Futurist Thomas Frey: A few weeks ago I was asked to appear on CCTV, the Chinese-American television channel for an interview about the topic of border walls.
With the crisis in Syria deepening, affecting bordering countries and virtually all of the European Union, the show’s moderator asked me a series of tough questions about immigration trends and whether border walls, like the one proposed in Hungary, would become a growing trend.
In retrospect, the thoughts I conveyed on-air to this complex situation were not as crystallized as they could have been, forcing me to rethink my responses.
Admittedly, working with desperate people, those seeking to forge a new life in a new country, is not an easy situation to manage. But the top-down systems we’ve used to administer crisis situations like this in the past are no longer adequate for the extreme population shifts happening today, nor will they be for tomorrow’s fluid-thinking global citizens.
Governments should view refugees as a long-term investment in their economy. People are what create our economies.
Those who are willing to uproot their lives and start over in a new country are exactly the kind of ambitious, self-directed people every community should want. They exhibit the drive, flexibility, and bootstrap mentality needed in most economies.
Even for those who return home after a few years, the new relationships built during these times can be a power connection.
By investing in early stage refugees, helping them with food, shelter, and other forms of assistance, these migrant families and individuals can begin to regain control of their lives. And by incorporating rapid-integration systems, new arrivals can quickly transition their way from desperation, through the many levels of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need,” to productive, contributing community members in a very short period of time.
The UN Refugee Agency
The UN Refugee Agency is the United Nations organization tasked with the protection and support of refugees. Started in 1950, the agency has been chartered to manage and coordinate displaced populations all over the earth.
Their primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option of returning home voluntarily, integrating locally, or even resettling in a third country.
By providing tents and emergency food supplies, the agency has done a reasonably good job of solving the immediate needs of displaced people. But temporary relocation camps set up as an interim solution for these families-caught-in-the-middle often turn into political footballs, with literally millions of people’s lives put into limbo while global leaders debate their plight, often taking years to resolve.
With systems designed long before the Internet came into existence, their work is still being organized around a top-down authoritative style. However, with our most recent migration crisis, it may be time to rethink this approach.
The Sharing Economy Solution
In much the same way AirBNB enables people with an extra room or even an extra home to rent space to short-term stay guests, a similar system could be designed to match refugees with prospective host families.
People in transition can either register themselves through any computer, smart phone, or by making a phone call to a central number and providing the necessary information. By adding maps with profiles and locations of host families, refugees can both arrange and secure their location long before they arrive.
There are five primary components to this approach:
1.) The Website: As with much of the sharing economy, the website will connect refugees with prospective host families in a brutally simple and efficient manner. Approvals need to be instantaneous, or nearly so, allaying fears, giving hope and direction to a very desperate populace.
2.) Host Families: Those with extra space in their home and a willingness to help refugees get their life back in order can register on this AirBNB-like service. A profile of each member of the family coupled with photos/videos of the available facilities, including bedroom(s), kitchen, bathrooms, living areas, etc.
3.) Refugees: Those seeking assistance would be able to register themselves, adding pertinent information about themselves, their families, languages spoken, and other details about their situation. The site itself will become the main form of communication for many refugees.
4.) Assistance: People needing assistance will apply for government support or other grants. The site will serve as the heart of this new refugee management system, informing recipients of qualification rules, limitations, acceptance policies, and expectations. By varying the amount and duration of assistance, countries can directly influence the availability of host families as well as the kind of support they can pass through to their guests.
5.) Transportation: Anyone traveling on foot can request an Uber-like service to assist in making their way to a final destination. This could include Uber-like boats, planes, and similar car services to complete the journey.
By connecting refugees with Host families in advance, and adding some semblance of normality to the relocation process, there will be far less need for police troops and dogs to quash border clashes and uprisings.
Once refugees are settled in their new cities or villages, the next steps will be to integrated them into the community – providing “arrival training” for adults, translation services, helping kids find a school, medical care when needed, jobs, and other necessary support.
Future Population Shifts
Todays shifting populations are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
We are becoming a much more fluid society, able to travel virtually anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.
At the same time, the world’s population is changing in many different ways.
- As healthcare and diets improve, life expectancy is increasing dramatically.
- Most developed nations are experiencing declining birthrates resulting in a negative population growth.
- Half of all babies born in the world today are being born in Africa.
Children growing up in India, Africa, and Indonesia today are much more aware of the world than ever before in history. Smartphone technology is permeating family life in nearly every country.
Kids growing up in impoverished areas in the future will be far more inclined to uproot their lives in search for a better life with better-quality opportunities. Youth migration such as this will be commonplace, and the numbers will be staggering.
What I have just described is a system for turning an old-school system into a self-organizing complex system.
Government officials, steeped in traditional thinking, will undoubtedly have a hard time imagining how an automated process like this can work.
Using today’s top-down governmental approach, any mass migration of people is almost guaranteed to result in extreme stress, desperation, and uncertainty. In these show-up-and-see-what-happens states of high-anxiety and panic, public confrontations are both frequent and disruptive.
Moving towards more of a “freedom-on-demand” model where people are allowed to take control of their own destiny, self-relocating as they like, we will begin to unleash a whole new era of personal innovation, creativity, and free-thinking lifestyles.
As with most new systems, once we drop the bureaucratic overhead, we cannot begin to imagine the wide-ranging impact a change like this will leave in its wake.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything