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How we create impact with refugees

Linde from NGO Same Skies encourages refugees to take ownership of their needs to escape the victim role. She supports them in implementing activities that benefit their community. BOOKBRIDGE inspired Same Skies with the entrepreneurial approach of our programs.



Linde, you were born in the Netherlands but now live in Malaysia. You work with refugees empowering them becoming their own entrepreneur, an approach you learnt more about in our capability program. What is your background?

I was born in the Netherlands, but spent my entire childhood on a Caribbean island called Aruba. Upon turning 19, I returned to the Netherlands for my studies. As I have always been interested in different people and cultures, I decided to study Anthropology.


By the time I finished my Bachelors, I knew that I wanted to make my way into the humanitarian field, so I continued with a Masters in International Development, with a major in Conflict & Disaster Studies. During my studies, I was able to complete internships and volunteering positions with various NGOs in the Netherlands and abroad.


After completing my thesis, I found an opportunity with Same Skies, and I´ve now been working with them in Malaysia for two years. Currently, I am the coordinator for our exciting action-based learning programme called ‘Transformative Leadership in Action’, through which we get to share our Refugee-Led Action approach.



What drives you? What is your purpose?

It is very important for me to have a positive impact on the people around me. One way to do this is by offering support to them, and building them up and strengthening them.


I believe that we have to look after each other and care for the planet, and hold each other accountable to the ethical responsibility that we share. In my opinion, refugees have as much to contribute to their host countries and the world as you and I. They have skills, experiences, hopes and dreams to share, but are often denied the opportunity. I’m driven to support them to create and take these opportunities and prove it to the world.


I think this is one of the reasons Same Skies is such a good fit. Through our Refugee-Led Action approach, in which we encourage refugees to take ownership of assessing their particular needs, and designing, implementing and evaluating activities benefiting the larger community, they are encouraged to take the responsibility for the whole project cycle.


In these past two years, I have seen the impact this approach has on the people involved, and the strength of the partnerships we have built with them.



What does Refugee-Led Action mean?

First of all, we have developed this approach because of the current refugee context: there are 68.5 million displaced people in the world, and they are more and more used to polarise societal opinion and limit integration. Refugees are too often perceived as incapable, and as a burden for the host communities.


Secondly, there are too many attempts to design solutions that fail to involve the communities they hope to support. There is no consultation on needs or strengths of the community, which means their skills and ideas are unutilised. We have seen that this creates helplessness and dependency on service providers.


Furthermore, we see that there is a lack of coordination and insufficient information sharing between stakeholders, within the humanitarian sector but also by the private sector and governments. This has led to a lot of inefficient and ineffective projects, and too many resources and opportunities are wasted.


Hence, we co-design refugee-led solutions, and provide training, coaching and mentoring to increase the capacities of community actors.


How does it work?

Transformative Leadership in Action is how we share our approach and best practices with like-minded people and organisations. In this seven-month action-based learning program, participants study online while co-creating a new refugee-led project. It challenges individuals from all over the world to leave their comfort zones and strengthen their skills as social leaders, while learning about creating responsible impact.


The team includes seven refugees who take on long-term responsibility for the new project. After completion of the program, Same Skies provides twelve months of additional training and mentoring support to ensure sustainability. If you’re interested to learn how you can get involved, visit www.sameskies.org/leadership.


What were your learnings? And what developed out of this learning for you and your organization?

Our relationship with BOOKBRIDGE started when Julia, our International Director, took part in the BOOKRIDGE Capability Program. Within your program, she missed the connection to humanitarian challenges, and saw the opportunity to start our own program.


This is where the idea for Transformative Leadership in Action was born.


We feel very lucky to have been able to work closely together with Carsten to develop our own program, and to learn from his experiences and best practices. From my perspective, I have sought his advice mostly on promotion and marketing of the program.


Last year, BOOKBRIDGE was involved in some of the courses for our pilot edition of Transformative Leadership in Action. The program participants had the opportunity to not only learn from Carsten about social entrepreneurship, but also to speak to one of the participants who took part in a BOOKBRIDGE program in Sri Lanka. It was very inspiring to me to see how the she interacted with our participants and shared their experiences and learnings.


For our participants it was very important to see how others had set up their financial structures, and what kind of challenges they had faced. This way, they were able to make a more thoughtful decision on which model would fit their project best. The team of what is now known as the Refugee Network Center finally decided to raise the funds for the first year of operations through crowdfunding campaigns, but as time goes by they are adding more and more social enterprise elements to it. Recently, they started a project where they upcycle plastic banners into bags, and sell these at local markets.


How can we best support you?

It has been immensely beneficial for us to share and learn from like-minded people and organisations. BOOKBRIDGE, as a more mature program provider, has been a great stepping stone in developing Transformative Leadership in Action.


Where we can still use your support is in promoting the program within your network to find suitable participants and partners, while we are strengthening publicity and our reputation. Additionally, providing knowledge that is at the heart of BOOKBRIDGE (social entrepreneurship, marketing and sales) is always helpful for our own team and the teams we support.