“Beyond GFMD: From Advocacy to Policy to Action,” Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Global Forum on Migration and Development
October 28, 2008 | Speech | Migration

Good morning. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

It is a privilege for me to join this important discussion, and share with you how a private foundation can contribute to improved policy and practice in the field of international migration.

The presence of civil society groups from 63 countries at this Forum underscores our shared conviction that better understanding of human mobility is among the most urgent challenges of a rapidly globalizing world. This proposition informed MacArthur’s decision to launch a new initiative in global migration and human mobility.

For those of you who do not know MacArthur, a brief summary. Our Foundation is independent, not tied to any government, business, or political party. MacArthur is based in Chicago, one of the world’s great immigrant cities. We have assets of $6 billion, and work in 60 nations around the world, with offices in Russia, Nigeria, India, Mexico, and soon China.

About 40 percent of our grant making is outside the United States in fields including biodiversity conservation, population and reproductive health, international peace and security, and human rights and international justice. Our work in migration cuts across all that we do. Our domestic programs include the revitalization of cities, the provision of affordable housing, and improving education.

Our grants support basic research, data collection, the application of research and analysis to policy making, and pilot projects that pioneer solutions to pressing problems.

We know that large social, economic, and political trends can advance or retard our quest for a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world. So understanding these large contextual forces is essential.

Few trends could have larger international impact than what is happening as we meet: net annual migration flows approaching 3 million, some 200 million people living outside their country of origin – numbers unprecedented in world history.

And yet, of all the aspects of globalization, migration is the least well understood and most poorly governed. This is a glaring anomaly. The world has established protocols and institutions that deal with trade, finance, the environment, or weapons control – but not for movements of people.

Migration is not an economic abstraction and migrants are not commodities. They are worthy of international protection, and we see a pressing need for a more rational and coherent regime governing international migration. And we believe better regulation will bring clear benefits, enabling talented individuals to improve their lives, making government more efficient and effective, and advancing international economic development.

The Global Forum has placed migration at the forefront of the international policy agenda. Your meeting is illuminating the issues and exploring policy responses that should be taken very seriously by the governments meeting here tomorrow and Thursday.

For governments, as well as civil society groups, what is the best way to move from discussion to action, and how might private philanthropy help?

MacArthur begins with the conviction that first we need to get the questions right, and that the best policy is based on accurate data and reliable, objective, empirical research. For research to matter, it needs to be tested against reality on the ground and made useful to policy makers.

Solid data, objective research, thoughtful policy analysis – these are the goals of MacArthur’s program in migration and mobility. And those are needs I have heard from many of you in Manila.

Beyond supporting research, MacArthur will support university centers, think tanks and civil society groups dedicated to connecting good information to policy makers and the public. Together we can deepen and sharpen the discussion about migration.

Armed with a better understanding of migration, its challenges, and its benefits, civil society and advocacy groups are in a far stronger position to encourage serious debate on critical issues, insist on respect for both the evidence and for underrepresented viewpoints, and frame policy options for government to consider.

A central question is: “How can international migration be better governed?” MacArthur is sensitive to the need for nuanced and local arrangements in governing migration, including bilateral and regional agreements. And while we do not necessarily favor the establishment of a new global institution, we look forward to a better functioning global system that maximizes the benefits of migration for the world community. The Global Forum is not an answer to global migration governance, but it is an important starting point,

There are also plenty of open questions about the fundamental facts of migration. Some appear simple, but are not easy to answer: How many migrants are there? What do their journeys look like? How are patterns changing? Others are daunting in their complexity: How does migration contribute to economic growth? To international financial flows? What effects does it have on individuals and families? How are cultures, religions, ethnic identities, or patterns of public health changing as populations move? How does migration affect the politics of countries of origin and destination and geopolitical dynamics?

These questions are larger than any one donor or institution can tackle alone, but let me give you some examples of work that MacArthur is supporting.

First, MacArthur is responding to the recommendation from the first Global Forum, which called for improved data on migration. Through the Center for Global Development in Washington, MacArthur funds a Commission on Migration Data for Development, co-chaired by Lawrence Summers and Patricia Santo Tomas. The goal of this Commission is to develop concrete recommendations for improving international migration statistics and making better use of available data. Better data will provide important tools for judging the impact of policy innovations. The work of this Commission will be discussed tomorrow at the governmental meeting.

The Brussels Forum also called for improved standards for recruiting migrant healthcare professionals. MacArthur is underwriting efforts – within the U.S. and globally – to develop codes of ethical conduct for recruiting healthcare workers across national boundaries. We seek better protection of migrant rights in countries of destination, and mitigation of the consequences of brain drain on the health care systems of countries of origin.

With MacArthur support, a global code is now under consideration by the World Health Organization.

The U.S. Code – a voluntary, private-sector initiative – was developed by a task force led by MacArthur grantee, AcademyHealth. Already adopted by dozens of hospitals, recruiters, and nursing associations, it calls for observance of all applicable labor and immigration rights. The Code urges employers to follow best practices, such as twinning arrangements whereby hospitals in developed countries support training or equipment costs in source-country hospitals.

Civil society organizations – research and advocacy groups, membership associations, and groups led by migrants themselves – are at the heart of movements for change. MacArthur’s commitment to civil society groups is at the core of how we work across all our fields of endeavor. We have supported over 1,200 civil society groups from 104 countries in the areas of population, conservation, human rights, peace and security, and now migration. Some of those groups gather objective data and conduct research that frames key issues; some develop policy alternatives and advocate for them; some monitor the performance of government and educate the public. And others launch model projects.

Our understanding of migration, and the profound human experiences that go with it, would be immeasurably poorer without the networks of dedicated civil society professionals at work in every country. MacArthur is privileged to support many of them. Funding to the group Sin Fronteras in Mexico supports civil society participation in regional migration governance talks. A MacArthur grant to the African Diaspora Policy Center in Amsterdam looks at ways African governments engage their diasporas to assist in developing their home countries. And, through the Ayala Foundation, MacArthur has covered many of the travel costs for this Forum and the Civil Society Days.

Civil society is not a substitute for government, or for intergovernmental action. But it can offer expertise, energy, insights, and perspectives deeply grounded in the experience of ordinary people.

Government is looking for solutions to persistent problems, policies that work both practically and politically. Civil society has a strong case to offer – that migrants with rights are not only better off, but can be more effective agents of development. It offers concrete recommendations on how to protect the rights of migrants and open more legal opportunities, how to mobilize the diaspora, how to make circular migration work for those whose livelihood depends on it. These must be clearly communicated as just and coherent policy options to governments, both here in Manila at in your home countries.

The interface between civil society and government is where an organization such as MacArthur can often be most effective. The Foundation recognizes and respects the Global Forum as a process led by nation states. But the work of civil society is not incidental to the Global Forum – it is an integral part of it and should lead to ongoing collaboration between civil society and international, regional, and national bodies.

It is precisely because MacArthur sees the value of this Forum for promoting such collaborations that we have supported it directly. We encourage conversations and negotiation among NGOs, advocacy groups, and government, believing that a spirit of cooperation will achieve far more than heated confrontation.

MacArthur was the largest nongovernmental funder of the Brussels meeting in 2007 and of this gathering in Manila. We will provide additional funds to disseminate ideas emerging from the Civil Society Days, including a new portal for research on migration and development. And, because we believe it is important that the Forum maintain a link to the UN system, we also assist the office of Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Migration and Development.

MacArthur is encouraged by the progress that has been made, ready to do what we can to further better international understanding and cooperation, and determined to empower civil society in its quest for a more just and welcoming world.

The statistics, the trends, the legislation can obscure what it is we are addressing: the trials, hopes, and dreams of millions of people who migrate to escape poverty or injustice, to find stability and prosperity for those they love, to develop more fully their potential as human beings. Their journeys must continue to fire our imagination and stir our best instincts of responsibility.

Your advocacy for the rights of migrants is a vital part of this Forum. I wish you well in all you do, and look forward to next year’s meeting in Greece.

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