AUTHOR: REBEKAH SMITH
The year 2021 was a watershed year in the world of labor mobility: one where previously unthinkable policies were suddenly on the table, where the impact of labor shortages abruptly and dramatically entered the public consciousness as well as Board rooms, and where for perhaps the first time in history, high-income countries began to ‘compete’ for migrant workers. Everywhere we saw the signs of a new coming era; one defined where mobility is a necessity and the question is not if but how.
It was a watershed year for LaMP as well – in 2021, we doubled the size of our team, raised $3.5M in new multi-year grant commitments, defined our core values, and launched several big programs of work. We learned a lot through this growth, and want to take some time as we close out the year to share what we learned with you.
In 2021, we came a long way in articulating LaMP’s unique role and strategy and got to work:
- We fill a unique gap in our field. LaMP is the only organization dedicated solely to expanding rights-respecting labor mobility for migrants workers as a global public good. Towards this end, our goal is not to be a service delivery or research organization ourselves, but to expand our field through demonstrating solutions and influencing decision makers. This approach lets us be much more ambitious about our potential impact than if we tried to act alone, and we have received significant interest in and support for our unique approach to designing scalable, market-viable, and rights-respecting solutions.
- We build practice over policy. Much of the work in the labor mobility field takes a policy-first approach, crafting top-down regulatory approaches that often fail to play out in practice. At LaMP, our philosophy is “good practice leads to good policy” – we work within existing policies and regulations to improve the design and functioning of labor mobility and recruitment systems, feeding the findings of this work back into better policies. In 2021, we began testing this philosophy through our portfolio of work seeking to improve outcomes in the US H-2A program by developing market-viable strategies to improve recruitment practices.
- We got messy and embraced complexity. Because poverty alleviation is at the heart of our mission, we exclusively focus on workers disadvantaged by existing migration systems. In the past, our field would have referred to this as a focus on ‘low-skilled workers,’ but as we explored it’s much more complex than that, with this group both offering essential skills and being disadvantaged through intersecting lenses of classism, racism, and nationalism. As a start, we’ve switched to the term ‘migrant workers’ (feedback welcome!), and now are on to the harder work of considering how these intersecting lenses affect our approach. Stay tuned in 2022 for more on that.
Through our rapid growth in 2021, we identified new challenges:
- Thinking globally while acting locally. It’s a bumper sticker slogan, but was an important learning for us this year. While LaMP’s mandate is global, we found that the only way to be effective and get the trust of needed stakeholders is to be deeply embedded in the region/sector (in the ag industry for example), understanding the needs and challenges down to the names of specific immigration forms, common frustrations faced by employers, which crops require the most training, etc. This has two important implications for our work moving forward: (1) while maintaining a global mandate, we’ll be choosing priority regions and sectors and zooming in on those, and (2) we will be looking to build a roster of industry/region insiders to embed in our work.
- Can we be all things to all people? LaMP’s work necessitates that we work with stakeholders with very different goals, who do not see themselves as part of the same field. To work on scaling mobility programs, we need to work with employers to design systems that are responsive to their needs — and to work on improving the quality and outcomes for migrants in mobility systems, we need to work with established advocacy organizations dedicated to protecting workers’ rights. LaMP sees these as going hand-in-glove, and all of our work deliberately targets solutions that can simultaneously scale and improve outcomes. However, this is a unique view in this space, and we are still working on bridging our partners’ very disparate views both in our work and our approach to strategic communications. In the end, we hope to build a coalition of ‘strange bedfellows.’
- How do we get people to recognize missed opportunities as active harms? Successful movements are most often built around tangible and active harms; it is much more difficult to get people to care about missed opportunities for good. This creates a challenge for LaMP, as our constituency is future migrants more so than present ones – we work on behalf of the billion people who would like to migrate but are not able to do so. While many of these people will live and die in poverty, constituting very active harm, these harms are often ignored as people choose not to connect them to the absence of opportunities to migrate.
- How can we open new doors? LaMP works both to open new migration opportunities (‘scale’) and to improve existing migration opportunities (‘quality’). Unsurprisingly, we have found much more appetite for work on quality over scale, which requires influencing government action. In 2021, we have pursued two strategies to scale – (1) through policy changes and (2) by improving the implementation of existing policies. It’s too early to tell which strategy might work and where, but we will continue trialing them in 2022.
In 2022, we are prioritizing three things (and you can help!):
- We are piloting a sector-based approach. Because the needs and dynamics within individual sectors are so unique, we have found it more successful to identify opportunities for demonstrating scale by starting with a sector rather than starting with a country. This also allows us to partner with sector-based bodies as champions for expanding mobility opportunities. However, while this has become common wisdom in the labor mobility field, few actors have managed to successfully implement this approach. While we will be trialing our lessons on targeting and embedding deeply, we’re looking for your suggestions – which sector actors should we be talking to? Who should we bring on as expert consultants? What have you learned about successful approaches?
- We will more actively feed what we learn back into the policy realm. This year we have been largely looking inward, exploring questions around our theory of change and feeding it back into our work. That was needed work and we have made important strides, but in 2022, we promise to more actively share what we are learning with all of you! You tell us – what of our work would you like to learn more about? What questions relating to labor mobility should we explore that would be most helpful in your work?
- We are committed to centering the worker experience. Both we and most organizations in our space are guilty of speculating about what matters most to workers and how they evaluate migration opportunities – what do they think is a good job? How long do they want to migrate for? What is most important to their well-being during migration? In 2022 and beyond, we are committing to directly consulting with worker representatives on these and other critical questions, to ensure that their well-being and economic advancement is the center of our work.
As we close out 2021, I invite you to share what you have learned with us. At LaMP, we are dedicating 2022 (and every year after) to building a world in which more people have the opportunity to safely migrate, and look forward to working with you to make that vision reality!