity of its participants and collaborators that jointly aim to make a positive change. The pilot starting in June will create bonds between people from almost twenty countries. We see differences as an opportunity, acknowledging that our diverse backgrounds help us to continuously challenge each other and realise our potential. TLIA follows a unique and innovative approach of Refugee-Led Action nurtured by experiences from people around the world.

Geographic Focus

TLIA is open to everyone but the pilot will be implemented in Malaysia.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

TLIA will start on June 18th for 7 months. During this time, all the participants will accomplish online courses, meet for the residential session for two weeks in Malaysia, and work on the set-up of the refugee-led centre to practice the theoretical knowledge. The official 7 months programme will be followed by 12 months training and coaching support for the refugee leader who take over the management of the centre to ensure sustainability. Same Skies will be involved for the entire 19 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shikha Dixit

Hi, Julia! Your idea looks good. May be, for a novice like me, you may add a sentence to describe what 'transformative leadership' which will further add to the uniqueness of your proposal. 'Leadership' in the refugee context could also indicate 'political leadership'.

Photo of Julia Frei

Hi Shikha Dixit, thank you for the feedback. I have changed the overall title of our idea. Is it clearer like this? Or did I misunderstand your input? Thank you for your support.

Photo of Shikha Dixit

Hi Julia Frei, The title is really explicit now. It is much clearer and explanatory.
All the very best.