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Scenarios for Immigrants, Migrants, and Refugees in South Africa

Reos Partners
June, 2010

Many countries around the world confront the complex issue of immigrant, migrant, and refugee rights. As economies battle, GDP declines, and employment drops, anti-immigrant sentiment often rises. In recent years, this attitude has translated into many incidents of violent attacks and widespread xenophobia in South Africa, contributing to what is now a massive crisis in the country.

Political collapse in Zimbabwe, economic turmoil in other African countries, and poverty have displaced large numbers of people, many of whom have fled to South Africa. In 2008, the country received more than 45,000 new asylum applications, with a backlog of almost 40,000 cases. Although there is a massive influx of people with the xenophobic attacks, there have also been between 30,000-125,000 people who have been displaced by violence, with a further 25,000-35,000 who had fled the country  Estimates of the number of Zimbabweans who live in South Africa range from one to nine million.

To begin to resolve the looming human rights crisis, Atlantic Philanthropies, a global philanthropic organisation, has been working to understand the many underlying causes of this non-functioning system. What distinguishes Atlantic Philanthropies from other philanthropic organisations is that it adheres to the “Giving While Living” philosophy, in that they invest to help solve urgent social problems now. AP will spend down its endowment and close its doors by 2020; it is the largest foundation to date to choose this path. To this end, the organisation has made grants totaling more than $5 billion as of the end of 2009, through four programmes (see

In addressing the migration, immigration, and refugee issue in South Africa, Atlantic Philanthropies selected Reos Partners to facilitate a scenario process with a group of funded organisations. AP’s philosophy is consistent with the use of scenarios, in that they are a tool to build relationships, collaborations, and strategies that enable sustainable change to occur beyond the lifespan of the organisation itself. Scenarios provide a process of envisaging possible alternate futures, in a way that facilitates co-creation. Atlantic Philanthropies decided to use scenarios to promote collaboration and to derive a shared sense of the current reality and possible futures.
The process began with a phase of convening and enrolling, during which Reos conducted dialogue interviews and produced a synthesis report that provided an overview of the system’s current reality. This report became a key source of input in the two-and-a-half-day scenario workshop.

The participants co-created four stories, or scenarios, during the workshop, each of which was named after a song:
1. Land of Hope and Glory (on Zimbabwe crisis)
2. These Boots Were Made for Walking (on local integration and service delivery)
3. Shosholoza (on regional integration)
4. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (on the rise of populism and xenophobia).

The scenarios can be plotted along two axes. The first axis represents the political mode, spanning from planned and accountable action to crisis-driven action. The second axis represents the political mood, ranging from popular nationalism to regional cooperation and development.

These axes depict key levers of change: responsive or planned action in a context of rising populism or regional cooperation. The scenarios thus both provide stories of alternate futures and highlight potential key forces of change.
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The facilitators also shared the following comments:
Scenarios are useful in three ways. Their “products” are an important intellectual exercise and can be influential in helping people to anticipate, plan for, or change how issues play out. Second, these scenarios and the small-group discussions that created them are an aid to clarifying strategic intentions. …The third aspect is that scenario exercises require participants to engage deeply with each other, to find out about their own and each other’s assumptions, to hear how different people think about the present and how this shapes their thinking about the future. In other words, it is an important relationship-building exercise for a sector such as this one.

In this vein, the facilitators noticed three significant shifts among participants over the period of the scenario workshop:
o    A growing recognition of interdependence between members of the cluster;
o    An increasingly strategic identification of some of the levers of change;
o    A move from a sense of helplessness to a growing sense of what members of this cluster, and its allies, could influence.

These comments suggest that the scenario exercise provides an opportunity to build capacity for collective action, as it convenes multiple stakeholders around a common complex problem. It is thus worthwhile for convenors of scenario conversations to consider how they might enlarge the participation of a wide range of stakeholders so as to broaden the capacity and build the relationships to enable joint action.

From this scenario exercise, we learned the importance of:
o    including a diverse and wide range of stakeholders and perspectives so that new insights and possibilities can emerge
o    providing sufficient time for workshops and conversations to enable deep engagement and reflective thinking
o    involving those closest to the issues at hand to create a sense of urgency and ownership
o    ensuring that the scenario creation process is a part of a broader strategic conversation, particularly when participants consider their choices and responses to the scenarios

Since AP engaged in this particular scenario exercise, many warning signs indicate that we may be approaching the “It’s the end of the world as we know it” scenario. Much anecdotal evidence points to the possibility that a fresh wave of xenophobic violence will occur following the conclusion of the World Cup in South Africa. Seeing these signs, and knowing the potential trajectory of this scenario, has led to a number of organisations to take proactive stances: public statements by the consortium, newspaper coverage, conversations with the police ministry and the National Intelligence Agency, and decisions by donor agencies to invest more in the region and in early-warning indicators in a bid to prevent a tragic outcome.

In contrast, the knowledge that positive scenarios exist that involve cooperation and planned change provides the hope and mechanisms for organisations to begin to collaborate around creating an alternate desirable future. After all, futures are not given, they are created. Together.


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