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.
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.
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.
MIDEQ provides an opportunity to do things differently. It has the potential to change our understandings and influence policy, but only if we truly listen to the voices of migrants in the many different contexts where they live and work.
Research led by colleagues in the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London, will focus on ways through which technologies can be used to reduce the many intersecting inequalities associated with migration.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), or “digital technologies”, have frequently been designed “for” some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, with the stated intention of reducing poverty or delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, this is one of the reasons why so many have failed to be sustainable, go to scale or even help to reduce poverty.
Digital technologies are almost always conceived in research labs or the Research and Development departments of global corporates and start-ups alike. But without a deep understanding of poor people’s or migrants’ knowledges and needs; they are designed for, rather than with, these people.
Prototypes are trialled with a sample group or through a pilot project, and then revised iteratively until they are good enough to go to market. They are, though, designed and produced by people who have particular interests (usually commercial or financial) for specific purposes. Those purposes are rarely truly emancipatory or empowering for the poor and marginalised.
Migrants know far more about migration than so-called “experts”, be they researchers or techies. Migrants are the experts in migration. For technologies to be crafted and used in ways that are truly emancipatory, they need to be created collaboratively “with” migrants not “for” them. Anything we design together must primarily serve their interests.
Our research has been designed in a threefold manner to try to live up to these aspirations. The first stage begins by listening to how migrants, as well as their families and employers, already use technologies and for what purposes. In the first two years we will focus on four of the six migration corridors to helping us better understand the interface between migrants and technology. Questions about technology use will also be asked in a survey being undertaken in all twelve countries in which MINEQ is working. This will give us a broad understanding of the many contexts and contrasting experiences that migrants have with digital technologies.
The second stage (years two-three) will build on this and involve more focused research, probably in two or three corridors, using qualitative methods to explore with migrants what they understand by inequalities and how digital technologies might be used to reduce these. This will take time, especially because we want to be led by the migrants, and better understand the diversity of ways through which they could help design technologies that do this.
The final stage (years three-five) will work carefully with migrants and local tech developers to co-create technological innovations that migrants can use to reduce the inequalities that they see as being associated with the migration process. We have no ideas yet about what these will be. Perhaps we may find similar issues across all of the migration corridors where we are working; perhaps we will need to focus on different issues in varying contexts.
We hope that this approach will enable those with whom we are working to change the balance of power that is usually associated with the use of digital technologies in development. Above all, we aspire to work “with”, rather than just “for” migrants so that they can lead lives they think are better.
[Originally posted on MIDEQ site on 14 October 2019]
The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is leading the work package on the interface between digital technologies and migration within the UKRI-GCRF South-South Migration Hub, now known by the shortened name MIDEQ. Hari Harindranath and Tim Unwin were therefore delighted to participate actively in the Hub’s Executive Group meeting on 23-24 September in Nairobi, followed by numerous meetings with the corridor leads and other work package teams, as well as participating in and leading some of the training sessions held from 26th September to 1st October. As well as discussing important issues around our progress so far, communications strategy, governance, operations and migration survey, the evening of 24th September included a digital launch event followed by dinner and story telling, led by Tawona Sitholé, around a campfire. The week of meetings provided an invaluable opportunity to get to know the many partners and new researchers in the Hub. We are all now in a much better position to start engaging in field research together once the inception phase is over. Hari and Tim are especially eager to get involved on the ground working with colleagues in the China-Ghana, Ethiopia-South Africa, Haiti-Brazil, and Nepal-Malaysia corridors. The pictures below provide just a glimpse of the diversity and energy of the gathering…
Many thanks are due to all of the colleagues who worked so hard to put the programme together and helped to ensure that it was a success.
The opportunity for Hari and Tim to be in Nairobi also provided a great chance to catch up with old friends in the city and make new contacts of wider interest to the work of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D. We would like to say especial thanks to them for making the time to meet up and exchange ideas about the uses of digital technologies in Kenya and beyond. We also spent a magical half-day escaping to the Natiional Park near the airport in Nairobi (see some of our pictures here)!
In a world where the fundamental human values of liberty, equality and fraternity are being challenged by digital technologies, research on how these technologies impact inequality and migration has never been more pressing.
But in many countries, digital technologies are also at the centre of state surveillance and anti-migrant propaganda. Access to technologies and capacity to use them effectively also vary across communities and individuals. Digital technologies create a kind of paradox: they empower but also create vulnerabilities and even inequalities.
How we use digital technologies to address the migration-inequality-development nexus matters. The values that underpin these efforts matter more. Migrant technology can only genuinely claim to address migrant concerns when it starts and ends with those affected by these technologies – the migrant themselves.
But this raises a couple of questions. How are the problems that migrants face being addressed by digital technologies? Will these technologies create other problems, vulnerabilities or inequalities? How can we fundamentally shift the focus of migrant technology research from the technologies that underpin it to the values that underpin their use?
Answers to these difficult questions aren’t easy. As we embark on a five-year project to understand the role Information Communication Technology (ICT) can play in addressing inequalities in the context of South-South migration, here are three key principles driving us:
There is nothing inherently good about digital technology. It can be used to do good or harm.
Digital development interventions are often technologically deterministic and have unintended social consequences. Both can lead to failure. Therefore, we must address not just the technological aspects, important as they are, but also the social processes that underpin their use in particular contexts. Different migration contexts may have different needs, and may likely need different kinds of technological interventions.
Development outcomes and meaningful user engagement are not inevitable in technology-related interventions. We must find ways to engage users in their context to ensure that interventions are both relevant and sustainable, while maximising positive outcomes and minimising negative social impacts.
Migrant technology research needs to put values at its core. It must reflect the values that we privilege, particularly when we are required to make difficult trade-offs.
When freedom of choice is constrained by the socio-political and legal context, when equality of access is constrained by the cultural context, or when fraternity is impeded by privacy concerns in risky and vulnerable contexts – these values will be integral.
Ultimately, recognising the multifaceted nature of the migrant context means being particularly mindful of the values we may seek to promote through technology interventions.
[Originally posted on MIDEQ site on 31 August 2019]