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September 17, 2015

Swedes Innovate to Help Refugees

Swedes Innovate to Help Refugees

Although the refugee crisis has proven too controversial for coherent solutions at the EU and national levels, it’s confronted head on by many of towns and cities. Some of the more innovative solutions have come from Sweden, a perennial leader in Europe in giving shelter to asylum seekers.

During the last several months, the Swedish media have cast a spotlight on a new way to ramp up capacity to house refugees and asylum seekers. The so-called “Västervik solution” is rapidly being replicated in municipalities across the country. In this approach, the municipality offers modular homes through direct procurement, coordinating its actions with local NGOs and the Swedish Migration Agency. The community of Västervik pioneered the solution by buying some modular homes, and then leasing them out on several-year contracts to the Swedish Migration Agency.

Because it avoids a public tendering process, it provides fast results. Moreover, the modular shelters offer flexibility: when they’re no longer needed for refugees, cities can use them to house students or other tenants. In the long term, the Västervik solution saves money, as compared to the traditional modes of indirect procurement of housing services for refugees.

Along with city-led solutions, one can see how social innovations catalyse the response by civil society. For instance, crowdfunding has proven effective in raising funds for NGOs and aid organisations, and social media has greatly sped up the coordination of citizen-driven, spontaneous action to assist newly-arrived refugees.

As a further development, the Swedish innovation agency and research funder Vinnova has just opened a call for projects on “innovation for integration and safer migration”. The call is aimed at supporting socially innovative solutions to make migration safer, welcome the newly-arrived and to mitigate the potential for social exclusion. A long-running example of such an initiative is Hej Främling! (Hello Stranger!). The group (pictured) organises nature walks and other events that bring together Swedish nationals and immigrants for fun and socialising.