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“It is part of our social responsibility to help others” — Day 3 of the RME Network conference in New York City

By Dr. Monika Hubbard


How can universities and NGOs best work together? — Just one of the questions that the speakers of the first plenary session on the third and final day of the RME Network conference tried to explore.

For Joan Rosenhauer, Executive Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service USA, there is a huge potential for partnerships, but it is not an easy task, she admits. “We have to acknowledge that we have different interests. There is an overlap though, so we have to look at ways to work together,” she said, “and the best way is in programs that are at the heart of universities: providing education.

Joan Rosenhauer

Doing research in areas like, for example, feasibility, evaluation, monitoring, learning, best practices, innovation or the markets, as well as advocacy, are equally important fields where collaboration between universities and NGOs can create a win-win situation.

Rosenhauer stressed, however, that the needs of the refugees should, at all times, be at the core of any partnership. “Refugees are committed to education but they don’t have the luxury to get it for its own sake. They have to make a livelihood.” It is therefore crucial for universities and NGOs to reflect on which educational programs they design and offer to refugees in order to support them in building a life for themselves.

In his response, Dr. Stephen Rasche, Vice Chancellor at the University of Erbil in Iraq, found clear words: “Academia walks too slowly when it comes to migrants and refugees. (…) It is about getting on the ground and doing something,” he called upon the universities. “Move! Don’t just sit there and discuss and research (…) while the world is blowing up around you!” For Rasche, the sponsoring of students and sharing of relevant research are two main areas that are crucial in terms of universities’ involvement in contributing to tackling the refugees’ crisis. “There is no better investment than to support students to get a degree and then being able to go back home to support their country,” he said.

Dr. Stephen Rasche

The workshop theme of the last conference day was “Research and Action”. Dr. Georgette Bennett, Founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, called upon universities to take on three challenges: to identify the fears and misconceptions about Syrian refugees, to respond with facts, supported by evidence-based research, and to commit to academic and personal action, e.g. undertaking research and taking tangible steps to assist Syrian refugees at their institutions. In an inspiring talk, she encouraged universities to help eliminate the “three great fears”: the fear of negative economic impact, the fear of terrorism and Islamophobia. Research shows that there is no basis for those fears. “We can overcome these fears with the right kind of messaging,” Bennett said, “Policymakers need data, but it is stories that move the public opinion.”

Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Paulina Guzik

The RME Network conference in New York City was concluded by a keynote on expanding the social responsibility of universities given by Dr. Anthony Cortese, Co-Founder of the Intentional Endowment Network. “It is part of our social responsibility to help others“, he said. For Cortese, it is crucial to “teach broad sustainability on the campus (…) and to produce education and knowledge to create a sustainable world.

Dr. Anthony Cortese

The conference might be over, but the practical work in and beyond the Refugee & Migrant Education Network has just begun. We would like to thank the speakers and all participants of our 2019 conference for their contributions, inspiring talks and powerful messages, and look forward to working with you in the future on turning hopes into realities.



More voices of Day 3

Everywhere I go, I find refugees that are anxious to get an education.

Advocacy is a critical task that universities can take on.

We need a clear understanding of how we want to overcome challenges. If we achieve this, we can save lives.
Joan Rosenhauer


Be effective early!”

“We need to ask ourselves critically: Are we really solving the problem?”
Dr. Stephen Rasche


“We don’t have leadership at the top, so we need bottom-up pressure.”
Dr. Georgette Bennett