Uganda has one of the most progressive regulatory frameworks governing refugee protection in Africa. Unlike many of its neighbours, which encamp refugees, Uganda has a ‘self-reliance’ strategy, incorporated within its national legislation. This means that rather than limiting responses to refugees to humanitarian relief, a space is open for a development-based approach to refugee assistance.

Upon receiving status, refugees are given generous plots of land within designated settlement areas, which at the moment are 100 x 50m for a family 1-6 people. They are given so-called ‘non-food items’, including basic tools with which to cultivate, enabling them to subsist and sell any surplus. There is also some freedom of movement, although it requires permission to be sought from the Settlement Commander, and movement to urban areas is discouraged.

A look at Kyangwali  - the second largest settlement with 25,392 refugees (21,416 Congolese and 3678 Sudanese) -highlights many positives. Compared to most other refugee situations in Africa, the settlement offers a relatively high quality of life. Refugees have good size plots of highly fertile land on which they are able to grow mainly beans, maize, and rice. This means that the World Food Programme is only required to provide food assistance to new arrivals and the most vulnerable. Refugees have access to the same primary education and health facilities as the local population. Across a series of around a dozen villages, small shops run by refugees line the high street, and one can even go and enjoy rice, beans, greens for around 1000 Ugandan shillings in one of the ‘eating houses’.   

However, one is also left with a feeling that there should still be more and that there should be some prospect for people to aspire beyond a homogenized agricultural community. Many of the refugees have been there since the late 1990s and many of the young people were born there. The expectation is that everyone should be content with a simple agricultural life – even though many of the Congolese and Sudanese arrived with a diverse array of skills.

There is practically no post-primary education, with only a few scholarships to enable access to secondary schools, and a large youth population spends its days with little to do other than to hang out and play pool around open-air tables. The Finnish Refugee Council has run a library and a small computer room at its youth centre. Yet, the area is behind barbed wire fencing, uninspiring, and it the process of being phased out due to lack of funding.

In many ways this is as good as refugee protection in Africa gets and the Ugandan government can only be praised for its self-reliance strategy. However, with a few thoughtful interventions things could still be far better. There is no reason why refugees should all be presumed to spend their lives as homogenous subsistence farmers. Instead, aspiration and variety might be promoted through facilitating better activities and training for the youth, distance-learning programs to close the secondary education gap, cooperatives to increase the return on the sale of crops to exploitative market traders who buy-up surplus yields.

All of these things could be done with an innovative set of activities that work with refugees to engage them in sustaining activities within their own community. There is no reason a refugee camp should look like a kolkhoz and insist on equality and homogeneity among the populations. Of course, there are challenges of needing to avoid divisions within the community or with the local population. However, this should not be used as an excuse to limit activities that promote human flourishing, aspiration, and skill acquisition. The Ugandan government’s pioneering approach offers a canvas on which to build. 

A significant proportion of the world’s refugees end up in so-called protracted refugee situations, being stuck in limbo in camps or settlements for many years. Traditionally, there have been three durable solutions to bring ‘the refugee cycle’ to an end: repatriation, resettlement, and local integration. However, for many refugees, these options are simply unavailable, and they spend many years without the right to work or to freedom of movement.  In some rare contexts, host states have attempted to offer refugees forms of self-reliance or the opportunity to earn a livelihood or to work. However, even in states in which refugees do have the right to work of freedom of movement, there are often few livelihood or training opportunities available to refugees, whether in rural or urban areas.

Livelihoods projects or self-reliance have often been conceived in an unsustainable way. Refugee issues are generally seen as a humanitarian rather than a development challenge. So when livelihood projects have been developed or refugees have had freedom of movement, organizations like UNHCR have not always had the resources to create the training, entrepreneurial or work opportunities desired by many refugees. There are a range of livelihoods projects for refugees, not least in urban areas but they tend to be small-scale, based around a limited range of professions that fail to acknowledge the diversity of skills and aspirations of refugees, and they are generally conceived based on a logic of charity rather than one of sustainable market opportunity.

Yet the missing link in making self-reliance and refugee livelihoods a sustainable reality may well be the private sector. Humanitarians have too often had an instinctive antipathy for the private sector. And, historically, it is striking how little humanitarian actors have tried to engage the private sector. Yet livelihoods and self-reliance can ultimately only work if sustainable market-based opportunities are found.  Many NGO implementing partners to UNHCR do partner with local private actors to provide training opportunities. For example, in Kampala, Interaid partners with a local garage to offer skills training to Congolese and Sudanese refugees but these opportunities tend to be isolated and small scale.

If refugees could be conceived to be a ‘benefit’ rather than a ‘burden’ to their host communities, to be engaged as market actors who bring an economic contribution to their host societies then this could be a game-changer in the way refugees are perceived and hosted by local host populations. Yet, where self-reliance is based on donor contributions or charitable projects it tends to fall short of creating genuine sustainability. Of course, refugees will always need emergency assistance and support from donor and host states. However, if private sector actors can be engaged at the local, national and global levels, there may be the possibility to reconceive the entire basis of the ‘refugee experience’.

The question then is how can the private sector be engaged in refugee protection? What are the incentives that can draw in private sector actors or ‘crowd in’ rather than ‘crowd out’ markets as an alternative to state-based assistance? UNHCR has over recent years begun to develop greater private sector engagement. It initially saw multinational corporations and foundations mainly as a fundraising opportunity. It was assumed that their contribution would be based on either philanthropy or corporate social responsibility. Yet, gradually, there has been a realization that there may be another way in which the private sector can be engaged based not on a logic of charity but on a for-profit basis: through innovation.

Innovation is not the same as invention. It is not about novelty but about finding ways to adapt existing technologies to address particular bottlenecks within context. It represents a potential motive for private sector engagement insofar as refugee communities represent a potential source of ideas, creativity and technological adaptation. They represent a group within which products and processes can be piloted, prototyped and then taken to scale. This process can take place on many levels.

At the grassroots level innovation may be as simply as refugees themselves finding improved ways to engage in rainwater harvesting, forming collectives to enhance their ability to market their produce at higher prices, or developing ways to microfinance small businesses.  At the national level, there may be ways to engage local entrepreneurs. In Uganda, an engineer at Makerere University, Moses Musaazi, has developed a firm called Technology for Tomorrow (T4T) which has developed an affordable sanitary pad – the Makapad – which has been made and developed in the Kyaka II refugee settlement, and is now aspiring to be taken to scale in the national market. At the global level, refugees and displaced populations potentially offer a context in which companies might pilot and prototype products, with the potential go to scale to a far larger market, with the possibility to reverse innovate products for Western consumers.

Innovation thereby creates a potential motive for private sector engagement at all levels, drawing in and developing a new range of solutions within the different sectors that comprise humanitarianism – water, sanitation and hygiene, health, and information and communications technology, for example. In turn this may reduce dependency on international assistance while simultaneously bringing better solutions to the challenges faced by refugees. Furthermore, it offers the possibility to develop the skills, talents and agency of refugees. Participatory approaches to innovation, which promote the creativity and entrepreneurialism of refugees, can empower in ways in which many aspects of humanitarianism disempower by creating dependency.

The question then is how can such an approach be conceived? There are precedents of humanitarian innovation initiatives in other contexts, which have partly built upon private sector partnerships. UNICEF’s innovation labs, the largest of which are in Kosovo and Uganda, have developed different models of innovation but have simultaneously improved UNICEF’s own interventions while developing the skills, entrepreneurialism and civic participation of young people, in particular. Private sector initiative has been key. In Kosovo, young people have been mentored to develop their own social innovation projects and businesses. In Uganda, local partners like Uganda Telecom have made in-kind contributions.

A necessary starting point for engaging the private sector through innovation is research. This is needed at two levels, which might be phrased as ‘looking inwards’ – understanding the skills, talents, livelihoods, and aspirations of particular refugee communities within their cultural context - and ‘looking outwards’ – identifying potential private sector actors and untapped technologies and ideas in relevant sectors of humanitarianism which might be matched with the opportunities afforded by the particular context.

These two levels of analysis might then be brought together within a physical space – ‘a Refugee Innovation Centre’, within which refugees’ own skills, talents and aspirations would meet outside ‘solution holders’, whose ideas might be adapted to context in order to promote market-based opportunities that benefit refugees, enhance the tools available to humanitarian organization, and create for-profit opportunities across the board. Such ‘Refugee Innovation Centres’ might be located in rural or urban areas, and their focus would depend on context. They might provide the equipment, mentorship, and training space within which refugees’ own ideas and talents could be incubated with engagement from a range of external actors. The aim would be to create a diverse range of sustainable livelihoods and business opportunities for refugees, which simultaneously benefit the host community.

Most refugees want freedom and opportunity rather than dependency and indefinite welfare. It is a human tragedy that refugees spend years on end in camps with access to post-primary education, livelihood opportunities or freedom of movement. Humanitarian organizations like UNHCR have traditionally lacked the capacity to take a developmental approach to refugee protection. Yet, it may well be that the private sector – at all levels from small groups of refugees up to large global corporations – represents the missing link for potentially transforming the paradigm on which refugee protection has been based. Furthermore, if best practices can be developed that highlight how refugees can contribute to development and growth, host governments may begin to see refugees as a benefit rather than a burden and begin to change their own policies accordingly. 

In James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, he talks about the way in which monoculture often leads to massively reduced agricultural fertility in comparison to polyculture. He takes this as an analogy to highlight how state policies that overly simplify and rigidly order human communities often have unintended, negative consequences. However, the analogy might equally be applied to institutions that overly specialize or homogenize their personnel structures to the detriment of diversity or openness to outside ideas.

Over two thirds of award-winning innovations in the US supposedly emerge from cross-sectoral collaborations. This is an indication that when people are brought together from disparate backgrounds, the value-added is often far greater than if people work together with similarly qualified people. Yet, reaching out across sectors and engaging in open dialogue is anathema in many institutions, not least parts of the academic and humanitarian contexts with which I am most familiar.

I recently attended a conference, Engineering and Humanity Week, in which one of the core themes was to “broaden the conversation” by bringing together a diverse group of people who might not otherwise speak to one another. It included engineers, artists, activists, people from international organizations, journalists, the private sector, the military, documentary filmmakers, architects, and inventors.  Despite their different backgrounds, they came together around the common theme of how to channel their endeavors into improving the plight of the world’s bottom 2 billion, with a particular focus on refugees and displaced people.

The result of being brought together with a group of people with whom I might have expected to have very little in common was a rich and stimulating environment, in which new and creative ideas flourished. It led me to think about how ideas are generally generated in relation to refugee protection.

Within UNHCR, for all its strengths, there has traditionally been very little scope for ‘broadening the conversation’. Typically there is little personnel movement in or out of the organization. Staff usually spends most of their careers within the organization, Few staff are moved on and not many are hired mid-career. There are few opportunities for secondments in and out of the organization to allow new ideas to be brought in. In his evaluation of the institution’s organizational culture, Martin Gottwald highlights that UNHCR follows a hierarchical ‘directive leadership ‘ structure in which the figure of the High Commissioner determines much of the strategic direction of the Office in consultation with a small cadre of senior management. The result, he suggests, has often been closure to new ideas.

This kind of closure tends to lead to a recreation of old ideas rather than the ability to institutionally adapt and innovate. Unlike in the private sector, most UN organizations do not even have advisory boards to offer strategic guidance. UNHCR once had an academic advisory board but it was disbanded shortly after its creation. While it has country boards of trustees – such as UNHCR for USA – these are merely national fundraising arms rather than sources of sustained guidance that might be derived from different perspectives such as academia or the private sector.  

This is not a challenge unique to the UN system. Even academia – the sector one would imagine to be most open to diversity of ideas – suffers from the creation of narrow silos of specialism. Disciplinary or thematic specialism within research groups does not always favor creativity. Instead, it can lead to a narcissism of small differences within which conversations become insular and people focus on, compete over, and debate ever narrower sets of ideas, often in ways that make people allocate time towards distinguishing themselves from colleagues along increasingly narrow axes.


Roma children at Leposavic IDP camp
For a small group of Roma, the displacement resulting from the Kosovo conflict of 1999 is not yet over. Displaced from ethnic Albanian areas during the war after being accused of collusion with the Serbs, many Roma were displaced into the Serbian minority areas in the far north of the country.  While most have now been relocated, a small pocket remains trapped in limbo.  In the Leposavic IDP camp, 160 Roma including around 60 children, have lived for the last 13 years in some of the most appalling and squalid conditions imaginable.

They are indirect victims of a political impasse between the majority Albanian and minority Serb population. The river Ibar, which sharply divides North Mitrovica from South Mitrovica, creates a de factor partition within which the different municipalities rarely cooperate, and the international community is reluctant to support activities within the mainly Serbian areas to the north, for fear of alientating the mainly Albanian partners in the capital, Pristina. This impasse has indirectly left a small group of Roma in this intractable state of limbo and in conditions that should be unacceptable anywhere in the world, let alone in Europe.

The neglected history of the Leposavic IDPs (internally displaced persons) can be traced back to 1999. Before the war, there were around 8000 Roma in Mitrovica, relatively well integrated and working in a variety of professions, including in several factories. In particular a large number lived in the so-called Roma Mahala area of South Mitrovica.  With the conflict, the Roma were caught in between Serbs and Albanians, widely being accused of colluding with the Serbs. The houses in Roma Mahala were grenaded, and the Roma fled. Many went abroad while others crossed the river Ibar, into North Mitrovica. 
Zvecan lead smelting plant
UNHCR initially set up three main camps in the area, for those north of the river, and those who returned from abroad. The main one, a Serbian military base was in Zvecan, next to a large lead extraction mine. Almost immediately children started to become seriously ill from lead poisoning, some dying. In 2005, they were moved to the Osterode camp, another former military compound, just up the road in North Mitrovica, into specially built steel transit units.  But again, the wind continued to carry lead from the mine across the camp, leading to some of the highest levels of lead poisoning in Europe. 

Of those transferred to Osterode, only 9 "high risk" families remain there today (for example, those who worked for predominantly Serbian institutions), and the housing units have been demolished to prevent other squatters from living in an area with such high lead contamination.  The rest from Osterode have been relocated to specially built housing back in the original Roma Mahala in South Mitrovica, with funding from the European Commission and USAID. The municipality of South Mitrovica has been prepared to accept back those that could prove they had land title before the war.

The only water source at the camp
However, the group in Leposavic has remained largely outside of these initiatives, with little prospect of solutions. While the number in the camp has diminished over time, 160 remain. They are on a dilapidated former military compound. The central hangar has been converted into a single makeshift shelter, divided with wooden slats into small areas for each family. The structure is unstable, there is no heating, and the roof appears on the verge of collapse. Surrounding the hangar are small out-houses, serving as sanitary units. The entire area is squalid and people live in limbo, some born there, with no access to the most basic standards of shelter, water hygiene, or sanitation. A WHO-UNICEF survey has also found dangerously high levels of lead poisoning among the children but they are unsure of the provenance. 

The Roma political representative for the region explained his hopes to present a relocation plan to the international donor community later in May. He suggested they.want to be able to return to their regions of origin and to have access to livelihoods. However, there seems little immediate prospect of either relocation or basic assistance to improve the Leposavic camp. The different municipalities do not want to take responsibility. Leposavic is not prepared to offer more permanent solutions while North and South Mitrovica are reluctant to offer solutions to anyone who cannot prove they had land title in those areas before the conflict.

Meanwhile, the International community is equally avoiding responsibility.  UNHCR has an office 5 minutes drive away in Zvecan. According to the Roma community, the last UNHCR visit was in June 2011 to carry out a relocation survey. Its sizeable country programme instead focuses mainly on the repatriation and rights of returning Kosovars from abroad. UNICEF has a small programme for the 60 children but only has 150,000 Euros over 2 years from its German National Committee. Most donors are reluctant to fund anything in the Serb area because of fear of alienating their mainly ethnic Albanian partners in Pristana.

In the interim, caught between the politics of ongoing Albanian-Serb division, it is the IDPs of the Leposavic camp who bear the cost of the impasse. It is hard to imagine that within Europe, there can be a camp in which children have no access to the most basic shelter, clean water or sanitation.  Dramatic interim improvements would be easy from a technical or financial perspective, and yet the complex politics of the region, combined with stereotypes about the Roma, means that this group of families is left in limbo.    

I have just come back from a short visit to UNICEF’s Innovation Lab in Pristina. The lab exists partly to develop and pilot products and processes to assist in UNICEF's work and that of its government ministry partners.  However, in a country in which 53% of the population are aged under 25 and 72% of those aged 17-25 are unemployed, the lab has a broader social aim: to be inclusive, involving what in the UN system is often referred to as the “beneficiary community”.  Rather than just building technological solutions, “innovation” in Kosovo is about building training, aspiration, and livelihood opportunities for Kosovo’s young people. It was this participatory approach that was of particular interest to me in thinking how it might be conceived in a refugee context in order to innovate with rather than simply for a “population of concern”.

UNICEF has a long history of innovation, developing products that it has either invented or taken to scale. Examples include “Plumpy’nut”, conceived for child malnutrition as an alternative to therapeutic milk in contexts where no clean water is available, or the “School-in-a-Box”, which provides all of the equipment needed for a class of 30 children for 3 months.  In recent years, though, it has tried to routinize this process of innovation, creating an “Innovation Unit’” at Headquarters and a growing series of “Innovation Labs” at the field level. Its first two labs were created in Kosovo and Uganda in 2010, and the model has gradually been unrolled to a series of other countries. 

The lab is the brainchild of Luciano Calestini, the Acting Head of the UNICEF Office in Kosovo. It is based on a collaboration between UNICEF and a local NGO implementing partner, PEN (Peer Educators Network), which runs much of the lab on a day-to-day basis. The lab itself is an open space, with a Google-like aesthetic layout, created by Aferdita Zymberi, a trained architect, who leads one of the core lab projects on behalf of PEN. It provides workspaces, computers, open spaces, beanbags, desks, and whiteboards, conducive for creativity, brainstorming, and programming. Over its first two years, three core areas of its work have emerged.

The first area of work is called “By Youth for Youth” (BY-FY). It aims to give young people a first project management experience. Providing seed funding of up to 2500 Euros for projects “with potential to being positive social change to the community”. The lab offers logistical support and mentorship before, during and after project funding. So far, it has funded 53 projects, working with over 4000 people in the process. Successful projects include the development of a website mapping Kosovo’s transportation system, which is now on the Municipality of Pristina website; resources to encourage young people to vote developed by two 20 year-olds; and three blind students from the university who developed a project to convert teaching material to brail for blind students.

Second, the “Design Centre” focuses its core activities on data management – especially supporting the government’s limited capacity in data collection. Its main project relates to birth registration, supporting a wider EU-funded initiative to increase registrations. The design centre is building upon work in UNICEF’s Uganda lab to pilot the use of SMS to facilitate birth registration, enabling incidences of non-registration to be reported and mapped. Other areas under development include using SMS temperature reporting for "cold chain" monitoring in vaccine transportation and a possible smoking project to crowd source map compliance with public smoking legislation.

Third, the "Youth Advocacy Platform" (YAP) aims to involve young people in civic activity. In the context of a 2010 Youth Opinion Poll, which revealed that 48% of young people no confidence in Kosovo’s institutions or its politicians, this strand seeks to develop a demand for civic participation. One of its many activities coincided with my visit: the inaugural Kosovo Innovation Camp, run in partnership with the London-based Social Innovation Camp. The Camp brought together a group of 16-29 year olds, divided into 6 groups, to work together for a very intensive 36 hours and work on developing a web-based social innovation in the presence of mentors with skills in programming, design, and project development. The groups conceived projects that use crowdsource mapping to lobby the government to repair damaged roads and buildings or a website matching employers with "small jobs", internship or volunteer opportunities with unemployed young people, for example.  The winners were offered BY-FY grants to launch their ideas but the main takeaway was opportunities for training from mentors. The experience led me to wonder whether the camp might be replicated within refugee communities, for example. 

I went to Kosovo with the primary aim of bringing back insights for what the UNICEF experience can offer humanitarian innovation in the refugee context. Three days of listening has given me a lot to consider.  However, a number of analytical features of the Kosovo lab strike me as particularly worth highlighting. 1) Innovation is relative. It is not about novelty or invention. It is about finding better ways to do things within particular cultural, political, and legal contexts. Whether they are novel elsewhere does not matter so much as whether they overcome ‘bottleneck’s within context. 2) Holistic benefits. Innovation does not have to just be about the value of the end products. Rather, a process that includes the "beneficiary community" in a participatory way can offer opportunities for training, empowerment and aspiration.  In Kosovo there has been a trade-off between speed and inclusivity but it has led to real benefits. 3) Local partners.  International innovation projects cannot be conceived as exclusively top-down; they require partners who know the context and have local networks within and beyond beneficiary communities. 4) Political and institutional space. The innovations that are worth pursuing in context have to work with the regulatory environment of the state, albeit possibly by innovating to overcome bottlenecks  - of capacity or will - within those structures. 5) Funding challenges. Traditional donors are often skeptical of holistically framed approaches to innovation. It means that funding either requires non-traditional donors or non-traditional messages to more traditional donors. 

The UN is not conventionally known as a place of innovation. However, the Kosovo Innovation Lab highlights what can be done by pioneering individuals prepared to work from the ground-upwards and in partnership with local actors as well as the ‘beneficiary community’.  It offers useful analogies for beginning to develop inclusive and participatory approaches to humanitarian innovation in the refugee context.
At the domestic level, state intervention is generally justified to correct for market failure: if a good is collectively valued but undersupplied, the state often steps in.  A similar rationale applies at the international level. Domestically, welfare states are justified on the grounds that certain goods and services necessary to support the conditions for basic human dignity are not provided by the market. Internationally, inter-governmental humanitarianism is similarly justified by the assumed inability of the market to provide an analogous basket of goods. Because the "invisible hand" of the market is assumed not to be able to provide the food, shelter, health and security of the most vulnerable, an array of international and non-governmental organizations frequently step in and provide those goods and services.  Some goods are assumed to be "private goods" provided by the market but others – like humanitarianism - are assumed to be "public goods", which can only be offered by the state or its international analogue, the inter-state.

In the area of humanitarianism in which I work – refugee protection – responses have traditionally been defined by this implicit logic.  In an emergency, when refugees flee across a border into a neighbouring state the public international – acting through international organizations - effectively annexes a territorial space within that state within which is collectively provides humanitarian assistance. The implicit reason why it is seen as necessary for this role to be played by an intergovernmental actor is to fill a market failure: it is supplying a public goods that would not otherwise be supplied by the market.  However, relying almost exclusively on what might be referred to as an "inter-governmental welfare statist" approach beyond the initial emergency phase creates a range of challenges. First, it risks creating dependency among refugees.  Their own skills and talents may be under-used when refugee situations endure beyond the emergency phase and become protracted. Second, it may not be sustainable given that there is a finite funding pool at the intergovernmental level, often constrained by the generosity of donor government taxpayers.

Of course the intergovernmental part of humanitarianism is crucial for ensuring the provision of assistance that would not be provided by the market. However, the danger is that over-reliance on a purely statist logic risks "crowding out" the provision of humanitarian assistance by the market. At the local level, where refugees have been given opportunities for livelihoods or meaningful participation in markets, they have usually been able to use their own resources and skills to find their own methods of survival or forms of self-protection. At the national level, where free interaction between refugee and host communities has been allowed, business opportunities have frequently emerged to provide goods and services to refugee populations. At the global level, a range of private actors may find a business case for working sustainably with refugee populations that risks being crowded out by an exclusively statist approach.

UNHCR – as the main international organization working with refugees – has gradually begun to recognise the potential contribution of private actors to refugee protection. Initially, it saw private actors as mainly philanthropic contributors. However, it has gradually begun to recognise the role of multinational corporations as prospective partners – capable of making a contribution to humanitarianism through expertise and innovation.  One of the keys to meaningful UNHCR engagement with the private sector is to map out the incentive structure underlying private engagement in refugee protection. Three incentives in particular seem likely to drive engagement from companies like IKEA, which recently made a 62 million Euro donation to UNHCR. First, values: the leadership of corporations is made up of individuals and within an oligopolistic industry those individuals have the discretionary space within which to act partly on the basis of values as well as just the profit motive. Second, brand: even working within the constraints of the profit-motive, MNCs may engage in corporate social responsibility as a means to developing brand association with humanitarian causes. Third – and most importantly – scalability: where piloting and prototyping a product within a particular context promotes innovation, it may enable opportunities for scalable products to emerge for which there may be a wider market.

It is the last of these – scalability – that offers the greatest but most neglected potential incentive for private sector engagement in UNHCR’s work. The organization’s 43 million population of concerns provides an almost ideal context for reverse innovation that can emerge from the field level, and then be scaled to meet the needs not only of refugees but potentially also other people within the world’s bottom 2 billion. By working with UNHCR, corporations such as IKEA, Formens Hus, Bechtel, Google, Facebook, CAT, for example, have the potential to develop innovations in shelter, health, water, sanitation, education, markets, managerial process, information and communications technology, which not only enhance the quality, efficiency and sustainability of humanitarian assistance but are also potentially scalable and more widely marketable. 

Embracing ‘scalability’ as a motive for private sector participation in humanitarianism has normative dimensions. On balance, though, and if done well, the moral case seems strongly in favour. When refugees are consulted about what they want, most do not want to be in an intractable state of limbo, dependent on welfare. What they generally want is a return as quickly as possible to autonomous engagement in markets.  Of course, there is no guarantee that MNC engagement guarantees that. However, done in the right way, incentives for private sector innovation may open up opportunities for greater refugee autonomy and a reduction in dependency.  This would come through both process and outcome. Through directly involving refugees in the innovation process, they can become active participants in both problem-identification and solution development. Better innovation leading to the development of new educational resources, new market opportunities, the availability of better communications technology, and more efficient forms of remittance-sending, for example, would ultimately enhance the degree to which refugees can use and develop their own skills and talents, even within whatever wider political constraints are imposed by the host government.

The purpose of the state at the domestic level should not be to create indefinite dependency on welfare and nor should it be one that leaves vulnerable people deprived of assistance. It should be one that nurtures people to be capable of autonomously and sustainably participating in both society and markets.  The analogy applies to the humanitarian context as well. The challenge of the refugee context is that states sometimes impose political restrictions on what refugees can and cannot do. But this does not mean that innovative ways of enhancing autonomy and minimising dependency cannot be found. The scalability motive potentially offers the opportunity to achieve this by combining the talents and resources of refugees with the greatest private sector innovation talents in the wider world.

But achieving this requires a new role for international organizations. Rather than simply being a direct provider of humanitarian assistance based on state funding, an additional facilitative role would be needed. It would be almost a "regulatory" role, seeking to recognise and channel incentives for particular kinds of private sector engagement. New Institutional Economics, for example, has long recognised the important interaction between states and markets. The right regulatory and incentives structures are needed for markets to work effectively.  Analogously, for a humanitarian organisation like UNHCR, the challenge would be to create the right balance of incentives – at the global, national and local levels – to ensure "crowding in" rather than "crowding out" of market opportunities. Recognising and channelling those incentive structures in the right way has the potential to massively increase the potential source of funding available to humanitarian organizations, even in an "age of austerity", while transforming the very nature of protection and humanitarian assistance for the better.

The UK does not have a written constitution. But it does have a constitutional framework, which has existed and evolved over nearly 1000 years. Like the constitutions of nearly every liberal democratic state in the world, a rule-based framework exists that ensures an appropriate separation of powers between legislature, executive and judiciary. Its purpose is to ensure that checks and balances exist to prevent any given government – in between electoral cycles – from riding roughshod over basic principles of governance or civil liberties, and to keep in check majoritarian tyranny, the abuse of power, or extreme populism.

Over the last few weeks, the Conservative Government, and particularly David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May, has scaled new heights in pursuing policies that ride roughshod over basic constitutional principles relating to the separation of powers and ensuring checks on government power. Part of this has been grounded in apparent ignorance of the boundaries of government authority. But the Government has also shown arrogance in its determination to disregard basic rules and principles, pursuing populism and ideology over recognition that even Government is constrained by rules and principles. Three recent examples – from different areas of government -  highlight an emerging pattern.  

Example 1: Human Rights

At this week's Conservative Party conference, Theresa May trampled all over human rights – but managed to do so in a manner that was based on gross misinterpretation of existing jurisprudence. She said: “We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act…The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat…This is why I remain of the view that the Human Rights Act needs to go.” The problem with this was several fold. She misrepresented the details of the ‘catgate’ case in which the decision was not in fact based on ownership of a cat - as she claimed - but on the fact the Home Office had failed to follow its own guidance procedures. This use of populist and inaccurate distortion of human rights jurisprudence, in conjunction with anti-immigration sentiment is dangerous enough by itself.   However, this is not the only reason why her invective against human rights and migrant rights protection was problematic. The other important reason is that the rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act, that May said she wants to get rid of, are the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) into English Law. The ECHR - and the body of jurisprudence relating to it and the Human Rights Act - represent a core part of the checks and balances on inappropriate governmental authority. For a government to seek to undermine this is frightening; if it were any other country making these suggestions about abrogating the core principles of the ECHR and overriding judicial authority, we would be very concerned.

Example 2: Policing

During the riots and looting that took place in August, the Government not only ceased to respect very basic civil liberties (for example, threatening to suspend the use of social media), it also consistently over-stepped the mark of its authority in its approach to policing. In the UK – and for good reasons that again relate to appropriate checks and balances on government – the police has operational independence from government. In a famous judgment in the case of Blackburn in 1968, Lord Denning stated: “No Minister of the Crown can tell him that he must, or must not, keep observation on this place or that; or that he must, or must not, prosecute this man or that one. Nor can any police authority tell him so. The responsibility for law enforcement lies on him. He is answerable to the law and to the law alone”. This idea of operational independence has been a basic principle of British policing ever since. Throughout the riots, both David Cameron gave “orders” to the police to operationally act in particular ways - openly criticising the London Metropolitan Police, stating that he had commanded 10,000 extra police on to the streets, and making public demands relating to police operations.

Example 3: Bank of England Independence

In addressing government economic policy, George Osborne has repeatedly talked not only about the government’s fiscal policy but also its monetary policy.  In doing so, he has encroached on the territory of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, which, constitutionally, has responsibility for setting interest rates and managing monetary policy. The Bank of England has been independent from Government for the last 15 years. Yet, on numerous occasions, the Chancellor has sought an active role in pushing the Bank of England to keep interest rates low and to use quantitative easing (printing money) to stimulate the economy. This approach reflects long-held monetarist ideology that has been a feature of Conservative government since the 1980s. And it is precisely because monetary policy can be so politicized that there is a 'constitutional' division of responsibility between government and the Bank. Yet, at the Conservative Party conference, Osborne once again came close to usurping political influence over the Bank: “ We will help the Bank of England keep interest rates at record lows while the economy is weak. In a debt crisis it is the most powerful stimulus that exists. Nothing would be more fatal for an economy as indebted as ours than a sharp rise in interest rates…Of course the Bank of England have their own independent judgment to make on quantitative easing….But there is more the Government itself can do to get credit flowing and encourage investment…So as part of my determination to get the economy moving I have set the Treasury to work on ways to inject money directly into parts of the economy that need it such as small businesses”. Articulating public concerns is one thing, but attempting to influence or pressure the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee into a particular stance is arguably going too far. 

Of course it’s valid for the government to listen to public concerns. It’s reasonable within democratic governance to propose reform to legislation in areas that might relate to human rights, policing, and monetary policy. However, what is not acceptable – or arguably constitutional – is for a Government to repeatedly over-step important separations of power between legislature, executive and judiciary that have been created to protect the public interest. These are not radical ideas; one would presume that respect for the separation of powers and civil liberties would be consistent with Conservative values. Apparently not. 

On Wednesday, Steve Jobs announced that he was standing down as CEO of Apple due to ill health. He has since been rightly feted as one of greatest CEOs in history for the relentless creativity and vision he has brought to Apple and his range of other business activities. During the year I lived in Palo Alto, I became aware of how integrated he was within the community, responding to requests not just from Stanford but also from local schools, frequently being seen relaxing in local coffee shops, and setting up his family home just a stone’s throw from University Avenue where the first ever Apple store is based. Everything I heard about him suggested someone with a real hunger to make a contribution to the community and to humanity as a whole.

Entrepreneurialism has a much better reputation in the US than it does in Europe, where capitalism is often seen an inherently dirty word. As a European, I frequently found myself sceptical about many of the mantras of the private sector I heard during my year in Silicon Valley. One idea I heard with increasing regularity is that most entrepreneurs will contribute far more to society through just making money than they will by paying taxes. While businesses do create jobs, wealth and bring innovation, I am partly sceptical of that generalisation because enterprise - and the resulting changes in production and consumption patterns - also inevitably leads to cultural externalities that may or may not be positive.

However, on this score, there is little doubting that Steve Jobs has made a massive contribution to the improvement of humanity through innovation and vision.  The opportunities that a MacBook Air or an IPhone bring – not just to the world’s privileged - and the entertainment made possible by IPods or by the films of a company like Pixar are remarkable creations individually.  As a portfolio of one man’s work, they are extraordinary.

Before I went to Stanford last year, I watched the video of Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address from 2005 (pasted below - and well worth watching). It offers a remarkable insight into the man, as well as some wonderful pearls of wisdom that are useful in life – far beyond the realm of private sector success. They are the kind of insights that come from the vantage point not only of a visionary man but one whose perspective is informed by the sense of mortality that comes from serious life-threatening illness. The speech is surely one of the most inspiring matriculation speeches in history; certainly far above the standard Oxford line of “do not fritter away your time on idle pursuits”.

In the speech, Jobs offers three lessons.  First, he suggests that life only makes sense backwards. You cannot “connect the dots” forwards;  the things that we do become coherent over time. So rather than follow a prescribed plan, we should trust ”our gut, destiny, karma, whatever…even if it leads you off the well-trodden path”. Second, he shows how important it is to do what you love. For him “work” and “life” are not separate; they are one and the same: “the only way to do great work is to love what you do…You’ve got to find what you love – if you haven’t found it keep looking; don’t settle”. Third, he explains how the inevitability of death can motivate life. He asks himself “if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today, and whenever the answer has been no for too many days, I know I need to change something”. He says that “remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool I have ever encountered to help me make the big important decisions”.

These three insights of trusting your instinct, not settling, and recognizing that you only have one life are simple enough. They are not original or complex but they are important and valuable. And when told by Steve Jobs they have the resonance of someone who has genuinely lived by the principles he preaches: ”Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; they somehow already know what you want to become".

There are two concurrent art exhibitions in Bristol at the moment, both of which exhibit artists whose work more commonly adorns greetings cards than the walls of public art museums. Although seemingly uncoordinated, the showing of Jack Vettriano’s work at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) and Beryl Cook’s work in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery have much in common. Neither artist has formal training and both have been disparaged by the elitist art world; yet each one has been warmly embraced by the British public. Their iconic images – Vettriano’s dancers against the backdrop of the ocean and Cook’s intimate and friendly portrayals of British life – sit on many a Great British mantle piece. However, the transferal from card shop to art gallery of two self-trained artists with a simple self-proclaimed desire to give aesthetic pleasure to their audiences poses fundamental questions about the standards of inclusivity and exclusivity in determining what should reach the walls of the public art gallery – and who should determine those standards.

When a painter receives public acclaim while being lambasted by the academy, what does it mean for the worthiness of that art and the criteria by which we judge whether it deserves to be publicly displayed? The expressionist Arnold Schoenberg famously said, “if it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art”. The quote can be interpreted as an appeal to the inherent exclusivity of art. Art history is riven with a dialectical contest between elitism and populism, in which the ‘academy’ has sought to uphold ideals of technique and training, while the ‘masses’ have enjoyed images that often defy formal standards of ‘worthy’ art.  The shift in Renaissance art to include non-religion subjects, the idealized beauty of the Pre-Raphaelites, and the methods of the early Impressionists were all shunned by elites in their contemporary art worlds. Such examples reveal that history often falls on the side of the populist and judges elitist snobbery harshly. Before visiting the two exhibitions, I expected to fall on the side of the populist – to take the view that if images are beautiful they are art, and if they encourage more people to attend public galleries that can only be positive. And yet, in practice, I ended up with a far more nuanced perspective. My view of the two exhibitions could not have been more different from one another – suggesting that in some cases, damning judgments of populism may be fully merited. 

Vettriano’s exhibition is a joint show with photographer Jeanette Jones called ‘The Ballroom Spy’, featuring her black and white photos of competitive ballroom dancing and, among other works, his paintings based on some of those photographs. Vettriano – whose real name is Jack Hoggan – has become one of Britain’s best-known artists. His most famous work evokes images of the 1920s and 1930s and frequently features himself with a model, dancing together, often in a beachfront or seaside location. Vettriano is among Britain’s richest contemporary artists and his paintings sell for in excess of £100,000. And yet, ‘The Ballroom Spy’ represents the first time that his work has been shown at a public gallery in the UK. The decision of the RWA to display his work was extremely controversial among the elite ‘academicians’ of the RWA, for whom Vettriano’s limited technique and populist appeal, coupled with the risqué images of in his early career, were a source of intense internal disagreement.

Vettriano’s iconic images are seen as romantic, intense and evocative of another era.  It is why they work so well as greetings cards. Yet, when hung on a gallery wall, his paintings reveal themselves for what they are: superficial, lifeless and technically limited. Jeanette Jones’ photos contain all of the movement and vitality one would expect of competitive ballroom dancing. Yet when transferred to Vettriano’s canvass, the same images are devoid of movement, becoming static and soulless. The bodies of the dancers – their muscles, sinew and veins – disappear and they turn into featureless heads upon limp masses of clothing. To disguise his technical limitations, Vettriano employs a range of techniques. He almost always paints from 90 degree side-on angles to avoid the complexity of facial features. He adds direct spotlighting so that the increased use of light and shade can compensate for a lack of depth or perspective. 

Juxtaposed against Jones’ photographs, the most damning aspect of the exhibition is what it suggests about Vettriano’s methods.  By his own admission, he works mainly from photographs. Many of his images are based on a posed – and often highly contrived – photographs, usually of himself and a model together. The contrast with Jones’ photos reveals the precise, almost scientific way in which the contours of the photos are transferred to the canvas. The straight lines are exact to the point of ruler-like and the blocks of colour in some of the paintings are almost pixelated in quality, giving them a digitized or traced quality. Vettriano’s only moment of creativity comes from one simple, entrepreneurial idea: to create posed photos based on a particular formula and then map them on to canvas. The rest is simply a production line, a corporate process of transferring staged photos to canvas to meet and create public demand. Vettriano is more businessman than artist: he is to painting what the X Factor is to music.

In contrast, just five minutes around the corner, Beryl Cook’s ‘Larger than Life’ reveals sincerity and artistic integrity. She has in common with Vettriano her lack of formal training, the iconic and inimitable nature of the images, and her populist appeal. Yet her work has an authenticity, and a social and emotional impact that is lacking in Vettriano’s work.  Cook’s work is observational of British life. It is like the Little Britain of painting, depicting scenes of everyday British social life. Her unmistakably rotund, cartoon-like, and generally cheerful characters are displayed in a range of social contexts: the pub, the fish and chip shop, the greasy spoon café, being out with the dogs, sunbathing on the beach, working in the garden, having dinner with the family. Thee images tells us about ‘homo Britanicus’ in the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries, creating a genuine historical record of British life in a particular era. While they evoke class - mainly depicting images of working and middle class culture – they succeed in doing so in a warm and generally uncondescending way.  

Unlike Vettriano, Cook’s work conveys emotion, warmth and meaning. The next painting takes us somewhere the previous one did not. It observes something recognizable about a Britain we know - and does so without pretense.  Whereas Vettriano’s work is based on a cold and detached reprinting of the same modeled and contrived photo for a new consumer, Cook’s work was frequently based on ‘live’ sketching in the pub or the café, observing real life and real people first hand. While Vettriano’s work often contains himself – in a posed, contrived and slightly narcissistic way - as a character within a narrative, Cook occasionally portrays images of her family which while occasionally embellished by transferring the family dogs to the painting of her husband in Central Park ‘to make him feel more at home’. Cook’s work does not aspire to be what it is not: “I have never thought of my paintings as great art, but I know that they are cheerful and they give a lot of people a lot of pleasure”.  Its underlying purpose was not simply to make money; it was to convey meaning and enjoyment. In that sense it is a very different kind of populism. 

Both exhibitions deserve to be hung in public galleries – but for different reasons. The significance of Vettriano is not in the quality of the work but in the debate it inspires and the polarization it creates. The exhibition has engaged more of the public in viewing art and forming an opinion about it. It was unquestionably the right decision to show the work. But in Vettriano’s case, it was the act of breaking the boundary of being the first public gallery to show the work – and its invitation to form an opinion - rather than the work itself, which represents the exhibition’s main contribution to art. In contrast to the warm, sincere and keenly observed work of Cook, Vettriano’s shallow commercialism merits all the criticism it gets. Populism based on creative talent is very different from populism based on calculated commercialism.

Today was the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. In Berlin, a minute’s silence was held to mark the occasion. Around the world it was taken as a day to remember the hardships created  by the division of East and West. The Wall divided a nation, separated families, limited people’s freedom of movement, and forced many people to live under an authoritarian government or to risk their lives attempting to flee. It is universally understood to have been an incontrovertible injustice. 

Yet while the Berlin Wall receives wide recognition as being unjust and a violation of human rights, a range of other fortified borders exist around the world that arbitrarily divide people and curtail their opportunities to flourish as human beings. Rarely, though, are other borders or state imposed limitations on cross-border mobility lamented in the same way or to such an extent as the Berlin Wall. 

Even contemporary Germany works through the European Union to secure a common external border that limits freedom of movement. Meanwhile, a range of high profile border fences exist around the world inhibiting freedom of movement. Europe’s razor wire fences in Ceuta and Melilla, the US-Mexican border, the Israeli Security Fence, and the North Korea’s militarized border, all have some analogous features with the Berlin Wall.  Some of the images that adorn Berlin’s East Side Gallery allude to the idea that the Berlin Wall continues to exist elsewhere in the world.  

Yet rarely is the Berlin Wall equated with other forms of contemporary border control. The two are held separate in public consciousness. The question, then, is: what do attitudes about the Berlin Wall tell us about people’s moral intuitions about borders? Do they imply a hypocrisy or cognitive dissonance, whereby people struggle to reconcile condemnation of a historical injustice with their widespread acceptance of international boundaries? Or does it rather suggest that some forms of border are morally defensible and others not? If so, what is an ethically justifiable border? 

A huge amount has been written about ethical and normative approaches to migration, and the ’open borders’ debate has spawned a vast literature, dividing between partialist and impartialist ethical perspectives. On the partialist side, communitarian authors such as Michael Walzer have argued that states are somewhat analagous to clubs, neighbourhoods or families, and have a right to control membership of their communities.  On the impartialist side, liberal authors such as Joseph Carens have argued that human freedom implies the right to cross borders, while consequentialists like Peter Singer have argued that equality implies that people should be allowed to move across borders until such time as people are broadly equal. 

These arguments about open borders can be developed, nuanced and reconciled in a variety of ways, and it is ethically plausible to defend both an open border and a migration management perspective from different angles. Yet, in focusing on normative arguments for and against migration, what has been largely neglected from normative debate is the ethics of the borders themselves: when is it that a border is acceptable; are some kinds of border more acceptable than others? Thinking about the Berlin Wall potentially pushes us on this.

The Berlin Wall arguably had three analytical features that distinguish it as a border.  First, it separated members of the same community. In the words of the German President today, “the Wall worked against its own people”; it divided members of the same nation against their will. Second, it denied the right to exit (as distinct from the right to enter a state), widely recognized as a human right.  Third, serious human rights violations resulted directly from the existence of the border.  

Few borders have these precise features; the North Korean border is a rare example that also has these analytical features. Yet, if one explores the normative basis of these three analytical features, some of the specificity of the Berlin Wall erodes. The idea of separating the same community depends how one sees the boundaries of community; in the context of globalization, many people are separated from their families or kith and kin by border control. The exit/entry distinction also begins to erode in contexts in which the absence of a right to entry creates a de facto limitation of the right to exit. Meanwhile, many borders lead directly to human rights violations that surpass the threshold of what one might conceive as acceptable to balance against citizens’ rights.

Earlier this year, I visited both sides of the US-Mexican border. It arguably meets these same underlying normative criteria that make people judge the Berlin Wall to have been an injustice. First, it separates families and members of the same community.  Families sometimes meet on the Tijuana beach either side of the border under the watchful eye of border guards. Not only are Mexicans families divided across the border as a result of emigration but a significant number of Mexican-born people who regard themselves to be American are deported back to Mexico, sometimes in spite of not having lived there since the earliest years of their lives and not knowing anybody in the country. Second, while the Mexican Government imposes no restrictions on the right to exit, in practice, the lack of viable options for alternative exit makes the denial of entry a limitation on the right to exit. Third, the border imposes significant human rights violations. One of the most obvious illustrations of this is the hundreds of crosses that adorn the Mexican side of the border fence, each one signifying a life lost in transit. 

Of course, there is a question of degree: the Berlin Wall exemplified the most heinous aspects of arbitrary border control. And there is also an argument that the US-Mexican border serves to meet the rights and preferences of US citizens in a way that the Berlin Wall did not similarly serve West German citizens. But the reality is that while we acknowledge it as a relic of the past, the Berlin Wall continues to exist. Its basic logic is part of the apparatus of the international system. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are all Berliners - on one side of the border or the other.