This is the third post in a series of six in which Michael Woolcock, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, discusses critical ideas within the field of Social Development.
International migration trends have been the subject of fierce debate globally, and when you look at the data it’s no surprise why this is the case. In 2015, the number of international migrants was the highest ever recorded, reaching 244 million (from 232 million in 2013), according to the International Organization for Migration. Moreover, the number of people fleeing conflict has also risen. UNHCR, the UN’s Refugee Agency, estimates that 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of which are now refugees, and around 10 million people are stateless.
These massive flows of people, however, demonstrate the incredible capacity of social networks to help individuals navigate and deal with new experiences. For most migrants the choice to move is an existential one in which they weigh the risk it takes to make the journey with the potential opportunities it may bring. In doing so they consider where and how people they know have traveled before them, and which relationships they can tap into for support. Individuals living in diasporas also respond by sharing critical knowledge and tools, sending remittances, and in bridging the cultures between the newly arrived and their new communities.
As Michael Woolcock explains, the risk involved with migrating is directly affected by the social networks that individuals can construct to cope with the hazards and vulnerability that they encounter- both in the process of moving but also in settling and figuring out how things are done in the new locale.
Large scale migration— whether due to conflict, urbanization, or other prevailing forces— also places incredible demands on state and international services. Policy makers would be wise, therefore, to consider how social networks can be leveraged to help migrants manage the stress and practicalities of moving and create more supportive environments.
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