Over 130 delegates gathered for the event hosted by the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and Amnesty International in Lisbon, Portugal. The opening session explored key developments in sponsorship and community welcome over the past year and how narratives have shifted over the period and how community welcome initiatives have evolved as the initial ‘crisis response’ back in 2015-16 has become a longer-term need.
A new feature of sponsorship is the ‘named’ sponsorship program that some countries have adopted where small groups can directly nominate or name refugees that they want to sponsor. The opportunities naming presents for the expansion and diversification of sponsorship is very significant and Named Sponsorship can be a driver of both scale and diversity in sponsorship and is becoming a feature of sponsorship initiatives in several countries though not adopted in the UK yet!
Delivering narrative change was also a key feature of the conference with an emphasis on the positive power of communications that emphasise our values and principles and explain succinctly why we do what we do – sponsorship empowers local communities and significantly improves the quality of welcome and integration for newcomers; it strengthens communities, connecting people in new ways and deepening social cohesion. Sponsorship also has the potential to counter negative and toxic narratives about refugees that can be prevalent in our communities, and in the media and political spheres, but only if we harness and amplify the positivity that we see at the local and community level.
Driving greater diversity in sponsorship was an important area of discussion as was working with trauma, Monitoring and Evaluation, and working in partnership. As
with all good conferences time was given to maximising opportunities to network. Talking to delegates and joining a wide range of workshops confirmed with me that community sponsorship as a global phenomenon has come a long way since it was first launched in Ottawa, Canada back in 2016. Then, it was a radically new concept that needed explaining how it could work in other host countries; today it is firmly established as an important pathway for a durable solution to resettlement where ordinary people as volunteers in their local communities are the lead agents in welcoming and helping to integrate refugees into a new life where they can flourish.