What is Social Capital and Why Does It Matter?

From a young age, we are told that if you work hard, you’ll achieve everything that you want. If you just apply yourself in school, you’ll become successful, whether this means becoming a famous actor or actress, the CEO of a Fortune 500, or having any form of influence in society. If you just go to university, get that degree, find that full-time job and work your way up, you’ll be comfortable in no time. You’ll earn enough to buy a nice house; you’ll retire at sixty and you’ll have enough leisure time to dedicate to all the charitable causes and hobbies you’ve been delaying dipping your toe in to. However, is this really the case? Do those that work the hardest, really get the most rewards? Or are some people just more likely to stumble upwards than other people, and if so, why is this?

 The UK has a serious social mobility issue which has become more apparent in recent years, demonstrated perfectly by the current chumocracy we see in the dishing out of government contracts to the owner of our elected official’s favourite pubs. Social mobility refers to the ability of an individual to move upward in social status, based on common social variables, such as wealth, occupation, or education level. A person’s social mobility is highly dependent on a few factors, such as, the degree to which a ‘class’ system exists within the country, and a person’s social capital. The UK is inherently a very classist system, with even George Orwell saying that Britain is “the most class-ridden society under the sun.” This means that actually, class, and your social capital, does matter. As they say, it’s not what you know, but who you know and how you know them.

Social capital refers to “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” Whilst this in itself is a vague concept, it is inherently about the societal norms in which you grow up in, the strength and influence of the network of people, such as friends and family, you can call upon, and the degree of trust and reciprocity across these networks. This is a term I have found myself grappling with in recent years, reflecting on my own experiences growing up in a working-class area – I have an incredibly strong personal network of friends and family, and I trust them with my life. I’m sure if I rang up one of my third aunts twice removed, they’d do me any favour that I needed, and they could manage. I don’t think they could lend me a million pounds, or secure me a contract to provide PPE, but I know they’d definitely lend me a cup of sugar and let me stay for tea.

This is what social capital comes down to though – the weight of that personal network you have, and it’s standing in society. Rich people stay rich by keeping wealth and opportunities circulating within their circles – there is no such thing as a true meritocracy in such a capitalist, classist society like the UK. I think of acquaintances of mine that have gained work experience whilst at university because their Dad’s best friend works for one of the Top 4 banks, and whilst the bank doesn’t usually offer such work experience… if they can borrow the house in Dorset for a week, they’ll take them on. It’s within these transactions of opportunity between elites and the upper and middle echelons of society, that inequality is reproduced, and mobility is stunted. This may seem like an innocent, helping out of a friend, but the consequences of these tiny little interactions run deep.

When person A has work experience at a bank that their Dad’s friend gave them in exchange for a week in Dorset, whilst person B only has their part-time retail job as work experience because they do not have such connections in their personal network. All else being equal, such as grades, degree, and where they studied, and they’re both being sifted through a recruitment portal… who gets in? Person B is stunted in comparison to Person A, despite having the same grades and qualifications. In the long term, person A leverages that work experience to get a full-time job at the bank and reproduce those inequalities for those within their own personal network (most likely, people from a similar class background). Person B is left to compete in the apparently meritocratic system in which young people are expected to manoeuvre – they may get their lucky break and go from there, but not every person B can make that lucky break. This is how social inequality is reproduced, this is how social mobility becomes stagnant, and this is how we end up in the current crisis we are in: the elites of society holding all of the power.

When this example is extended even further up the ladder of society, we look at senior leaders in this country. Most senior leaders benefit from this form of social capital – being given a leg up, and having visible, accessible role models whose careers they can emulate and seek guidance from. However, when these senior positions are filled for the most part, by those within these upper classes of society, the policies, and practices that they implement are implemented based upon their own ideas and experiences of the world. We are living through a prime example of this, with ten years of Tory rule decimating some of the prime ‘levelling-out’ schemes and opportunities that had been previously in place: the closing of the Sure Start scheme, the defunding of the NHS, the underfunding and defunding of vital youth clubs and services, and the withdrawal from schemes such as Erasmus+. When those at the top have never experienced the bottom, they feel no shame in cutting away the safety ladders that provide many working-class people with any opportunity to climb up the social mobility ladder too.

Commissioned for The Everyday Magazine

Inequality, Political Participation and Political (Il)literacy in the UK

I grew up in a very working-class area. My school had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe when I was attending, and I vividly remember metal detectors propped up outside the school gates greeting me some mornings as I ventured in to start my day of learning. The teachers at my school, God bless them, tried their hardest to get everybody to learn, but my year group still came out with a 32% 5A*-C GCSE rate, significantly below the national average.

The year after I left, the school was converted into an academy. What I’m saying is, there was not much that I learnt at school academically speaking that has been very fruitful to my career trajectory thus far. When I went to university a few years later, I realised just how woefully my schooling had prepared me for adult life, critical thought, and an understanding of how the world works outside the little microcosm that is my hometown. I had no understanding of the political system and how the government’s choices affected my day to day life, I thought feminism was an extremist ideology which required me to burn all my bras on sight, and I had no understanding of the extent to which British imperialism and colonialism had destroyed nations and continents. Was this a reflection of my ignorance to the world, or was it a result of the materials in which I had access to, to educate myself with? 

After spending years in a small university town in which most shops sold a diverse array of newspapers, broadsheets and tabloids, and I had unlimited access to a library that was beautifully stocked with all the knowledge I could seek, coming back home was eye opening. Every time I go back home, I do a tour of the local corner shops and see what is on the newspaper and magazine rack, and every time I am disappointed. Without a fail, there’s your usual gossip and tabloid magazines, such as Heat, Take a Break and Hello!, sharing the news on the latest celebrity boob job or cheating scandal, as well as the sensationalist tabloid papers such as The Daily Mail and The Sun.

These are magazines that littered my childhood, reading about the horrific ‘real life stories’ in Heat, and learning about the ‘state of the country’ from the Daily Mail, and these experiences seem to be pretty common for those I speak to from my background. I used to think that these papers were chosen out of preference, perhaps they were the cheapest, the prettiest, or the most reliable, but since growing up and reading more into them, I realised it’s probably for different reasons. However, it’s the prominence of these papers in working class areas that leads to political literacy and disengagement in those that are working class. 

So, where does this issue of political literacy stem from? I’d argue that it’s the language used – the more unreliable the paper, the more accessible it is linguistically. According to the National Literacy Trust, 12% of adults in Wales, 16.4% of adults in England, 17.9% of adults in Northern Ireland and 26.7% of adults in Scotland have very poor literacy skills. This means that “they can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics accurately and independently, and obtain information from everyday sources, but reading information from unfamiliar sources, or on unfamiliar topics, could cause problems.” This is also known as being functionally illiterate.

The language used in these papers is incredibly accessible – even those in my family with lower levels of literacy, are able to fully understand what is being said. So when the Daily Mail twists some new research, a news story or a finding and sprinkles in their own bias and sensationalism, it’s reliability isn’t questioned because often, it’s the only thing linguistically that makes sense, or isn’t headache inducing to read and try to understand. The issue we have in the UK with political literacy and participation isn’t because people don’t care about politics or making changes in their community, but it’s because the information surrounding politics and participation is in a language that is alien to so many people – including myself, someone working on a PhD, at times.

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, electoral participation amongst the young and the poor is declining dramatically. Arguably, these groups will have lower levels of literacy (when you’re young, you’ve had less time to build up that literacy and critical thinking outside of a schooling environment, and when you’re poor, you have less access to materials and resources that can aid in improving literacy, or less time due to working ridiculous hours and having more pressing issues than understanding the BBC). People only engage and participate politically when they understand why democratic politics is important, and how it can improve their life. When politics is seen as something that only happens at Westminster, and only concerning the Eton elites, political participation will be significantly lower. 

How do we change this, when the working class are significantly underrepresented in journalism, academia and politics, the main sources for this information? We need to push for more accessible language, support grassroots organisations working to demystify politics for those who do not have the financial resources to subscribe to many pay-walled more ‘reliable’ sources or the time to read long extensive articles and books wrapped up in jargon that takes extra time and mental capacity to comprehend.

It starts with throwing away this jargon we use to make ourselves sound smarter to try and overcompensate for our massive inferiority complexes that we all have – if it can be said in easier words, say it that way. I promise you that those who will think less of you, probably weren’t your target audience anyway. Political literacy is a basic social requirement that empowers people to being politically engaged and active, so lets start bringing down those ivory towers of who can engage in politics and social justice discourse by making it accessible to all, regardless of their literary abilities. People will only turn out and vote when they understand the why, and what voting and campaigning can do for them, in their communities, and for the individual and very valid concerns and challenges that we all face.

Comissioned for the Everyday Magazine

Building Resilience in the EU Entrepreneurship Agenda

This essay was submitted to the European Commission SME Week Youth Essay Competition, in which it was awarded a place at the SME Week Finals.

SMEs are of a great importance in the European landscape, accounting for over 99% of
European businesses and representing a wide variety of sectors such as hospitality, tourism,
travel, retail, IT, food service and manufacturing. COVID-19 has highlighted the weaknesses
of many SMEs, with over 90% of SMEs reporting a decrease in turnover since the beginning
of the pandemic (SME United, 2020). Whilst in recent years, emphasis has been placed on
the sustainability of SMEs in an increasingly globalised world, the current pandemic has
shifted the emphasis to concentrate on the resilience of SMEs. Broadly speaking, resilience
refers to the ability to manage adversity, which in the context of SMEs, refers to the ability of
an organisation to avoid, absorb, respond to and recover from situations that have the
potential to threaten their existence. In the current climate, this includes increased global
competitiveness from globalisation, technological advancements, shifting consumer
demands and environmental or ecological disasters, such as COVID.


Whilst resilience and sustainability are the new buzzwords on the block when discussing
SMEs and enterprise in Europe, they interconnectivity between the two concepts is scarcely
explored. In order to be resilient, an organisation must be able to withstand adversity and
change, whilst to be sustainable, an organisation must be able meet the needs of the
present without compromising the future. When discussing these terms, we often think in
terms of how an organisations internal environment operates, such as its ability to withstand
structural change or financial hardship – which makes connecting the two terms difficult. To
be resilient is to be preparing and managing for every hardship – making decisions quickly,
therefore focusing on flexibility as a core element of strategy. To be sustainable means
devising strategy based on longevity of the brand, thus, investing in sustainability in the longterm can hinder flexibility of response to challenge in the short term.


From the start-up stage, sustainability is seen as an afterthought for many SMEs, with the
focus being on profits, revenue and business growth. This is because sustainability is seen
as a long-term investment that often lacks short term returns, meaning for an emerging
entrepreneur, investing in sustainable is less attractive. Further to this, many traditional
entrepreneurship education programs, such as MBAs, business degrees or extra-curricular
training programs, tend to leave sustainability off the agenda, or leave it as an elective or
afterthought. This lack of emphasis at the start-up, or grassroots stage, means many
entrepreneurs do not begin their entrepreneurial journey with an understanding of the value
of sustainability for long-term strategy, and therefore, tend to neglect it within their SME.
The current motto of the COVID recovery is to ‘build back better’, by placing sustainability
and the environment at the forefront of our social and economic recovery. For a more
resilient Europe, building back better looks incentivising the private sector and SMEs that
operate within it to prioritise the SDGs in their work, whether this be through auditing their
supply chain to ensure decent employment for all, or assessing their environmental impact to
ensure clean water and land. Currently, there is a disconnect between the SDGs and
businesses, with the SDGs being seen as something for governments and councils to
prioritise. However, as COVID has demonstrated to us, private sector interventions (such as
firms shifting production to produce PPE to cover the shortage, and further expanding to
produce environmentally friendly PPE) can have just as much of a positive impact, if not
more so, than government intervention.


Whilst many more experienced SMEs may be set in their ways in how their sector, industry
and organisation work, the COVID pandemic will see many young entrepreneurs emerging
due to a lack of employment opportunities. In the past five years, EU policy has concentrated
heavily on youth entrepreneurship, both as a mechanism for diversifying and advancing
economic activity and as a solution for youth unemployment. In the previous youth strategy
(2010-2019), enterprise and employment were two of the eight targeted youth strategies,
and fostering youth entrepreneurship is highlighted as one of the objectives of the Europe
2020 strategy, as well as its Youth on the Move flagship initiative. In order to build back
better, existing EU policy needs to target this emerging group by advancing the scale and
scope of existing enterprise education, both in further and higher education institutions and
in external organisations, such as NGOs and informal training groups, and increasing access
to this training through investment and innovation within the field.


To centre sustainability (and thus, resilience) at the forefront of entrepreneurship education,
EU policy needs to outline a framework of a sustainable entrepreneurship program, that not
only focuses on profitability and growth as core targets of the business, but alignment and
achievement with the SDGs. Training aspirational entrepreneurs on the values of the SDGs
and the impact these goals can have on a businesses value, due to shifting consumption
demands for more ethical businesses, as well as the value in being an ethical and
sustainable business, will have a longer lasting impact on the long-term resilience of SMEs
in Europe than any financial intervention or incentive proposed. This includes working with
successful social enterprises across Europe to create a toolkit for enterprise educators,
connecting businesses and education providers, and working with non-profits within the field
of sustainability and the SDGs to shift existing enterprise education programs towards
sustainability orientated curriculum. A universal framework, implemented alongside EU SME
policy, would provide aspiring entrepreneurs both old and young with a toolkit on how to
incorporate sustainability at its core, in a way that aligns with the SDG ethos of what
sustainability truly looks like.


To create a new generation of sustainable, and subsequently resilient SMEs, EU policy
needs to focus on entrepreneurship education policy to ensure sustainability is at the root of
all business movements. Entrepreneurs are not made over night, but through years of
experience, education and skills development. Young people across Europe are becoming
more interested in entrepreneurship as a viable career path, with a growing interest in
extracurricular enterprise training programs and schemes, with many young people starting
up their own ‘side hustles’ and enterprises during lockdown as a source of income. Providing
young entrepreneurs with a roadmap or framework to being a sustainable entrepreneur not
only encourages those on the receiving end of the training to centre sustainability in their
business strategy, but also incentivizes more mature SMEs to re-strategize in order to keep
up with the growing demand for sustainability, which further aids in building back better.


Bibliography
SME United, 2020. The Economic Impact of COVID-19 on SMEs in Europe, Brussels: SME United.

Published for the European Commission SME Week 2020

Why Women’s Economic Empowerment Matters

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” Hilary Clinton

The world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030; one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations in 2015. Based on current trends, it would take 257 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity, despite the fact that women’s equal participation in the economy would add $28 trillion to the global economy (approximately 26% of global GDP). The movement towards women’s empowerment isn’t about strengthening women, women are already strong;  they raise households, lead communities and influence change whilst still being restricted a seat at the table. Women’s empowerment is about changing the way the world perceives, and values that strength, alongside ensuring women are afforded the same opportunities and privileges that men are. Investing in women’s empowerment, more specifically, their economic empowerment, sets the world on a direct path towards gender equality, healthier households, poverty eradication and truly inclusive economic growth. Whilst economic empowerment specifically relates to a person’s ability to work to create wealth, it indirectly links in with family planning, access to schooling, and the financial inclusion and political representation of women, all factors which contribute and enable women to break the barriers barring their seat at the table.

Family Planning
Family planning, the ability to control and plan your fertility, represents an immense extension of human freedom, allowing women to decide freely the amount of children they want, when they want them and how they want them. Growing rates of contraceptive methods has resulted not only in improvements in health-related outcomes such as reduced maternal and infant mortality rates, but also improvements in educational and economic outcomes, particularly for girls and women. Currently, more than one in ten married or ‘in-union’ women worldwide have an unmet need for family planning (i.e. they want to stop/delay childbearing but are unable to access the correct contraception); with this being as many as one in five women in Africa. Access to family planning not only ensures women can prevent an unwanted pregnancy, it also allows couples to have smaller families and to space the gap between children more efficiently, ensuring they are less vulnerable to extreme poverty, children are healthier and better educated, and women are able to re-enter the labour market if desired. Availability of family planning also has important incentive effects, by increasing parent’s investments into girls not yet fertile, such as daughters and granddaughters, including investment in their health, education and general well-being. The more access we have to family planning, the more opportunities we are given outside of potential motherhood. 

Girls Schooling
Educated women have a better chance of escaping poverty, leading healthier and more productive lives, and raising the living standards for their children, families and communities. Children born to literate mothers are less likely to die before the age of five than to illiterate mothers. They are more active in the formal labour market, have less children, marry at a later age, and engage more actively in civic spaces. However, less than 40% of all countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education, twice as many girls as boys will never even enter the school playground, and over two thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female. Keeping women in school keeps them away from early marriage, with girls who have completed seven years of education marrying on average, five years later than their uneducated peers. It’s no secret that the more educated a person, the higher salary they can command, with every extra year of education estimated to increase a women’s earning power by 10-20%. Educating women from a young age, keeping them in school for as long as possible and allowing them to access all breadths of academia (from social sciences to STEM) creates a society in which women are active citizens, engaged in innovation and at the forefront of decision-making processes. 

Women in Work
Throughout the world, women and girls bear most of the burden of unpaid household and care-work, are more vulnerable to insecure employment and receive lower pay for the same work as men, as well as a systemic under-valuing of feminised jobs (such as caring, teaching and nursing). In the 50 countries across the world where women are more educated than men, they still earn 39% less than their male equivalent counterparts. In the UK, PWC estimates a 16.4% gender pay gap, with women disproportionately more represented in part-time precarious employment and working outside the labour market (such as in unpaid labour). UN Women estimates that 57 million people (majority being women) supply full-time, unpaid work (such as caring for elderly relatives) that fills the gaps caused by weak healthcare provision globally, in which the total net contribution of this work to the global economy is $10 trillion per year. Comparatively, the global automotive industry contributes $4 trillion to the global economy annually. Investing in ‘feminised labour’, and reversing the under-investment in social services such as nursing and childcare allows more women to present in the labour market, earn a decent living and be valued for the work they provide. It also encourages more men to enter this field of work, diversifying the labour market and moving towards gender neutrality in these sectors. Opening up access to typically male dominated fields to women provides a diversity of perspective in innovations in these areas, and provides women with equal access to the same opportunities as men are provided. 

Financing Women
When household income is controlled by women, either through their own earning or cash transfers, a greater proportion is spent on the health, education and well-being of children. At a macro level, financial inclusion for women has a significant impact on the overall economic growth and community development, due to the productivity gains from human capital investment. Despite this, women are disproportionately more likely to be ‘unbanked’ than their male counterparts, with only 65% of women globally having access to a bank account in comparison to 72% of men (with an even larger gap being found in regions such as Southeast Asia and the Middle East). This means that women have less security around their income, are less likely to be able to accumulate savings, and have a reduced access to loans to either fund their household, or start-up their own business. Globally, women are less likely to receive capital investment than men, due to societal assumptions around women’s ability to manage money, and business. By increasing access to finance for women, by the provision of bank accounts and removing social stigmas around lending to women, you don’t just increase the amount of women starting up their own businesses, you also increase the investment going to the next generation, investments in their health, education and well-being. This investment in the future generation leads to significant productivity gains for the country on a macroeconomic level. 

Political Power
Despite women making up over half the global population, we make up less female heads of government than we did five years. Amongst the 193 countries worldwide, only 10 of these countries are headed by a women; New Zealand, Namibia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Estonia, Croatia, Norway, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Lithuania. Interestingly, the rate of women’s representation has increased significantly in the past two decades, rising from 11.8% representation in national parliament in 1998 to 23.5% in 2018. This still does not mean the 30 percent benchmark, often the level of representation required to achieve a ‘critical mass’. Furthermore, a recent UN Women study found that almost 50% of people globally believe that men make better political leaders – a social judgement that places an invisible barrier, and an affront to fairness and a real meritocracy. Globally, we have a real problem with women taking the lead, both in business and in parliament. The full and equitable participation of women in politics is essential to building and sustaining strong, diverse and vibrant democracies. Women’s participation results in huge gains in gender equal policies, greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs (as women tend to be more involved with the local and wider community), and increased investment in the social sectors – sectors that are globally underfunded and undervalued. This provides the global economy with a more sustainable future, ensures we have healthier and happier citizens, and means that women and men are represented equally at all levels of public and private life.

Normalising women in education, in business and in positions of power and decision-making in the public sphere helps reduce these unconscious biases and stigmas that are held in private. Women’s economic empowerment is one of the most essential tools we have to ensure sustainable and inclusive economic development and growth across the world. Investing in the power of women, in every aspect and every step of their life, means a healthier, happier and more equitable society for all.

Published by the Oxford Human Rights Festival 2020

Three Practical Ways to Help Refugees Build Resilience

When a million refugees arrived on the shores of Europe in 2016, we all stopped and finally realised the scale of a problem that had been steadily growing before our eyes. In 2006, 38 million people has been displaced from their home due to conflict or persecution, and in 2016, that number sat at over 65 million – equivalent to the population of the UK. A lack of unified response and a subsequent growth in populist parties has exacerbated the problem, with people either welcoming or shunning the incoming persons. Whilst many people are pushing for values of tolerance and openness, many others are full of fear, afraid of the arrival of many people from different cultures, faiths and continents. Despite this, there are many people asking what they can do to help, one tiny person in a sea of humans, in their everyday life. Whilst it’s not plausible for everybody to potter down to Calais to help at the camps, or head over to Lesbos to hand out clothing and food, there are organisations and projects you can support at home that help build the resilience and improve the livelihoods of many refugees across the world.
 
Learn a Language
One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions (besides losing weight, saving money and travelling more) is to learn a new skill, such as a new language. We all want to increase our employability, our cultural capital and impress our friends with the skills we accumulate, and in a more globalised world, languages are one of the most impressive skills to make you stand out from the crowd. Whilst we know of all the common language learning courses such as Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, how about one with a human touch? Programs such as Chatterbox and NaTakallam connect you with an expert refugee coach who can deliver tailored language learning, from common languages such as French, Spanish and Arabic, to more localised languages such as Bengali, Somali, Persian and Swahili.
 
Thoughtful Tourism
Each year, more and more Brits make the choice to travel more, book more flights and see more cities. There has been a growth in organisations concentrating specifically on involving refugees and displaced persons in their supply chain, to both aid in the integration of refugees in society and create opportunities for refugees to showcase their experiences and culture. Locally in Oxford, the Pitts River Museum has launched the Multaka-Oxford project, which creates volunteer opportunities for refugees to work in the museum and host multi-lingual events, tours, blogs and displays. If you’re headed to Brazil, Migraflix is a growing organisation that supports activities for refugees to teach and share their culture through cooking classes, music, dance, art, cultural fairs and themed evenings. Or if you’re heading somewhere closer to home, such as Berlin or Copenhagen, you can explore the city through the eyes and voices of refugees in the city with Refugee Voices Tours.
 
Hiring Refugee Talent
If you’re in the fortunate position to be seeking new talent for your company or organisation, why not tap into the huge talent and skills that refugees can provide? Finding employment is not only essential for building economic resilience for refugees, but it also helps improve language skills, increases cultural awareness and builds local and social networks. Platforms such as Seek or Transitions London are a great way to find hidden talent, whilst also being socially responsible. Many refugees, even after being granted the right to work are struggling to find employment in the UK due to unconscious bias, lack of access to opportunities or information or inability to provide documentation of qualifications despite being highly skilled.

Published by the Oxford Human Rights Festival 2020

Technology, Resilience and Human Rights

Technology touches almost every aspect of our daily lives. We can share our selfies and holiday pictures at the touch of a button, we can send and receive money without stepping foot in a bank and we can even have an entire meal and night-out without once leaving our table or interacting with another human being (thank you Wetherspoons app). In less rudimental terms, it has also expanded our access to opportunities – we can work from home, access healthcare and study for qualifications all from the small computers in our pockets. Technology is helping us become more resilient, more empowered and providing a world of opportunities at our fingertips. 

Digital technology is a powerful tool for human rights, achieving transitional justice by enabling activists to organise and spread awareness to a wider audience, reconstructing economies  through providing a new medium for work and improving access to life-saving and changing resources at the click of a button. It has the power to address and rebalance many societal challenges by tackling some of the world’s toughest environmental, social and political problems, and increasing resilience in local communities. However, rapid developments in AI, robotics and automation pose serious concerns about who will benefit and lose from the expansion of such technologies, and how they can impose on our human rights and the future of work. The mass collection of data can violate our right to privacy, the growing flexibility in the nature of work can negatively affect the livelihood of many and the growth in machinery in production can result in soaring inequality, downward pressure on wages and mass unemployment. 

Despite this, the rise in #TechForGood and #SocialTech is undeniable, so here are three innovative ways that technology is improving resilience and maximising access to our human rights.

Digital Identity, Refugee Integration and Financial Inclusion
The World Bank predicts that there are over one billion people around the world unable to provide identification that proves who they are. Under the circumstances in which they are forced to flee their homes, refugees and asylum seekers are less likely to possess any form of identification from their country of origin. In situations of disaster, conflict and political turmoil, documents can be forgotten, lost, destroyed or stolen along the refugee route, and those who are fleeing due to the persecution often travel without documentation for their own safety. The ability to prove your identity is a core part in travelling across international borders, registering with authorities and humanitarian organisations, accessing healthcare and other services and connecting to the internet. The concept of digital identification has become such an important topic in the conversation on human rights, partially driven by the 2015 commitment of all countries under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to “provide a legal identity for all, including birth registration,”  by 2030 (SDG16.9).

Advances in digital technology and the introduction of biometric ID systems by governments are resulting in new methods of providing identification to forcibly displaced persons. Biometric ID allows a person to be identified and authenticated based upon a set of recognizable and verifiable data that is unique to them, such as retina scans, facial recognition or fingerprints. In the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab, Blockchain platform BanQu is aiding displaced Somalis access financial products and other services by creating new ‘economic identities’. [1]  BanQu enables individuals to upload photographs, details about their key characteristics and biometrics to a secure ledge as proof of their identity, and builds on this information by linking it with life events, financial transactions, government records and other important assets. It also allows users to connect with family members and friends to further aid in the verification of a person’s ID, assisting in the validation of this information and creating a secure and verified digital identity.

Looking to the future, the provision of digital ID that is officially recognised can facilitate the financial and economic inclusion of refugees, by enabling them to register SIM cards, open mobile money or bank accounts and access employment and education opportunities. Financial inclusion has the capacity to aid vulnerable groups, such as displaced persons, become more resilient to environmental and economic shocks. However, the collection and use of such personal data must be done in a way that protects from misuse or unauthorized disclosure, and ensures a person’s right to privacy is respected. The UNHCR recognizes that this is even more important for refugees, who are often escaping political turmoil and more vulnerable, which requires more considerations and a strong legal and regulatory framework
Social Media, Activism and Accountability
Whilst social media is one of the most important tools in any millennial or Gen Z’s toolkit, it also plays a vital role in elevating the voices of activists to call out human rights violations, hold governments accountable and achieve transitional justice. Across the world, governments recognise the growing power of social media, and often take extreme steps to restrict this, such as the Chinese government’s ban on popular social media sites and the subsequent development of state-monitored sites such as WeChat. It becomes one of the first methods of attack during times of upheaval, with social media blocks becoming more frequently implemented in protests, such as the January 2019 social media ban in Zimbabwe, the June ban in Sudan and the September ban in Egypt

A prime example of the use of social media in holding higher powers accountable is the growth of the #MeToo campaign across the world. What was started by Tarana Burke on Myspace in 2006 ended up exposing wide-spread sexual-abuse allegations against senior Hollywood directors such as Harvey Weinstein. The hashtag ended up trending in at least 85 countries, prolifically in India, Pakistan and the UK, but more widely across South America, Africa and the Middle East. The ability to reach a wide audience in second, to speak out from the safety of your bedroom and the anonymity to join a movement of people campaigning for the same cause has created a spurt in social media activism and activists. Further to this, social media shrinks the information asymmetry between citizens and state, allowing global audiences to see first-hand footage that would otherwise be unreachable to them, and holding governments and individuals accountable for their behaviours. A recent example of social media as an accountability mechanism are the videos shared during the ongoing Hong Kong protests, showing authorities using excessive forces on protestors. These videos began circulating on Facebook, which resulted in global media attention that has condemned authorities’ action and called for an end to the violence. 

The role of social media in achieving transitional justice has also grown in recent years, with increasing access to information of human rights abuses spurring NGOs and other non-profits to connect human rights abuse survivors to services that can aid them in their recovery and their fight for justice. It was social media that connected Khadija Siddiqi, a survivor of patriarchal violence in Pakistan, to human rights activist and lawyer Hassin Niazi, who got her attacker sentence to seven years imprisonment for attempted murder and launched a viral campaign to #FightLikeKhadija. Social media gave Khadija the resilience to pursue justice, the opportunity to find similar-minded people, and to open a dialogue about patriarchal violence. However, social media and the anonymity it brings also provides anonymous spaces that cultivate and reward toxic behaviour, seen with the increase of trolling, the growth in online communities dedicated to extreme groups (such as ‘incels’). The Muslim Rohingya community are a prime example of how social media can increase hate. For example we have seen the spread of hatred and discriminating comments across Facebook against the Rohingya community contributing to them fleeing Myanmar. 

Satellites, Injustice and Disaster Response
Earth observation, and the use of satellites, plays a significant role in achieving most of the SDGs and achieving almost a quarter of all the targets. The use of satellite technology in humanitarian work has been historically underutilized until recent years, with a growing use in disaster response, relief and resilience building across the world. Natural disasters have impacted 3.5 billion people, costing approximately $1.9 trillion in economic losses since 2000, and have the potential to push nearly 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. Emerging and developing economies are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters, as people often live in high risk locations such as urban slums and flood zones due to the lower cost and proximity to work. Small island nations, such as Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, are some of the most at risk countries, with their populations a few metres above sea level and rural communities struggling to access the satellite data. To combat this, an international initiative called CommonSensing is addressing this challenge, providing technical solutions and developing the in-country capacity to use these geospatial tools to build resilience, and better secure funding to mitigate climate change risks.  

Whilst satellites are an excellent tool for disaster response, in the past decade their use has expanded to exposing human rights abuse and injustices across the world, giving an access-all-area pass to parts of the world with limited access or safety restrictions. Amnesty International used satellite technology to investigate an alleged attack by Boko Haram in 2015 in two North Eastern Nigerian villages, and managed to determine the destruction of 3,700 structures and support witness testimonies. Human rights organisations are now building committed teams trained in satellite technology to monitor global conflict and injustice, becoming a vital part of key human rights organisations research. However, due to the newness of the use of such technology, and often, images do not exist, either due to cloudy climates or inadequate provision of technology in certain regions of the world. This is slowly starting to change, with smaller companies starting to send microsatellites into space, moving towards having regular imaging of the earth to aid in improving resilience and increasing accountability for human rights injustice.

Technology advancements and the growth of the #TechForGood movement have the capacity to change the lives and boost the resilience of billions of individuals, families and communities for the better. Creating a framework of what #TechForGood really means, increasing the funding available for humanitarian tech and promoting public-private partnerships are essential in moving #TechForGood forward

Published by the Oxford Human Rights Festival (OxHRF)

Ten Years of Independence: All about Kosovo and the challenges to come

The Republic of Kosovo is a disputed territory and partially-recognised state in South-east Europe that declared independence from Serbia on the 17th February 2008. Kosovo has been conquered by the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Serbian Empires, part of the Ottoman Empire and then more recently, part of Yugoslavia. Its long history has led to confusion over borders, questions of its legitimacy, and an array of languages and cultures muddled up into one small land-locked country. Much like Wales, it has spent much of its history fighting for its autonomy and rights, and much like Wales, has come out a success story. But just who exactly is Kosovo, and why is it deemed Europe’s youngest and fastest growing economy?

kosovo 1

Kosovo is an Albanian majority country, with 93% of the population identifying as Albanian. Minority groups consist of Serbs (predominantly in the North, Montenegrins, Romani, Bosniaks, Croats and Turks. During the 1999 Kosovo War, over 70,000 ethnic Albanians, 10,000 ethnic Serbs and 7,000 ethnic Bosniaks were forced out to neighbouring countries. Many of the ethnic Albanians returned following the United Nations taking over administration of Kosovo after the war. The main languages are Albanian and Serbian, with Bosnian also an increasingly popular language. It considers itself a secular country, in which the two main religions are Christianity and Islam. Kosovo has had a dark history, and still today faces many socioeconomic and political issues.

Kosovo is a transition lower-middle income economy, having seen solid economic growth in the past decade and being one of only four countries in Europe to experience growth in every year since the 2008 financial crisis. Kosovo’s growth model is heavily reliant on remittances to fuel domestic consumption, particularly due to the extremely low average monthly wage (€304) and lack of employment opportunities. In recent years, Kosovo has received an influx of foreign direct investment, seen developments in its financial and technological sectors, and increased exports significantly. Kosovo’s main exporting partners are Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Switzerland, Montenegro and Germany, and its key exports are metals, mineral products, textiles, packaged foods, plastic and rubber. In more recent years, the wine production in Kosovo has grown and has started to be traded with Germany and the US, as well as smaller countries within the region.

A Brief History of Kosovo

1st Century ADRomans gain control of the area, populated by Dardani people. 
6th CenturySlavs begin to settle in the area, which slips from Roman/Byzantine control and becomes a disputed border. 
12th CenturySerbia gains control of Kosovo – which becomes the heart of the Serbian empire, seeing the construction of many Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries. 
1389Battle of Kosovo leads to 500 years of Turkish Ottoman rule. 
1912Balkan Wars lead to Serbia regaining control of Kosovo from the Turks. 
1946Kosovo is absorbed into the Yugoslav Federation. 
1974Yugoslav constitution recognises the autonomous status of Kosovo, giving the province de facto self-government. 
1990Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic strips Kosovo of its autonomy and imposes Serbian administration, prompting Albanian protests. 
1991Start of the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. Kosovar Albanians launch passive resistance movement but fail to secure independence. 
1996The rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) start attacking Serbian authorities in Kosovo, which see’s retaliation in form of a Serbian crackdown.
1999NATO implements a 78-day air campaign on Serbia due to international effort failing to stop the Kosovo conflict. Yugoslav and Serbian forces respond with ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians. Following a peace agreement, Yugoslav and Serbian forces withdraw from Kosovo and a UN sponsored administration take over. 
2008Kosovo unilaterally declares independence. 
2012Group of countries overseeing Kosovo since 2008 end its supervisory roles, but NATO-led peacekeepers and EU rule-of-law monitors remain. 
2013Kosovo and Serbia reach landmark agreement on normalising relations which grants high degree of autonomy to Serb-majority areas in the North, with both sides agreeing not to block each other’s efforts to seek EU membership. 

Transparency International ranks Kosovo as one of the worst countries in Europe for corruption perception, significantly lower than many developing countries. There is much dissatisfaction with the war-time politicians still in power in Kosovo, due to many unresolved allegations of war crimes and abuse. Tensions with Serbia are still rife, with the occasional conflict arising in the North, particularly in Mitrovica, a melting point of cultures divided by the New Bridge over the Ibar river.

A 2016 estimate predicted that Kosovo has a population of 1.816 million people, in which roughly half are under the age of 25, according to the UNDP. Youth unemployment reaches a global low, with over 60% of young people unemployed. Education attainment is low, and most young people attend mono-ethnic classes in which all staff and students belong to the same ethnic group. The Kosovan economy generates only half the required jobs to keep up with the amount of young people entering the work force – and with poor education standards, low education attainment and segregated schools, young unemployment only seeks to grow until the Kosovan government and policy makers implement change.

Roughly 190,000 Kosovans are thought to have left Kosovo since its independence declaration in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovans left prior to this, seeking refugee due to the Kosovo War and the following unstable and corrupt political climate, with many seeking refuge in Germany and Switzerland. 50% of Kosovo’s youth stating intention to emigrate if the strict and unpopular EU visa regime changed. Migrants send money back to their family in Kosovo, in which these remittances account for approximately 15.6% of total GDP – one of the most remittance dependent countries in the world. Whilst remittances benefit the recipient due to the increase in disposable income, they further inequality due to their inflationary impact on the local economy, and their use for luxury consumption as opposed to infrastructural investment. Many migrants frequently return to Kosovo, and express dissatisfaction with the current state of the country due to the high rates of corruption and lack of representation for the Diaspora. The purpose of the establishment of the Ministry of Diaspora in 2011 was to research the causes of migration, and to represent the interests of expatriates as well as to offer representation for them to directly influence government affairs.

Whilst we celebrate ten years of Kosovo, and its booming growth in the face of 2008 and its ongoing fight for international recognition, there are still many issues that need facing. Although the main battles are over, the war is not yet finished and with the help of international organisations and development funds, its wholly possible for Kosovo to come out as a beacon of hope from the ashes of former Yugoslavia. For such a young economy, we need to aid in developing employability skills in the youth, matching jobs to seekers, and aiding ascension into the EU to enable the youth of Kosovo to access an international network of employment and education opportunities. We need to hold those accused of war crimes accountable and aid the government in reducing corruption and increasing transparency for its country. Finally, we need to connect the Diaspora, to develop a network that aids Kosovo in its development in more ways than foreign aid ever could – through the transfer of finance, skills, culture, education and political power.

Published with the WCIA Voices.