Digital Portfolios of the Poor (DPP) seeks to understand gendered differences in the digital lives of the poor, enabling action to close gender gaps in digital financial service access and to design more effective, gender-transformative digital products.

The Journeys Project is a cross-regional collection of migrant stories to better understand the costs and strategies involved in their journeys as well as the economic approaches they use when putting down roots in new surroundings.

The Refugees in Towns (RIT) project examines the main barriers and pathways to integration, with the goal of identifying innovative solutions to the obstacles that refugees, migrants, and hosts face.

Disrupted Mobilities, inspired by the 2020 documentary Waylaid in Tijuana, explores the local impacts of a fortified U.S.-Mexico border and how migrants journeying through Central America and Mexico assess risk and process information regarding entry into the U.S.

PHUSID is a skills-building initiative based on the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) to better prepare students to work effectively and sustainably in violent or fragile contexts. The Leir Institute is a designated IDG Hub.

The Corruption, Justice, and Legitimacy Program is a research-to-practice initiative committed to improving the effectiveness of anti-corruption programming in contexts of endemic corruption.

Latest Updates

  • Seven Financial Archetypes characterize migrants ranging from those succeeding against all odds to those who are faltering despite having certain advantages in the Colombian context. By: Marisol Hernandez, Heather Odell, Shane Sullivan, and Rosemary Ventura under the supervision of Kim Wilson In 2022, a team of Fletcher students – accompanied by their professor –  set out to understand the financial lives of Venezuelans living in Colombia. The team interviewed 88 subjects in Medellín and Cartagena, as well as another twelve respondents in Santa Marta. They interviewed Venezuelan migrants in various stages of resettlement, as well as Colombians. Their aim was to better understand the financial lives of people representing different economic classes and education levels. This information was then passed along to practitioners for programmatic use. The Journeys Project and the research team decided many of the respondents shared key characteristics that, depending on their environment, allowed them to flourish or struggle. Together they created composite profiles of seven different types of respondents, dubbing them “Financial Archetypes.” Journeys believes that NGO and government training programs may benefit from using these archetypes as a tool. Having evidence backed examples will allow practitioners to brainstorm program opportunities to meet their clients’ specific challenges and have a baseline for later evaluations. To read more about the seven archetypes and tips for how to maximize the effectiveness of the examples, download the tool below. READ THE REPORT

  • By Yumeka Kawahara, Lucy Mastellar, Sarah Rose Morehouse, Charlie Williams, Dr. Karen Jacobsen Refugees in Towns is proud to release preliminary findings from its latest project, Assessing Refugees’ Understanding of and Responses to American Race Relations. The study investigated understandings of race before, during, and after migrating, finding that refugees learned about US race relations through school, media (digital and print), word of mouth, and personal experiences of discrimination. However, the degree of this learning is heavily dependent on education level, age, and country of origin. Learn more about the study and its ongoing research in Tufts Now’s article, “How Do Refugees in the United States Learn About Race?” We would like to acknowledge the Hello Neighbor Network, Dwell Mobile, and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life for their financial and technical support in producing this research. READ THE REPORT

  • This article was originally published by NewCities on October 25, 2022 as part of its quarterly editorial series, The Big Picture. By Samer Saliba and Helen Elizabeth Yu, Mayor’s Migration Council Most refugees live in cities, which should come as no surprise, considering over half the world’s population now resides in urban areas, driven by an increasing demographic shift away from agrarian livelihoods, particularly in regions affected by forced displacement.  Without housing and adequate basic services, it is nearly impossible for a new urban resident to stay safe and healthy, find and maintain a job, and keep their kids in school, not to mention move beyond their basic needs. Yet one of the greatest barriers that migrants and refugees face in urban areas is finding secure and affordable housing. Both the cost of housing and the legal paperwork (often itself a huge cost) typically required to secure a formal lease are hugely prohibitive to foreign-born nationals, particularly those without regular status or the means to pay for it. In Colombia, a country that has welcomed more than two million Venezuelan migrants and refugees due to one of the world’s largest displacement crises, the City of Medellín alone hosts over 190,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. Recent surveys conducted through 4Mi Cities: Data Collection on Urban Mixed Migration indicate that 75 percent of migrants and refugees in the city pay for housing on a monthly basis. If these percentages hold true for the whole displaced population in Medellín, more than 25,000 people either rely on extended social networks, NGOs, or faith-based organizations for shelter, or do not have a roof over their heads on a regular basis. Moreover, 73 percent of all respondents reported relying on verbal housing agreements rather than formal ones. In other words, nearly every migrant and refugee in Medellín may either have precarious housing tenure or no secure housing at all. Whereas camp settings are centered on housing, international humanitarian actors can’t set up tents in the middle of a city. Nor should they. It is the role of city governments to provide safe and adequate housing for all their residents, including refugees. They just need the resources to do so. Without adequate resources, housing a growing population is a tall order for most cities that already struggle to ensure market-rate housing is available. Nevertheless, many cities are doing their best to provide the minimum necessities for newcomers to re-establish themselves. With financial and technical support from the Mayors Migration Council’s Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees (GCF), the City of Medellín is going beyond the bare minimum. Using catalytic investment from the GCF in 2021, Medellín established a robust program of assistance for migrants and refugees centered on giving migrant and refugee families three months of safe and secure transitional housing. While the city’s Línea 123 Social (Social Hotline 123) was originally designed to offer emergency assistance to anyone in a situation of risk, the city soon determined that the majority of housing requests were coming from migrants, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). To address the specific needs of these communities, Medellín leveraged the GCF to expand the housing component of Línea 123 Social, Auxilio Habitacional transitorio (Transitional Housing Assistance), to include migrants and refugees. Further, the city made housing the entry point for these families to access a holistic suite of essential services, such as legal support for processing asylum claims and job training and placement. In one year, Medellín has housed 310 migrant and refugee families — over 1,200 people. Half of them are under the age of 14.   The City cites time as one of the critical factors contributing to the early successes of the GCF in Medellín. Doris Manco, GCF program lead under Medellín’s Secretariat for Social Inclusion, Family and Human Rights, emphasized: “There must be an immediate solution, and this is an immediate solution that helps families do more than meet their immediate needs. If housing is not addressed, other needs can’t be addressed. A lot of other cities have shelter solutions, but what we’re doing is to help families live in a protective environment that helps them meet their other needs… it’s more sustainable and easier to finance for us as a city because it helps connect people with jobs, which helps them sustain paying for their own housing.” In addition to being both city-led and immediate – call the 123 Social Line and city staff will pick you up off the street and bring you to a housing location – the program offers people with nowhere else to go three months of free housing. Housing typologies include hotels, shared houses retrofitted to accommodate between 8 and 10 families, and inquilinatos, private rooms provided to families with shared kitchen and laundry facilities on the same floor of a hotel. These arrangements, which offer privacy while maintaining a communal spirit, provide migrants and refugees with a home base for an assured period of time, offering adults a much-needed runway to find work and place their children in school while securing a more long-term home. Over 75 percent of families who participated in Medellín’s housing assistance program went on to find more permanent housing on their own. Additionally, many participants were not only interested in staying in the inquilinatos at the end of their time with the program, but were also able to pay their own rent. This was only possible through the city’s active role in: Identifying dignified housing in locations within proximity to social services and jobsNegotiating the terms of stay with property ownersCreating nurturing living conditions within inquilinatos and shared housing unitsConnecting migrants and refugees with specific legal, medical, social, and job-training services depending on their needsOffering means of transport to services that were not within walking distanceEstablishing coordination mechanisms with over 18 local and international service providers, such as UNHCR, IOM and World Vision, to bridge service gaps As inherent multi-taskers, cities are uniquely positioned to achieve this kind of success. Given their mandate, local knowledge, and access, city governments like Medellín’s have a unique ability to adapt existing housing and outreach programs, tie these programs to

  • A side hustler juggles multiple part-time jobs to weather financial storms By Marisol Hernandez, Heather Odell, Shane Sullivan, Rosemary Ventura, Kim Wilson Maikel is an extraverted community leader who has achieved financial stability by simultaneously pursuing four side hustles. He sells coffee from a cart, works as a construction assistant, teachers the occasional Zumba class, and emcees children’s parties. He has managed to meld these hustles to hedge against the chance of negative financial shocks. Although he hasn’t been able to validate his degree or exercise his profession in Colombia, his resourcefulness and energetic personality have allowed him to constantly stitch together multiple gigs as they become available, usually allowing him to get by month-to-month. Originally published at The Journeys Project. Read the Report

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  • Leir Migration Monitor October 2022 Last week marked Financial Inclusion Week’s 8th convening. This year focused on Inclusive Growth in a Digital Era, underscoring the duality of tech-enabled financial services as both a mitigator and catalyst of inequality. This month, we explore approaches to migrants’ financial inclusion, ranging from the essential elements of enabling environments to the usefulness of “migrant tech.”  In this month’s edition: Analysis: When does financial inclusion matter for migrants? Launch of Leir’s newest program, Digital Portfolios of the PoorSenior Fellow Profile: Jayshree Venkatesan, Research Director at the Center for Financial InclusionDispatches from a financial coach: the economic empowerment of immigrantsThe “app-ification” of migration: are niche tech products useful? Read Full Newsletter Subscribe When does financial inclusion matter for migrants?  Kim Wilson, Principal Investigator, Journeys Project  Last week, the Center for Financial Inclusion observed Financial Inclusion Week. To acknowledge the week and the work of a very able alum (more in Jayshree’s spotlight below), we’re reflecting on our research about financial inclusion in economies of displacement. Our findings are simple but often overlooked: without enabling economic policies for migrants—or at least impartial ones that don’t preclude migrants from the market—meaningful financial inclusion is rarely achieved.In 2020, Fletcher hosted a conference where we presented the findings of a longitudinal study. Over the course of eighteen months, we interviewed 428 refugees, migrants, and hosts in five research sites: Amman, Jordan; Nairobi, Kenya; Tijuana, Mexico; and Kampala and Bidibidi, Uganda. Our key findings showed that financial services, except for remittance services, were of little use to refugees and migrants. Without permission to work or open a business, there was little left over to save and any borrowing that took place was from local shops, not from formal financial service providers.The exceptions were in Tijuana, Mexico and Kampala, Uganda. In Mexico, migrants and refugees who worked in factories needed bank accounts to receive a salary. And in Kampala, Uganda, refugees successful at dodging local authorities were able to slowly build their livelihoods. However, these were the exceptions that proved the rule: they had licit means of earning an income and thus a bank account (Mexico) or a mobile money account (Kampala) was useful for capturing and storing those earnings.Our concluding theory was that for financial services to be useful, foundational rights had to be in place. Lawful means of earning an income was the most crucial among these rights as was the ability to move about freely. In Jordan, work permits for Syrians were few and far between. And for other nationalities — Yemenis, Sudanese, and Iraqis — permits were only possible with passports, something none of our respondents had. In Kenya, refugees in Nairobi and in the camps had few ways to engage in a legal livelihood. The same was true in Bidibidi, Uganda, a settlement of around 270,000 people but with few means to earn a living. Brewing alcohol, farming basic crops, and selling food rations were the only livelihoods available and Village Savings and Loan Associations (informal folk banking systems) were the only relevant services.An overarching observation was that the need for and use of financial services co-evolved with expanding livelihoods. A new arrival might earn less than $1 a day sourced from charity or a meager wage for washing clothes. If they could find work, as was the case in Uganda and Mexico, a family might patch together a portfolio of income streams and slowly progress to the point where savings accumulated, and a bank or mobile money account would become useful.However, it was not until we researched nearly 100 refugees and migrants in Colombia that we saw a true need for viable credit, meaning loans that could be used fruitfully and could be repaid on time. In Colombia, 2.5 million Venezuelan refugees are living among its various cities. We focused our interviews on those living in Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Medellín. The Colombian government has welcomed these refugees. They can apply for a ten-year residency visa (called a PPT) that affords several advantages: enrollment in the national health system, children’s enrollment in public elementary schools, and the right to work. Obtaining the visa required navigating a blizzard of red tape, and thus many refugees we spoke to did not yet have the visa in their possession. Despite this, local attitudes toward allowing Venezuelans to work were, if not welcoming, at least tolerant.And this is where we saw the need for formal loans or credit from a microfinance institution. Let’s take Maikel as an example. He has woven together four side hustles to create a somewhat steady stream of household income. Between selling coffee in the park in the mornings, taking on sporadic construction work, holding Zumba classes, and emceeing children’s birthday parties, he brought in roughly $190.00 per month. He was doing well enough to garner $320 in savings but burned through it when he booked few birthday parties and rain prevented his outdoor coffee sales and construction work. These events prompted Maikel to take out a loan from a prestadiario, a loan shark. He would have gladly borrowed from a microfinance institution, but such credit was not available to him, or to his knowledge, any other refugees. Although he recognized the 30% interest rate was steep and the procrustean payment terms too short (just a month), he’s found loan shark services useful in a pinch. He’d used prestadiarios on five occasions, each time borrowing about 100.000– 150.000 COP ($24–37 USD). When we interviewed Maikel, he had an outstanding loan of 150.000 COP ($37 USD), and he will need to pay back 220.000 COP ($54 USD) by the end of the month. We found other examples of people like Maikel, who had the permission and wherewithal to juggle multiple livelihoods, and who were borrowing from high-priced moneylenders. Our findings in Colombia confirmed our theory that as livelihoods evolve so, too, does the need for financial services. This means providers might refrain from promoting financial services for the sake of inclusion and instead promote them where they are needed and can be used well. Read Full Newsletter Subscribe

  • Leir Migration Monitor September 2022 Welcome to the inaugural edition of the monthly Leir Migration Monitor newsletter, where we bring a local angle to global issues relating to migration and its root causes. It presents clear, policy-relevant research and analysis from Leir’s people and programs. Let us know topics you would like future editions to explore. In this month’s edition: Local immigration control as political theater: how Prop 187 foreshadowed migrant busing in the U.S.South Africa’s Zimbabwe Exemption Permit cancellations: the human costs Franchising Underground Finance: Venezuelans’ creative remittance systems in EcuadorSpotlight: Senior Fellow Dr. Kimberly Howe calls for trauma-informed methodologies Read Full Newsletter Local immigration control as political theater: how Prop 187 foreshadowed migrant busing in the U.S. Dr. Katrina Burgess, Director, Leir Institute In the last three months, Governors Greg Abbott (R-Texas), Doug Ducey (R-Arizona), and Ron De Santis (R-Florida) have sent more than 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S.-Mexico border to Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, and Martha’s Vineyard. Each week, hundreds more are dropped off at bus stations or airports with no advance notice and no coordination with local government officials or civil society organizations, who must scramble to provide the migrants with food, shelter, and medical care.The three governors are quite explicit about their intentions: to protest the Biden Administration’s immigration policies and pro-immigrant states and cities. Specifically, they blame lax border controls and sanctuary cities for the escalating levels of unauthorized entry into the U.S. which, they insist, are placing undue burdens on border communities. There is some truth to their claims about local impacts. Encounters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the southwest border just exceeded two million in one year for the first time (although with many repeat attempts), and border communities must somehow accommodate the roughly 500,000 migrants released into the United States this fiscal year, at least until they gather enough resources to reach their intended destination while awaiting their next immigration court hearing.But there are gaping holes in the governors’ claims about what is causing these impacts. The U.S.-Mexico border is more heavily guarded and difficult to cross than it has ever been, and migrants are arriving for a complex set of reasons that may or may not include how they expect to be treated at the border (and most likely have nothing to do with sanctuary cities). Many of these migrants are exercising their legal right to request asylum, which they initiate by turning themselves over to CBP voluntarily. Moreover, Mexicans and Central Americans no longer monopolize the CBP’s border encounters; this fiscal year over 40 percent of these encounters have been with migrants from other countries. Venezuelans are by far the largest group, but they are joined by migrants from over 100 other countries reaching as far as Africa and Asia. Venezuelans, who also account for most of the migrants bused north, tend to have weaker support networks in the United States, leaving them more reliant on services provided by governments or NGOs until they can get on their feet.  Unfortunately, these nuances get lost in the demonizing rhetoric and false narratives being stoked by the three governors. Rather than working collaboratively to alleviate bottlenecks at the border, they are weaponizing the legitimate grievances of border communities for political gain. This is not a new tactic. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson backed a public referendum (Proposition 187) to deny all public benefits to undocumented immigrants as a way to send a message to Washington while drumming up votes for his reelection. Prop 187 proved to be bad policy but good politics. While most of the referendum’s provisions were struck down by the courts, Wilson won reelection in the midst of a recession, and Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) two years later, marking a decisive turn in the direction of restrictionist immigration policies and the criminalization of migrants. The language in Wilson’s campaign ads is uncannily similar to the rhetoric we are hearing today. But the delivery mechanism has reached new levels of cynicism and cruelty. Abbott, Ducey, and De Santis are using migrants as political pawns and choosing targets that are blatantly partisan (including Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence) and, in most cases, without any real authority to change conditions at the border. In the process, they are invoking an even more disturbing episode from the past: the so-called “Reverse Freedom Rides” in the 1960s when white supremacist groups in the South bused Black southerners to the North to “test” their commitment to civil rights.Instead of responding with further crackdowns, as in the 1990s, the Biden administration has an opportunity to alleviate the pressures on border communities while staying true to its purported support for immigrant rights. In the short term, it should consider a proposal being floated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to facilitate interior processing for migrants awaiting their court hearings, which would ease the bottlenecks at the border and allow for coordination across a wider network of destinations. In the medium to long term, it should invest in a more robust infrastructure that can respond quickly to shifting flows, reduce the enormous backlog in immigration courts, and support migrants at their most vulnerable so that the burden does not fall disproportionately on a few communities. For all these efforts, the federal government should listen carefully to local concerns and work closely with local actors to address the real needs of migrants and local residents. Much deeper reforms are needed, but these measures would go a long way to lowering the political temperature at the border and beyond. CORRECTION: Dr. Kimberly Howe’s article, “Trauma to self and other: Reflections on field research and conflict,” was published in Security Dialogue, not the Journal of Peace Research. We apologize for the error. Read Full Newsletter

  • To our alumni and friends, It has been another challenging six months for human security. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions of people while contributing to escalating fuel and food prices around the world. Several countries in Africa are on the verge of famine. Meanwhile, the horrific shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, Texas – part of an epidemic of gun violence in the United States – remind us that threats to human security are not far from home. And, sadly, these incidents intersect with other unresolved problems such as corrupt governance, militarized borders, systemic racism, climate change, and a pandemic that is still with us. Rather than despair, however, we must continue to search for creative solutions to these complex challenges. At Leir, we do so by revealing and then building on instances of human resilience and ingenuity in the face of these enormous obstacles. We have been busy working toward this goal in the last six months. As elaborated in this newsletter, Leir continued to host the following four projects: Building Resilience in Immigrant Communities (BRIC): a joint initiative with Tisch College and a local organization assisting African refugees and immigrants (ACEDONE) to co-create a program for women’s empowerment in the Boston area.Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy (CJL): a research-to-practice initiative committed to improving the effectiveness of anti-corruption programming in contexts of endemic corruption.Journeys Project: a cross-regional collection of migrant stories to better understand the costs and strategies involved in their journeys as well as the economic approaches they use when putting down roots in new surroundings.Program in Human Security and Inner Development (PHUSID): a skills-building initiative to better prepare students to work effectively and practice self-care in violent or fragile contexts. We also welcomed two new projects to the Leir Institute: Digital Portfolios of the Poor (DPP): a multi-year, multi-country project aimed at creating better digital financial products for the poor by understanding how emerging technologies are viewed, used, understood, and perceived in low income settings, particularly among women.Refugees in Towns (RIT): a multi-sited initiative to understand the migrant/refugee experience by drawing on the knowledge and perspectives of refugees themselves as well as local hosts. In addition, we organized a series of seminars, workshops, and conferences that explored diverse aspects of human security and provided funding to support human security-related research by Fletcher doctoral and master’s students.  Last but not least, we completed the strategic positioning process mentioned in our Fall newsletter. Drawing on extended conversations with Leir faculty and students, Fletcher alums, practitioners, and donors, we determined that Leir’s niche is at the intersection of human security and migration. People around the world are fleeing human insecurity in the form of war, economic collapse, non-state violence, and climate change. Meanwhile, displacement creates its own human security challenges by jeopardizing livelihoods and safety, particularly in the context of militarized responses by states. Not surprisingly, a growing number of Fletcher students are interested in exploring these intersections. And where better to do so than at the Leir Institute, which has deep expertise across these different but integrally connected issues.Based on this determination, we are planning some exciting changes at the Leir Institute. We have crafted a new mission statement and will change our name to the Henry J. Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security. We have also articulated three main areas of work moving forward: Connecting and creating synergies between experts on migration and experts on drivers of displacement such as conflict, violence, social exclusion, governance failures, and climate change;Training current and future policymakers and practitioners to bring human security expertise and adaptive leadership skills to government, international organizations, humanitarian assistance, and civic advocacy; and,Partnering with local NGOs and government agencies to build local capacity and produce applied research that uses innovative methodologies informed by the human security approach. Over the next several months, we will be launching our rebrand along with a redesigned website that will be easier to navigate and more visually appealing. To help with this endeavor, we have hired Jacob Ewing, a freshly minted Fletcher graduate, as the new Leir Project Manager. Jacob will be managing the Leir team, coordinating Leir events and outreach, and working closely with me to strengthen Leir’s institutional and financial foundation. To celebrate our new direction, our Alumni Spotlight features two alums working at the intersection of migration and human security: Emily Butera (F04) and Will Clements (F20). Stay tuned, and do not hesitate to reach out if you have ideas, concerns, or questions. As always, we welcome your ideas, feedback, and financial support as we continue with this important work. Wishing you health and safety, Katrina BurgessDirector, Henry J. Leir Institute Read More