Dear entrepreneurs: Make migration more humane

Painted buildings in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Shutterstock Skreidzeleu
Painted buildings in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Our SDGs Letter Project is a call to action. A little over a year ago, the U.N. adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which collectively represent millions of dreams and aspirations. Starting today, GreenBiz, in partnership with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, will publish 17 letters by Yale University students that highlight the ideas of youth regarding the 2030 developmental agenda. This series seeks to drive forward the collective will to translate the SDGs into reality.

Dear future entrepreneurs, 

We live in an increasingly mobile world, globalized. Yet, social mobility remains limited. In fact, inequality within countries all over the world has increased, and inequality across countries has persisted. Development and social inclusion have been uneven, neglecting certain subsets of the population more than others.

Inequality could be measured in many different ways. Wage and stock of assets are often used to measure income and wealth inequality respectively in countries across the world. Less tangible but just as pressing are inequalities in opportunities, status, and representation.

Goal No. 10 of the SDGs, reducing inequality within and across countries, covers a lot of ground. But an angle that warrants more increasingly more attention involves a holistic approach to improving mobility and outcomes of migration. 

To look more closely, we see that migration flows have recently stepped into the attention of the public in a more significant way with the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe and climate-driven migration in different parts of the world. Providing access to a stable livelihood for migrants helps both the sending and receiving countries reach more inclusive communities.

What does that look like in real life? 

With 33 islands scattered over ocean the size of the United States in the South Pacific, Kiribati sits at the confluence of three forces: rapid population growth; modernization and development; and high exposure to the effects of climate change.

The population density on the main island of Tarawa rival those of megacities; 50,000 people share this thin and elongated island, which has an elevation peaking at 3 meters above the sea level. A developing country, Kiribati looks to fishing revenue, overseas development assistance, and remittances to sustain its development, and climate change exacerbates this inequality by drawing resources to implement additional adaptation programs. 

What are the options available to address inequality in the ability of countries to respond to environmental threats that they played no part in? One promising solution lies in facilitating inclusive migration between the island nation and larger nearby countries like Australia and New Zealand. A recent World Bank report, Pacific Possible, proposed to diversify and expand existing labor migration options, highlighting potential additional growth of $10 billion for the region

Entrepreneurs and businesses should step in and take a larger role in facilitating not just more work opportunities for migrants but better quality opportunities for underserved people. Businesses should also consider actively investing in the education and training of workers in their home countries and work with individual families to support their transitions to the receiving country. 

Migrants sometimes spend a quarter of their earnings to remit the remaining balance back home to their families. Studies by World Bank economist David McKenzie show that in some instances, the cost of remittance and cost of living in the receiving country could cancel out the increase in wages in the receiving country.

We place the onus on banks to decrease this barrier to transfer income overseas for migrant workers. According to the World Bank, improvements in financial infrastructure in this area could lead to savings of $44 billion.

Furthermore, in certain payment arrangements, families that send their primary wage earners abroad often face hardship in the short and medium term, leaving room for innovative business payment practices that understand and empathize with how workers support families back home. 

Finally, circular migration, in which a worker returns home, allows for knowledge transfer and entrepreneurial activities to take place when policies and the local business and educational environment facilitate this process. On this front, businesses help spark creative energy by providing continued skills development and encouraging entrepreneurial thinking. 

Fixating on the bottom line fails to capture the wider context of labor migration in developing countries. One additional crucial step to improving inclusiveness of mobility involves reaching out to the rural population and people in the informal sector. Especially with increased urbanization, rural populations become left behind. Resources diminish and poverty increases. Mobility becomes more difficult for a particular set of people in these areas to improve their livelihoods. 

A world where migration becomes more frictionless and more wholesome brings a more equitable society. In the case of Kiribati, a more humane migration process promises to alleviate development pressures on the main island, generate a higher income, and offers room for more varied policies on climate change. In other parts of the world, inclusive migration promises dynamic reshuffling of resources and opportunities, empowering individuals to bring back these things to share with their own communities. 

The most important point to keep in mind when addressing Goal 10 should be that rather than framing reducing inequality as the bottom catching up, we should instead defer to the migrants to develop pathways for them to reach their own vision of an inclusive migration process to reduce inequality in the way they see fit.