Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are leading Work Package 9 of the MIDEQ hub (funded by UKRI GCRF and Royal Holloway, University of London) and are exploring how digital tech can be used to reduce the inequalities associated with migration, especially in four corridors: Nepal-Malaysia, Ethiopia-South Africa, China-Ghana, and Haiti-Brazil. The second of our working papers presenting data on the uses of digital technologies by Nepali migrants and their families has just been published within the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s publication series. Key findings and abstract are as follows.
1. Nepali migrants and their familes make extensive use of digital technologies – especially smart phones and the Internet for a wide range of purposes, and not just for audio and video calls
2. Very few migrants make any use at all of apps that have been developed specifically for migrants – and even those 8.7% that claim to do so may not have actually used such apps
3. Migrant use of digital technologies increases through the migration journey – only 46.4% had used digital tech daily before migrating, whereas 85.4% used them daily while in the migration destinations.
This working paper forms part of the output of Work Package 9 on technology, inequality and migration within the MIDEQ Hub, a multi-disciplinary research project in 12 countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, including the Nepal-Malaysia migration corridor. It presents the results of an online survey of 266 respondents in and from Nepal, 58.5% of whom identified themselves as migrants, with 28.1% being family members of migrants, and 13.4% being returned migrants. Following a summary of the methodology, which explains why an online survey was used to replace the originally planned interviews and focus groups, the paper provides an overview of the most important results and analysis, focusing on the potential influence of age, gender, countries of origin and destination, migration status, and occupational status on the ways in which respondents use digital technologies and for what purposes. Three important conclusions for Phase Two of our research are: first, the vast majority of Nepali respondents have smart phones and access the internet very frequently for a wide range of purposes; second, simply designing another new app may not be particularly valuable; and third, it might well be wise to work with, or build on, technologies and apps already in existence, so as to improve them in ways that could increasingly empower migrants.
To read this paper in full (v.4 .pdf) please use this link.
Other UNESCO Chair in ICT4D Publications are available here.
Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are leading Work Package 9 of the MIDEQ hub (funded by UKRI GCRF and Royal Holloway, University of London) and are exploring how digital tech can be used to reduce the inequalities associated with migration, especially in four corridors: Nepal-Malaysia, Ethiopia-South Africa, China-Ghana, and Haiti-Brazil. The first of our working papers presenting data on the use of digital tech by Nepali migrants in Malaysia has just been published within the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s publication series. Key findings and abstract are as follows.
1. Digital technologies play an important part in the lives of Nepali migrants in Malaysia – especially mobile phones for personal communications, entertainment and games, as well as for gaining news updates
2. Very few migrants make any use at all of apps that have been developed specifically for migrants – 97.3% made no use of such apps
3. Migrant use of digital technologies increases through the migration journey – 94% had not used digital tech before migrating, whereas 66.1% used them very often while in Malaysia
This working paper forms part of the output of Work Package 9 on technology, inequality and migration within the MIDEQ Hub, a multi-disciplinary research project in 12 countries of Latin America, Africa and Asia, including the Nepal-Malaysia migrant corridor. It presents the results of an online survey of 281 respondents in Malaysia, 98.2% of whom were migrants, with 1.8% being family members of migrants; 96.1% of the respondents had been born in Nepal. Following a summary of the methodology, which explains why an online survey was used to replace the originally planned interviews and focus groups, the paper provides an overview of the most important results. Smart phones and the Internet are widely used by migrants, mainly for audio calls, video calls, news updates, text messages, and watching videos for entertainment. Digital devices are liked mainly because they are easy to use and they help users network with others, but in contrast, they are disliked because of the costs of the devices and air-time. An important finding is that migrants increasingly used digital technologies as their migration journeys progressed; only 3.2% used them very often in deciding to migrate, whereas 66.1% used them while in Malaysia. Three pertinent conclusions for our future work with migrants and local tech developers on implementing a digital intervention to reduce the inequalities associated with migration are: simply designing another new app will not be particularly valuable; the widespread use of smartphones and access to the internet by migrants suggest that these might be appropriate areas on which to focus; and it might be wise to work with, or build on, technologies and apps already in existence, so as not to reinvent the wheel and add value in any interventions that we develop together.
Our next working paper (available in August) will be on the use of digital tech by migrants and their families in Nepal – preliminary results are interestingly different from those reported in this working paper!
To read this paper in full (v.4 .pdf) please use this link.
Other UNESCO Chair in ICT4D Publications are available here.
This post was first published on the Royal Holloway, University of London Staff Intranet on 2nd March 2021, and is being reposted here since it provides a good overview of the work being done on migration, technology and development as part of the UKRI GCRF funded MIDEQ hub by Hari Harindranath and Tim Unwin from the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.
Professor G. Hari Harindranath, School of Business and Management, and Professor Tim Unwin, Department of Geography, received GCRF funding for their project ‘South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub’. We recently caught up with Hari and Tim to ask more about the project and how they both got involved.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your roles at Royal Holloway?
Hari – I am a Professor of Information Systems in the Department of Digital Innovation and Management, School of Business and Management. I also serve as the Director of Internationalisation for the School.
Tim – My role is Emeritus Professor of Geography (since 2011) and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D (since 2007). I was Head of Geography (1999-2001) and then went on secondment to DFID (2001-2004) where I led the PM’s Imfundo initiative, creating partnerships for the use of technology in education in Africa. Subsequently, I was Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and then Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (2011-2015).
2. GCRF funded the ‘GCRF South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub’ that you both work on, can you tell us more about the GCRF Hub?
The MIDEQ Hub (Migration for Development and Equality; 2019-2024) funded to the tune of £19,863,201 (FEC) by UKRI-GCRF and led by the PI Heaven Crawley (Coventry University) aims to understand the experiences of migrants in Africa, Asia and Latin America, focusing especially on six contrasting migration corridors (Haiti-Brazil, China-Ghana, Ethiopia-South Africa, Nepal-Malaysia, Burkino Faso-Côte d’Ivoire, and Jordan-Egypt). MIDEQ involves some 40 organisations and includes 128 researchers, with eleven multi-disciplinary work packages cutting across these 12 countries, focusing on issues such as gender and childhood inequalities, migration intermediaries, resource flows and arts, creative resistance and wellbeing.
Hari (in the pink shirt) contributing to the Hub’s research planning discussions in Accra (2019) (Photo by Tim).
3. Can you tell us about the parts you play in the Hub and the work package that you lead/are involved in?
We lead an “intervention” work package, focusing on the interface between digital technologies, inequalities and migration, but participate in all aspects of the Hub’s work and provide advice and support especially on the use of digital tech. Hari is also a member of the Hub’s Management Board and on the Data Management team, and Tim is one of the two safeguarding confidants. Our research is in three phases: understanding how migrants use digital technologies, understanding what inequalities they might like to change, and then working with migrants and tech developers to create some intervention that may help reduce inequalities. We are in the first instance working in the first four of the corridors listed above, but may well only work in two of them for phase three, depending on logistics and the findings we make over the first three years.
4. The Hub award involved a number of universities and stakeholders working together, how did you collaborate and distribute the work?
Working together with so many partners has no doubt had its challenges! Overall, the matrix structure of having six corridors (each with two country leads) intersecting with 11 work packages (each with one or two CoIs) provides the basic framework for our work. The initial group of partners was brought together by the PI and we co-created the proposal to UKRI GCRF, but within the first year two of the country lead organisations had fallen by the wayside and had to be replaced. Two week-long face-to-face meetings of all partners in Ghana and Nairobi in 2019 were crucial to enabling us to get to know each other, and not least create some empathy and understanding of our varying skills and ambitions. This was important in helping us choose the priority corridors in which we would subsequently work. Challenges remain not least in relation to the difficulties of working on the ground with country teams due to the pandemic.
Shaping empathy through storytelling around the fire in Kenya (2019) (Photo by Tim).
5. Can you tell us about some of the difficulties faced by the migrants that you work with?
This is an enormous question, that has many different dimensions. COVID-19 has dominated everything over the last year, and has generally made the lives of migrants very much harder. For example, in Malaysia many migrants were rounded up in the early stages of the pandemic and put into camps so that they would not spread the disease to local citizens. Likewise, the lockdowns in South Africa have made life increasingly difficult, especially for migrants. Across all of the corridors, legal movements of people have been drastically reduced, and this has made life very hard for migrants who were planning to return home. Interestingly, though, there is some evidence from Haiti that migrant remittances although hit significantly in the early days of the pandemic have now returned to levels similar to what they were before.
6. You were both looking at technological ways of improving the lives of migrants, can you give us an example of this?
When we first joined the Hub our partners mostly thought that our role was to develop an app based largely on the research conducted in the early stages of MIDEQ. This is very far from our intention. Indeed, the early evidence of our research has shown that most apps developed “for” migrants are rarely if ever used by them! Instead, a key principle underlying our research and practice is that we should be the servants of the migrants, understanding how they would like to reduce inequalities, and then working with them and local tech developers to craft and implement some digital intervention. If we discover that one of the biggest fears of migrants is that tech will be used to track and control them, we might even suggest that alternative non-digital interventions might be wiser. Although that it is unlikely, we remain very open, and are working with international agencies such as the IOM, ILO and ICRC to explore how the apps that they are already developing might be improved. However, the pandemic has most certainly affected our work. It is not exactly easy to ask migrants about their digital technology use when migration and mobility have been the first to be impacted by COVID-19.
7. What have we learnt most from working within the Hub?
Hari – I have found the experience of working in such a large multidisciplinary Hub both rewarding and challenging; rewarding because of the opportunities to work in such diverse contexts with some great colleagues and challenging because of the different assumptions people have about how that work should be done in the first place! I have learnt that perseverance is key to making any headway.
Tim – I have especially learnt to listen more! All of the partners come from very different backgrounds and have a wide range of experiences. This is an incredible opportunity for us to learn from each other – at least for those of us who realise that we still have much to learn! A project of this size has enormous challenges, and it is easy to criticize, but if we are going to be successful it is very important that we all try to pull together and be supportive of each other. We also come from very different cultures, and it is very easy to cause offence accidentally – so we must be willing to forgive others in the hope that they will also forgive us. However, none of us will ever get on with everyone, and so we need to recognise this and concentrate our efforts on working with those we like and respect.
MIDEQ Hub soft launch (Accra, 2019).
8. Have you found ways to share experiences more widely within College?
We have tried to be as open as possible in sharing our research practices and have also helped some colleagues across the College by providing advice about their own GCRF applications. We have collaborated in College workshops relating to GCRF activities, and Tim has also provided safeguarding training and advice to different groups of colleagues. We have also been able to secure College funds to bring some of our MIDEQ partners for wider networking on campus although this has had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
9. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Not really, other than having ensured we had enough funds to be able to do what we really wanted to! The budget for a project this size might seem a lot, but when broken down between the partners it is really insufficient to deliver what we would like. We have, though, been very flexible in our approach, and this has enabled us to act differently in order to ensure that we still deliver. Thus, in 2020 we had planned to spend much time in the field, especially in South Africa, Ghana, Nepal and Malaysia, where we had intended to undertake qualitative and hermeneutic research with migrants. COVID-19 prevented this, and so we had to rethink radically our approach. As a result we developed an online survey for migrants and their families in each of the countries with which we are working, and our partners (and many others) have helped share this widely. This has been more successful in some countries than in others, and the resultant quantitative data are very different from what we had intended, but this has at least enabled us to have evidence from the first phase of the research that we can then hopefully take with us into phase two when we are able to travel overseas again.
10. How do you both like to spend your time outside work?
Hari: The past year has been difficult as I have been shielding quite strictly. This has restricted possibilities but spending more time with the family has been a source of great comfort during the pandemic. Joining the RSPB and discovering the variety of avian life in our garden has been magical.
Tim: I have always been lucky never to have drawn a real distinction between work and other aspects of my life. I love my work-life, and the last year has been a great opportunity to write – including two 275-page reports! However, I also enjoy wine – and have started writing a wine column again for a local magazine – and I am fortunate enough to have a garden where I grow some of the vegetables and fruit that we consume. I also enjoy walking in the mountains, and exploring new places, but that’s not been something I have been able to do over the last year!
 This last section (10) from our draft response to the questions was not included in the originally published post, but we have added it here to provide a more rounded insight to our work – and play.
To find out more, do look at the MIDEQ site, and also the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s material on our work at the interface between digital technologies, migration and inequalities – this includes lots of resources (especially links to relevant materials) that we are making available through our research work. Do get in touch with us through our Contact Page.
Caroline Wright (Director General, British Education Suppliers Association): “Technology and Education for the Most Marginalised Post-COVID-19 provides pragmatic, practical and insightful strategies, solutions and supportive practices to help and support Governments and educationalists working to empower learners in the most challenging of circumstances”.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted more than ever the double-edged sword that digital technologies represent for migrants. These technologies offer not only access to information and networking for migrants but also create new vulnerabilities and exacerbate inequalities in the context of increasing securitisation of borders and rising xenophobia online. These inequalities relate not only to digital divides in terms of access and use but also outcomes that all too often mirror existing structural inequalities. Against this backdrop, we convened a special panel session at the Virtual ICT4D Non-Conference on 16th September 2020 that sought to challenge the rhetoric around migration and digital technologies. The panel, which I chaired, was linked to our ongoing research and practice relating to migration and digital technologies, part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) funded MIDEQ Hub. MIDEQ, the South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub, brings together over 60 researchers and several partner organisations from around the world to examine the complex and multi-dimensional relationships between migration and inequality in the context of the Global South.
Migration has long been ‘appified’, and the recent digital responses to, and indeed the ‘appification’ of, COVID-19 highlights the opportunities as well as the risks associated with digital technologies for marginalised people, in particular migrants around the world. So, what are the key issues affecting digital migrants? What roles are international agencies and regional/local civil society organisations playing in this space? How do we ensure that digital technologies do not harm vulnerable people? These were some of the issues we addressed in the panel which brought together five distinguished speakers from around the world:
Tanja Dedovic – Senior Regional Thematic Specialist on Labour Mobility and Human Development for the Middle East and North Africa, International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Tanja spoke about the how IOM, the UN agency that advocates for migrants, is leveraging digital technologies to promote safe and orderly migration through its MigApp which provides information and humanitarian services to migrants and government agencies. She also highlighted new projects that are using blockchain technologies to prevent contract substitution which sees migrant workers being forced into work that they did not sign up for. Tanja further noted the importance of complementing such efforts with proactive communications strategies and conducting due diligence of employers.
Antonio Diaz-Andrade – Associate Professor, AUT University, Auckland. Antonio shared insights from his recent research into how refugees in New Zealand use digital technologies in their everyday social practices in unfamiliar information environments to exercise their agency. Refugees were seen to be using digital technologies to exercise their agency and to participate in their new host society while at the same time being socially connected to their friends and families in home countries and as well as in other parts of the world. A snapshot of his research is available here.
Evan Easton-Calabria – Senior Research Officer, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Evan’s talk centred around her recent study for UNDP, The Migrant Union – Digital Livelihoods for People on the Move, which examined the livelihoods opportunities and challenges from digital technologies, focusing particularly on digitally-mediated and remote work opportunities for refugees. She raised important questions in relation to refugee self-reliance and digital labour: are we truly training some of the most vulnerable people in the world for digital work or are we facilitating low-paid, low-skill work in the global gig economy which is subject to little or no regulation? Can we become more ambitious in the quality of work that is being offered to such workers? How can humanitarian agencies, intermediaries and employers ensure ethical safeguards for migrants in relation to digital work? How can the right to (or not to) work be protected? And how can the gender divide in relation to refugee digital workers and digital entrepreneurs be addressed?
William Gois – Regional Coordinator, Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA). William spoke about the work of MFA, a regional network of NGOs, associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia that seeks to promote migrant rights. William cited several digital interventions that MFA has been part of including the Recruitment Advisor, which helps share recruitment experiences of migrants with a view to promoting fair recruitment practices and Hamsa, an online system for reporting migrant worker abuse. William challenged the rhetoric around the promise of digital technologies and their so-called pervasiveness by highlighting some of the structural and systemic barriers that prevent vulnerable groups such as migrants from accessing and benefitting from these technologies. He concluded that because digital technology is not an equaliser and they often increase inequalities, it is important to use both online and offline methods to connect with what are essentially a very diverse range of migrant groups.
Tim Unwin, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Royal Holloway, University of London. Tim spoke about the work he and I are leading on digital technologies, inequalities and migration within the larger MIDEQ project. He highlighted the key stages of our intervention work package which puts migrants at its core: first, seek to understand from migrants the ways in which they use digital technologies; second, explore with them how they understand notions of inequality within the migration process, and how they think technologies might be able to reduce them; and ultimately, work with migrants and digital developers to develop one or more digital technology interventions that can be used to reduce such inequalities. He also introduced two key findings from our early work which shows that while in some countries migrants are afraid of using digital technologies due to the harsh political conditions affecting migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, they rarely use apps designed specifically designed for them in many others. These findings highlight the need to protect migrant rights while developing digital technologies that addresses their needs and aspirations.
The interactive panel session led to thought-provoking conversations from both panellists and through the forum chat. A key take-away for me was that when it comes to digital technology and migration, we need to begin with the migrants and seek to understand their needs and priorities. Actors in this space need to work ‘with’ migrants and not ‘for’ them! The pandemic has laid bare digital inequalities both in terms of digital exclusion and the potentially disempowering impact of these technologies through securitisation and surveillance. We need a relentless focus on the potential risk to marginalised people from digital technologies both in terms of ethical use and in terms of how they intersect with existing structural inequalities.