In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18
Latin America is facing an unprecedented exodus. Over 4.7 million Venezuelans have left their country, making this mixed migration one of the most relevant humanitarian and developmental challenges of the region.The World Bank has supported the main host countries with state-of-the-art analysis, technical assistance and financing, building on our experience in similar situations elsewhere.
Besides this support, the Bank has also made use of one more powerful, yet unconventional mean to shape the region’s response: communication tools. This effort should not be mistaken as pure advocacy. While one could argue there is indeed a well-justified case for investing in advocacy (being the second largest crisis the world only after the Syrian refugee crisis),we have made use of communications tools for a different, yet more ambitious objective: to shape the dialogue on Venezuelan migration and its response, optimizing the decision making in host countries. But why should the World Bank invest in communications to shape the dialogue in crises like this one? As argued in WDR 2105: Mind, Society and Behavior, policy makers, development professionals and people in host communities can be victims of biases, mental shortcuts, and social and cultural influences, and communication tools can be instrumental in over coming them, leading to more optimal development outcomes over the long run.
In the response to the Venezuelan migration crisis, we have used communications to:
- Breakdown seemingly intractable issues into more discrete problems: Mixed migration is complex, multisectoral issue full of policy-making trade-offs. If the understanding of the crisis remains too abstract,its complexity may affect the kinds of decisions made to respond. By offering a rather concentrate and action-oriented narrative of impacts of Venezuelan migration in Colombia and Peru, the World Bank has provided policy makers with a clear diagnostic of specific challenges and opportunities that this exodus brings,and the tangible actions needed to transform this shock into opportunities for all.
- Expose people to opposing views: As human beings, we have a fundamental tendency to use reason for the purposes of persuading others and winning arguments. This may affect the way we interpret information -even hard, cold data, as we always look to reassure our existing believes. Through tools like this TEDx talk, we have created argumentative and deliberative environments, exposing people to different viewpoints than their own, and debunking the myths emerging from this exodus that fuel xenophobia. We have also invited people to reconsider their misperceptions through high-level conversations (Beyond Borders: A Look at the Venezuelan Exodus), live events (Colombia and Peru), knowledge events (Econothon),online interviews (Mesa Mulera) and blogs (Urban Expansion).
- Close the gap between the mental models of decision makers and the beneficiaries of their interventions: Most policy makers and people in host countries have never been forced to migrate and thus have never personally experienced the psychological and social contexts of an exodus of this kind. Nor their communities tend to be the ones changing in the face of it. As a result, their decision-making processes, mental frameworks and perceptions may differ from those directly affected by it. One constructive way to close this gap is by “immersing” them into the lives of migrants, refugees and hosts communities. We have done so through augmented reality videos (Peru in the eyes of Luis, Paola, and Jessica), context videos (Colombia, Venezuelan Exodus, Peru), visual ethnography (Migraciónvenezolana: 4.500 kilómetros entre el abandono y la oportunidad) and by making them part of conversation (El éxodo venezolano, de crisis migratoria a prioridadhumanitaria).
These efforts, product of the hard work of the World Bank technical and communications staff, have paid off. By systematically addressing these biases, mental shortcuts, and social and cultural influences, the conversation on this situation is changing. The Fundación Ideas para la Paz in Colombia found that since the dialogue on this exodus started, Colombians have shift from negative associations (i.e. Venezuelan migration - crime)to positive ones (Venezuelan migration – adoption of policy actions and economic and investment opportunities in the mid and long term). This shift has emerged from messages generated by the Government, think thanks, the media and development organizations like the World Bank.
Investing in communications to shape the dialogue is indeed, investing in optimal development outcomes, and a tool we should consider more systematically when engaging in mixed migration crises.