Migration Summit 2023 Report

The Migration Summit, organized by the MIT Refugee Action Hub (ReACT), Na’amal and Karam Foundation, addresses the systemic challenges and opportunities faced by refugee and migrant communities. The overarching theme for the summit’s second year was “Co-creating Pathways for Learning, Livelihood, and Dignity.” 



The goal of the summit is to activate and establish communities of practice to come together to create more inclusive, generative, and sustainable spaces for systemic collaboration while centering the perspectives and experiences of refugees, migrants and displaced persons to co-create prototypes, proposals, and recommendations to advance in the field.

About the Summit

With over 220 speakers engaging across 80 virtual sessions and in-person events in locations around the world, the Migration Summit fostered connections between diverse communities of displaced learners, universities, corporations, social enterprises, foundations, researchers, and others.

The Migration Summit had 2400 participants representing 120 countries. We hosted a total of 80 events with a total of 220 speakers representing 95 different organizations. We and 10 in-person events, in locations around the world including United Kingdom, Kenya, Turkey, Niger, Nigeria, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda

In-Person Events

The Migration Summit provided a platform for organizations to share their experiences and build collaborative efforts and partnerships, maximizing the impact of initiatives aimed at supporting displaced communities. The Migration Summit sponsored 10 in-person events, providing small grants to support local hackathons, workshops, open mic sessions, panels and film festivals in different countries such as Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Mexico, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom, enabling meaningful and accessible engagement to an additional 400 attendees, especially for those without reliable internet or electricity connectivity. 


This year’s event was organized by a global team of volunteers working on committees in Themes and Content, Communications, Logistics and Sponsorship coming from diverse backgrounds and geographies.  

Participating Organizations

The Migration Summit opened space to 95 organizations and more than 220 speakers to share their work and lead discussions around creating pathways for refugee and migrant communities in the field of education and livelihoods.


Emerging Themes during the Summit

The Migration Summit not only shed greater light on the migration crisis, but more importantly explored viable and sustainable solutions through a collective journey of discovery. Session hosts and participants discussed existing and novel approaches to challenges in the fields of higher education, workforce development, digital livelihoods, research and more. Explore the full list of sessions hosted at the 2023 summit. 


In this report, we highlight the outcomes of the Summit, point out thematic recommendations we heard from the ecosystem, and share concrete ways for you to engage through our calls to action.

Experiences with Displacement

Importance of Inclusive Research

Education Pathways

Refugee Livelihoods

Ecosystem Building

Understanding Our Own Learning

Experiences with Displacement

Throughout the Migration Summit 2023, interconnected themes emerged during the sessions as participants and hosts linked the shifting narratives and language use around migration, and public perception of migration, migrants, and refugees.

The Power of Story lies in the hands of those who have personally endured displacement. First-hand narratives from refugees and asylum seekers have the power to reshape the migration narrative. Sharing their stories empowers migrants, counters historical marginalization, and challenges established agendas. The Migration Summit storytelling sessions aimed to raise awareness and transform perceptions of migration, empowering both storytellers and listeners. These participants, who have overcome immense challenges, inspire others and contribute to their communities. Their stories highlight the need for a comprehensive approach that addresses individual needs and challenges often overlooked by external organizations and humanitarian agencies. By embracing migrants’ stories, we can reshape the migration narrative and develop more effective solutions globally.


The Whole Person Approach was emphasized throughout the sessions, highlighting the significance of supportive and inclusive environments. Reframing Narratives on Migration focused on celebrating integration and diversity underscored the importance of embracing and preserving diverse cultures, by fostering empathy and a sense of value among individuals. 

The role of the media  in shaping perceptions and stereotypes surrounding immigrants, refugees, and diverse cultural groups was discussed. Speakers highlighted feelings of disconnection from their original cultures, as well as the lived experiences of the negative portrayal of certain groups, particularly Muslims. They called for inclusive narratives, individual journalism, and increased representation of diverse voices in media to challenge stereotypes and foster a more accurate understanding of different cultures. Speakers emphasized the crucial need to counter the over-glorification of Western worldviews and instead promote and give space for diverse perspectives that can help educate the public through a more nuanced portrayal of diversity within communities.


The Power of the Arts emerged as a central theme, with participatory arts as a way to shift self-perception within the migration community and also to reshape public perceptions of migration. Storytelling, theater, poetry, and film are just a few examples of creative methods that offer opportunities for mental health and wellbeing, as well as creating opportunities for empathy, solidarity, and connection. The Summit’s anthem “Tell Your Story” composed collaboratively by a participant and an organizing member of the Summit, amplified the importance of recognizing refugees as individuals, and gave voice to their life experiences.


  • To harness the transformative power of the arts, it is essential to provide accessible platforms and resources for migrants to engage in participatory arts. This can be achieved through community-based initiatives, workshops, and collaborations with local artists, enabling migrants to share their stories, express their experiences, and build connections. Like in other industries, migrant artists should be recognized not as a niche but as talent that often unfairly struggles to access resources and forums. 
  • To actively address the role of media in shaping perceptions and stereotypes, media organizations should prioritize diverse representation in their content production. This includes identifying and amplifying the voices of immigrants, refugees, and various cultural groups, allowing them to share their authentic stories and experiences. Moreover, media literacy programs can empower the public to critically analyze media messages, encouraging a more discerning consumption of information and promoting dialogue that is informed, empathetic, and inclusive.
  • To effectively implement the ‘whole person approach,’ organizations and individuals supporting refugees should prioritize creating inclusive environments that consider social, emotional, and cognitive well-being. This can be achieved through capacity-building initiatives such as cultural sensitivity training, safeguarding, mentorship programs, and access to mental health support, which would foster a sense of belonging and provide practical resources for holistic growth and successful integration within the community.
  • Promoting integration over assimilation means creating inclusive spaces where diverse cultures are celebrated and meaningful interactions and collaborations facilitated. Prioritizing language programs and cultural exchange initiatives can facilitate the integration process and cultivate a sense of belonging for both migrants and hosting communities. 

Do you want to deep dive on topics discussed in sessions related to “Experiences with Displacement”?

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“I utilize my little experience to help others also see hope, to help others see change and keep growing. This song [Tell Your Story] came about because of that message.”

- Patricia Vuvu, MIT ReACT Alumni

Importance of Inclusive Research

If research is how we generate knowledge about education and displacement, then it is important to have an open mind for what we mean by “knowledge”: how it’s created, who is creating it, and how it’s shared. Across the Summit’s research sessions, themes that emerged repeatedly were power dynamics, access to funding, relationship building and validating different research methodologies and ways of building knowledge. There has been a clear and standing demand from local refugee researchers and refugee led organizations (RLOs) to be trusted to use their expertise and experience to lead projects, not just as subjects of research or  involved in only data collection and execution stages. Many questions are raised about current funding structures and how they might affect the projects in unintended ways as well as limit the long-term usefulness of the interventions. Further, ethics remain as an important part of the discussion in this space with an eye on building long term trust relationships that avoid extractive dynamics, minimizing harm and safeguarding people who are the subjects of the research  from unwanted side effects. This is only possible when ample care is used to understand the important contextual, political and social realities of displaced communities.


  • When conducting research with displaced communities, it is crucial to acknowledge that all displacement experiences are unique, necessitating a clear and context-specific scope of study and effective communication of research findings.


  • To ensure a comprehensive understanding, it is important to involve individuals with expertise in displacement throughout the research process, from the beginning (research design) to the end (dissemination) and beyond (future work).


  • Establishing trust and fostering relationships with the affected host and displaced communities is key to avoid extractive dynamics and ensure a collaborative approach.


  • Recognizing the existing capacity-building efforts of local refugee-led organizations is essential, and it is important to entrust communities with the authority to make decisions as well as project funding to empower their own initiatives.

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“Many times we used to see some of the NGOs and other stakeholders speaking on behalf of the refugees. And yet, refugees have the capacity and ability to stand and speak for themselves on matters affecting them in day-to-day activities or in day-to-day lives.”

- Jean Paul Kasika, Program Coordinator at RELON Kenya. Vice Chairperson for the Africa Refugee-Led Network, affiliate member of the Global Refugee Network, GRN.

Education Pathways for Refugee Communities

During the summit, various themes related to education for refugee students were explored. One of the themes focused on alternative approaches to K-12 education. Examples of such approaches included the Amala High School Diploma program, which offers a competency-based curriculum covering the final two years of high school and awards a diploma upon completion. Another program, Pangea Educational Development, showcased low-tech solutions for achieving literacy among refugee students. Thaki emphasized the importance of the Teacher Digital Toolkit, which not only focuses on developing digital skills for learners but also ensures that educators are well-trained. Theirworld highlighted inclusive early childhood education as a key aspect.

In the context of higher education, the summit discussed the challenges faced by refugee students in accessing higher education and proposed potential solutions. The UNHCR’s objective to achieve a 15% enrollment rate of refugee youth in higher education by 2030 (15×30) played a central role in these discussions. One example of an initiative addressing this challenge is the partnership between the Duolingo English Test and UNHCR. Through programs like the Access Scholars Program, this partnership aims to increase access to higher education for refugees. The Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative was also highlighted for its success in helping students gain acceptance into universities, while acknowledging the need for more support and resources. Several organizations, including Pima Community College and the President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, along with Every Campus a Refuge, contribute to improving access to education for refugee students in the United States.

Scholarships were identified as crucial opportunities for enhancing access to higher education for migrant students. The summit highlighted initiatives like the Rise Challenge, the Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative (SYE), and the Tertiary Refugee Student Network (TRSN) that provide needs-based scholarships and support services for youth affected by conflict. By promoting collaboration, comprehensive support services, and access to funding, these initiatives aim to empower displaced youth and facilitate their successful integration into society.


  • Promote alternative approaches to refugee education, collaboration is important so that comprehensive support services, including language assistance, expertise in securing student visas, mentorship programs, and career guidance are available. 


  • Partnerships with local refugee resettlement agencies and organizations, providing targeted financial aid and scholarships for refugee students, and developing specialized support services such as language assistance and mentorship programs are vital for displaced students to succeed at the tertiary level.


  • Community colleges can be a pathway that is more accessible to a greater number of refugee learners than more traditional 4-year universities. They can provide marketable qualifications and also be a pathway toward a 4-year degree. 


  • Enhance scholarship opportunities by establishing partnerships with universities, organizations, and government agencies to expand funding options, promote mentorship programs, and ensure that the selection process reaches individuals from non-traditional backgrounds.

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"Understanding the cultural differences and intrinsic motivations of learners is crucial for designing effective solutions."

- Mona Younes, Beyond Borders

Refugee Livelihoods: Toward Economic Inclusion and Pathways to Employment

The panel discussion on Digital Freelancing and Digital Livelihoods” highlighted key considerations for the future of work. The shift to skill-based hiring and the need to commercialize skills were emphasized. Regulatory measures and global collaboration were deemed important for fair treatment. Challenges included regulation, tax statuses, exploitation, and the blurred line between freelancing and entrepreneurship. Access to infrastructure and skills, particularly in the Global South, require changes. Equitable access, education, regulations, and mentorship were crucial for success in the digital economy.


Sessions on hiring refugees remotely highlighted challenges and opportunities faced by companies like CONCAT, Appen, Somos, and Accenture. The PROSPECTS Opportunity Fund, a collaboration between UNHCR and ILO for digital livelihoods, stressed the importance of enabling inclusive environments for refugee employment. Somos addressed risks of remote work and focused on providing benefits and fair pay. CONCAT and Appen faced challenges with payment and connectivity. Accenture showcased inclusive hiring practices. Upwardly Global emphasized collaboration and viewing refugees as valuable assets. The B2B approach in Jordan by Education For Employment (EFE) and Intaj connected Jordanian youth, including refugees, with remote job opportunities. Challenges like limited access to banking and discrimination were acknowledged, but determination and potential of refugees were highlighted.


The sessions explored creative industries, such as digital media arts, fashion and home goods, as employment opportunities for refugees, marginalized communities, and women. Benefits included skill development, empowerment, entrepreneurship, and social upliftment. Initiatives by Finn Church Aid and Skills 3 Creative Enterprise provided examples of training and connecting with work opportunities in two ends of the technology spectrum- high and low tech. 


Collaboration and stakeholder engagement were emphasized for advancing economic inclusion for refugees. Building partnerships and engaging with employers and diverse hiring committees promote understanding and expand networks. Events, discussions, and support programs facilitate successful refugee employment, while mentorship, sponsorship, and access to resources are essential for integration.


Financial inclusion was crucial for refugees’ socioeconomic integration, providing access to housing, employment, and social protection. The session on “Empowering Refugees Through Microfinance” emphasized the importance of financial education, microfinance programs, and tailored products for entrepreneurship and career development. Challenges included limited financial literacy and legal uncertainties, while good practices involved multilingual information, partnerships, and trust-building with refugee clients.


Overall, these sessions underscored the importance of skill-based hiring, inclusive approaches, supportive ecosystems, and stakeholder engagement in promoting economic inclusion and livelihood opportunities for refugees.


  • Invest in comprehensive education and training programs to bridge the gap between skills, technical and soft, and available jobs 
  • Create supportive ecosystems and networks offering mentorship, infrastructure, and access to markets to support economic integration.
  • Promote skill-based hiring and support individuals in effectively commercializing their skills.
  • Implement a robust regulatory framework to ensure social protections that ensures fair treatment and income stability for individuals performing digital work.
  • Provide tailored financial education and partnerships between services and financial providers for refugees.
  • Advocate for zero-interest credit and access to bank accounts to support refugee financial inclusion and their contribution to host communities.

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“The digital transformation has revolutionized the world of work and work as we know it today.”

- Zulum Avila, International Labor Organization

Ecosystem Building

How do we create the conditions for individuals and organizations to work collaboratively together on the systemic challenges refugees and migrants face?  How do we develop our capacities as systems thinkers to understand the many factors that impact migration and develop solutions that address the profound interconnections between ourselves, each other, and our world?  In a number of sessions throughout the Summit, we heard from communities that are creating innovative ecosystems to support cross-sector collaboration and develop systems wide solutions. 


In the session “RLOs and the Need for Meaningful Engagement with these Local Actors,

ATE-Hub in collaboration with other refugee founders and leaders challenge the system to expand its perspectives on aid and support.  What ways can aid organizations “donate differently”? Who better understands the stories and experience of a refugee better than refugees themselves? Are we really empowering refugees by subjecting them to handouts? Throughout the Summit, refugee leaders highlighted the innovative services RLOs are providing to their communities from microloans, emergency assistance, skill development, public health and culturally appropriate mental health support, community building to localisation and setting priorities for the refugee response.


Such paradigm shifts was also a theme for the gathering of over forty U.S.-based lawyers and legal professionals over a two day “Access to Immigrant and Refugee Justice: A Systems Change Workshop” convened by the VIISTA program at Villanova University and facilitated using compassionate systems tools and frameworks through the MIT Systems Awareness Lab. Participants reflected on the systemic issues facing immigrants in accessing legal representation, including impediments such as political willpower or barriers created by the legal profession itself. Coming out of the systems change workshop, the group’s focus is on designing better solutions through creative tension and foundational changes that are sustainable rather than quick fixes. The group discussed the importance of inclusive language in legal processes and how it affects relationships with immigrants navigating the legal system. They also explored the creation of more structural opportunities for empowering immigrants to advocate for themselves within the legal system as well as maximizing accredited representatives, pro bono lawyers and volunteers to expand capacity while ensuring responsible, meaningful legal assistance. Finally, they consider how to transform the regulatory system in a way that is complementary to building a system that can provide legal services and address structural injustice.

Such systems perspectives were evidenced in sessions like the insightful presentation on “Global Challenges: Interrelation of Migration, Human Trafficking, and Climate Change,” Diego Cabrita presented sobering data on the profound connections between climate change, forced migration and the vulnerabilities of girls and women to human trafficking. Sessions like “Perspectivas de los migrantes sobre inclusión e integración: ¿Cómo podemos medir la integración de la población refugiada y sus desafíos?” (Perspectives of migrants about inclusion and integration: How can we measure the integration and existing challenges of the refugee population?) raised critical points on the need for systems-wide coordination for the integration of migrants, including flexible and adaptive strategies that take into account the various socioeconomic, political, and territorial dimensions of migration and how use of artificial intelligence and data science can aid in our understanding and response to migratory shifts.  The innovation possible through such an ecosystem systems perspective was also highlighted in the solution advanced by Miles4Migrants, whose vision of a world where forced migrants can move towards safety with dignity and hope, was realized by tapping into underutilized existing infrastructures (unused airline miles) and leveraging public goodwill to remove the transportation barriers that impact the most vulnerable poorest migrants, and successfully relocating 41,000 people and 15,000 family reunited through 700 million donated airline miles and points.


  • Such examples are just a few of the ways communities are building cross-sector ecosystems to develop new solutions to address the challenges in forced migration. But more investment, capacity-building and community building is needed to create sustained and meaningful communities of practice together. 
  • The Migration Summit is just a start, and we hope others will join us in building more inclusive and generative ecosystems of systems thinkers and solvers. Investment is needed to create communities of practice across stakeholders in the field, building capacity in areas of systems thinking and cross-sector collaboration.

Did you miss a session related to “Ecosystem Building”?

“Only when all of the pieces of the puzzle that are stepping stones along the journey all work together in more of a unison is when you create that ecosystem where everything becomes easier.”

- John Warnes, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Understanding Our Own Learning: Qualitative Research on the Migration Summit

Qualitative analysis research was conducted using as inputs the interactions of attendees in the Zoom chat and all session transcripts summaries. The aim of the research was to understand the emerging conversations that were sparked from the different sessions, finding out participants’ experience, the emergence of new collaborations based on participants’ statements and most importantly, understand the learnings and social dimensions of the summit. 

There are two themes that emerged as a result of the qualitative analysis; 1) refugee employment, 2) refugee adaptation. The first theme “refugee employment” has three codes: higher education, funds/scholarships, laws and regulations. The second theme “refugee adaptation” has four codes: learning the language, learning the culture, collaboration, and creating spaces for refugees.


Overall, what was mostly identified in the documents utilized for the qualitative research,  participants emphasized the following recommendations:

Refugee Employment:

  • Enhancing job opportunities, particularly in higher education, for refugees.
  • Fostering partnerships and collaborations to support refugee employment.
  • Sharing information on scholarships, funding, and job prospects.
  • Addressing challenges in finding secure employment due to differing laws and regulations.

Refugee Adaptation:

  • Supporting language learning and cultural adaptation for refugees.
  • Improving welcoming practices of international institutions.
  • Recognizing the significance of education in refugee adaptation.

Collaboration and Documentation:

  • Encourage collaboration between refugees seeking opportunities and those with established careers.
  • Simplify documentation processes for refugees.

Creating Spaces for Refugees:

  • Establishing safe spaces to facilitate self-expression among refugees.
  • Valuing and amplifying the authenticity of refugee narratives.

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Thank you to the community that has made the Migration Summit possible. We look forward to continuing to advance our collective learning, advocacy and action.  We invite you to grow this community through further learning, reflection, and connection.

Migration Summit Organizing Committee

Calls to Action

Share your thoughts on this report and start a conversation!

Join the effort in developing systemic solutions by participating in this year’s

Cultivate community spaces locally and virtually for displaced and migrant individuals to create, solve problems, and build communities. Host a discussion group, a film screening, a community dinner, or virtual meet up.

How to Get Involved

Check out our events page and find all recordings and in-person events details.

Join us in an effort to map the ecosystem by filling out this short survey about yourself and your organization. This information will help this community further connect, exchange resources and expertise, and identify critical gaps and opportunities in the ecosystem supporting refugees and migrants.

Support the Migration Summit by joining us as a sponsor. Email migrationsummit@mit.edu to learn more about how you can support this community.