The pristine white snow and luxury hotels of the Swiss town of Davos formed the backdrop recently to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum; the most significant gathering of the planet's foremost economic, business and political brains. Three days of speeches, discussions and dinners that truly have an influence of global proportions.
Most people could have easily predicted many of the topics that occupied the headlines emerging from the resort: the uncertain state of the world economy, the impact of falling oil prices, Chinese instability and the importance many attach to a United Kingdom remaining actively engaged in Europe.
However, the story that was repeatedly commented upon by a panoply of thinkers and commentators, in both the official venues and those around the fringes of the event, was one in which the economics involved were not those of the boardroom or the trading floor but of the most tangible and upsetting kind.
An all-too-visible tragedy is taking place in Europe on a scale not seen since the end of the Second World War. I am talking, of course, about the thousands of displaced people scattered around the continent, risking the lives of themselves and their families in flimsy vessels upon the cold waters of the Mediterranean or bedding down amongst unimaginable filth and squalor in camps in Northern France.
We most take the utmost care about the language we use when discussing this situation; as history has proved many times over, labels are at best reductive and at worst dehumanising. I think most of us have been guilty at times of using terms such as 'migrants', 'refugees' and 'asylum seekers' synonymously when there are, of course, important differences between them, a semantic debate beyond the scope of this blog.
The conflation of humanity and economics at Davos was interesting not just because it seems to me that they are very obvious bedfellows (sadly, all too often economics is seen as hermetic, sealed off from its human consequences by theory and jargon) but also for the conclusions that the various speakers reached.Whenever the topic was raised, the expert view remained the same: it may be reductive and ignore some of the terrible factors that have contributed to the phenomenon, but human migration in and of itself is no bad thing.
Rights-free image via pixabay.com
President of the IMF, Christine Lagarde said that there is absolutely no evidence to support the belief that an influx of refugees into a country has a negative effect on wages and the ECB's Mario Draghi suggested that the number of refugees currently moving through Europe was an "opportunity" (albeit one with a significant price tag).
The German president, Joachim Gauck, made the astute observation that one needs only to look at the list of Nobel Prize winners across all disciplines and compare the surnames with the countries of residence to appreciate the transformative effects that migration has brought upon the history of human achievement.
Achievement takes many forms though and for every Nobel Prize there are countless of acts of human kindness that are far more modest but in their own way equally profound. One such act occurred in the aftermath of the recent, destructive flooding in the north of the UK when a group of Syrian refugees donned yellow vests and wellies to help residents in Rochdale with enormous clean-up.
The fact that this story was so widely reported is pleasing for several reasons: firstly, because it provided a welcome contrast to the usual refugee narrative and, secondly, because it rendered the notion of labels irrelevant; these were just people helping out their neighbours.
The Rochdale clean-up was partly coordinated by UKIM, a group that has been a keen supporter of Mosaic, the charity of which I am Managing Director. The spirit shown by the (newest) members of a community giving up their time to help those in need is very similar to the defining principles of the work that we do in schools and prisons across the UK and beyond.
Mosaic believes in the power of potential and our mentors work tirelessly to help the young and vulnerable people with whom we work to achieve something fantastic in life, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or country of origin. This is the work that we will continue to do, a long way away from the debates at Davos but, in our own way, no less significant.