The migrant and refugee sector is increasingly reliant on funding from a number of avenues. Whether its foundations, crowdfunders or government grants, money is raised so that these organisations can offer the best support to people who have migrated or those seeking protection. Typical areas that are funded within this sector are service delivery, campaigning and aid relief. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation are key funders of this sector. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is one of the UK’s largest independent grant-making bodies. Their mission is to help people overcome disadvantage and lack of opportunity so they can realise their potential and enjoy fulfilling lives. One of the ways that they do this is by supporting young people who migrate to thrive, and strengthen communities that experience migration to live well together.

We caught up with Alex Sutton, Senior Grants Manager, about the role of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in funding the migration movement.

Why have you chosen to fund migration movement? What sorts of things do you fund?

AS: The reason PHF funds in the migration space is very much rooted in the experience of Paul Hamlyn, who was a migrant and came to the UK fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. Cut to today and we know migration is one of the most pressing issues of today, and our trustees recognize that there’s not many foundations working in this space.

Our current work with migrant and refugee organisations is built on a history of us working in the broader migration space, and particularly engaging in the complex matter of young people who are without settled status.

We work with a real mixture of organisations. We’re interested in systemic change. We have two broad aims: how young people who have experienced migration can be supported to thrive, and how communities who have experienced migration and demographic change can be supported to live well together. These aims are, of course, interlinked. Young people can only be connected to a community if they’re supported to thrive in their own right, and communities can only be better connected to each other if those within the community are supported to overcome barriers they face in participating as full and active citizens.

Our approach is split between four areas which are again interlinked. We think it is important to shift public perceptions around migration. We need to depolarise the conversation, and engage with people and their anxieties around the topic. We are also interested in models of service provision. For example, we recognise that with immigration advice there is far more demand than there is supply. We’re interested in how you can increase the overall supply of services, including by exploring different models which can increase efficiency of delivery. Number three is civic engagement. We’re interested in the spaces that allow people to be active citizens and how people with lived experience can inform the design and delivery of services and policy. And, finally, we’re interested in the migration system itself – the routes people take into the UK and the process people have to navigate to secure their status.

Within these aims and approaches we work with a range of actors, including thinktanks, researchers, policy units, frontline services, local authorities, lawyers, artists, activists and organisers.

Within the migration movement, are there areas that you feel are being underexplored or underfunded?

AS: We know that the migration sector is under resourced. Most organisations within the migration sector has a turnover of £100,000 or below. And it’s incredibly focused on service delivery. Understandably, many organisations prioritise service delivery over their own infrastructure, which makes them institutionally weak. There are also limited pathways for people with lived experience to take leading roles in the change effort – although this is not a challenge limited to the migration sector.

The communications capacity within the sector is also massively under resourced and tends to reflect a very specific experience of asylum and seeking protection rather than the broader migration experience. Some narratives that play out in the media can make an unhelpful binary between a refugee and a migrant, and this can build a narrative of people as either vulnerable victims without agency or as people seeking to exploit our system, and this undermines efforts which try to tell a more nuanced story or positive story.

There’s a growing trend of organisations resorting to crowdfunding for unrestricted funds to respond to immediate crises. What lessons can we learn from this shifting way that money is being handed out?

AS: I find this really interesting. There is a growing movement of new organisations that don’t use traditional fundraising means, and we’re working on finding out ways we as funders can engage with them.

We’ve also seen established organisations use crowdfunding for strategic litigation. Some funders are hesitant to fund strategic litigation because they may not be able to determine the outcome. Crowdfunding in this sense is a powerful way for organisations to use a variety of tools to push forward policy change.

However, it’s also interesting to look at the narrative that is often deployed in crowdfunding campaigns – similar to what you see when large organisations raise for individual donations. You have to tell a compelling narrative. But organisations need to be careful to not fall into the trap of framing people as passive victims.

There has generally been a pushback, both in the international development sector and in the migration sector, against this framing of people without agency. In the migration sector people are aware of the dehumanising effect of calling someone a ‘migrant’ or ‘illegal’ – they’re people first. In crowdfunding campaigns there could be more pressure to present a powerful narrative that immediately grabs attention and encourages people to donate, but organisations need to be careful to present a more nuanced understanding of the issue at hand.

How do you balance funding for direct services for people in need versus funding for campaigning to shift systems?

AS: We look for partners that are interested in increasing the overall capacity of the sector, for example by influencing the practice of others or the models of how services are delivered. So we rarely fund services which are about supporting a fixed number of individuals, but we will support the broader infrastructure that enable these services to increase capacity by scaling or becoming more efficient. This is not because we think services aren’t important, but simply because we have limited resource. Ultimately, we’re interested in how you fund and support systemic change.

In the same way, we’ll fund the overall infrastructure of the migration sector to support other important functions, such as strategic communications and strategic litigation – all of which support the sector to push for wider change. And we think it’s important that as a funder we make connections whenever we can, linking up different organisations that are pushing for similar goals.

What are some of the most exciting parts of the migration movement you’ve been working with, and why?

AS: The initiatives that I really admire are those that are are putting lived experience at the forefront of their work. For example, initiatives where young people with insecure immigration status are at the front and centre of this movement and are leading the change effort. They bring energy, dynamism and power to the sector.

What lessons can be learned from new and emerging refugee and migrant organisations and how they operate?

AS: I think if you look at the organisations that sprung up in response to what was happening in Calais and across Europe in what the press called the ‘refugee crisis’, two things come to mind. Firstly, the ability to fundraise. The use of crowdfunding is something that the more established migration sector can learn from. And secondly, the ability to mobilise people as volunteers, as well as sympathetic voices and champions for the sector.

Jinan Younis

Jinan Younis

Programme &
Marketing Officer