Local Dimension of M&D

The UN Joint Migration and Development Initiative (JMDI) stresses the importance of local realities and works in partnership with local stakeholders in line with the essential local-to-local dimension of the migration and development nexus. The most successful and sustainable migration and development interventions identified by the JMDI are those with strong anchorage with the local governments in countries of origin and destination. This linkage is all the more important as the drivers and impact of migration are often most strongly felt at the local level, be it in terms of effects on the local labour market, the size and demographic of the local population, or the need for public service provision. This is why provinces and local authorities are strategic levels of governments to be involved, making consultations and agreement with sub-national levels of governments particularly important for the civil society.

JMDI’s flagship report “Mapping Local Authorities’ practices in the area of migration and development: a territorial approach to local initiatives and needs” describes the conceptual framework capturing the local dimension of migration and development and provides concrete examples of M&D local authorities’ initiatives.

Below you can read a brief background on the local M&D agenda and some key Q&A’s that highlight the importance of the local level in successfully linking migration and development:


The increasing role of local governments in the field of migration and development follows on from the growing importance of the local level for planning and implementing socio-economic development. Over the last 15 years, the main actors in the field of development cooperation have increased from only three categories—namely, multilateral, bilateral and NGO actors— to a multitude of new actors, such as local and regional governments, the private sector, foundations, entrepreneurs, unions, universities and others. This has contributed to a notable change toward demand-based, rather than supply-based, cooperation activities, in which local authorities appear to be key stakeholders.

The terminology, local authorities encompass a broad category that includes the largest variety of sub-national levels and branches of government, i.e. municipalities, communities, districts, counties, provinces, and regions. Since the 1990s, local authorities have increasingly been viewed as players in development policy in the Rio de Janeiro 1992 and Istanbul 1996 United Nations Conferences, the 2000 Millennium Summit and the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, all of which formally recognized their role. The importance of local level actors for the success of development initiatives is echoed across the board by many institutions concerned with development. At the level of the European Union (EU), the role of local governments has been more fully recognized during the 2005 revision of the Cotonou Agreement. In the 2011 Agenda for Change, the EU aims "to work more closely with the private sector, foundations, civil society and local and regional authorities as their role in development is growing.

The Human Development Report 2010 finds that decentralization has generally increased in most parts of the world. In 2009, 95 out of 120 countries (about 80 percent) had local governments in which at least the legislature was elected, and in half of these both the executive and legislature were elected. The First World Forum of Local Development Agencies in October 2011 has emphasized that decentralization, bringing public administration closer to the citizens, has been shown to be a useful method for democratic, social and economic development.

In this regard, decentralized cooperation has also become an important element for fostering development at the local level since it allows cooperation programmes to reach the grass roots level and local authorities are more equipped to comprehend the needs of other local authorities. Furthermore, the knowledge sharing, capacity building and technical assistance typical for decentralized cooperation fosters good governance and improvements in institutions, allowing local authorities in developing countries to better protect their citizens’ rights and needs, thereby promoting their development.

These evolutions also have to be seen in the context of the proactive and influential role gained in this field by global cities through globalization phenomena. Urban nodes in both the northern and the southern hemisphere are becoming strategic players in the geopolitics of our global world. Indeed, their territorial scope and economic influence make global cities more and more attractive, while migration and multiculturalism are emphasized as a key factor for their success and development. The political voluntarism of cities such as London and New York, but also cities of the global South such as Bangalore and Rio de Janeiro actively promote a positive outlook on migrants. These cities have a history of immigration, and the resulting multiculturalism has created attractive branding opportunities to promote these cities as being diverse, inclusive and successful. Through the commitment and establishment of specific institutions dedicated to migration such as Migrant Advisory Committees in Johannesburg, both the expertise of major cities in the field of migration and the awareness on the importance of migrants’ integration have increased. The visibility and the leadership of these actors in this field has in return an influence on the degree of activism developed by local authorities.


Why the local level?

Firstly, globalization has changed the way in which we live our lives: people move across borders more and further than before, information is spread worldwide and daily trade connects countries at opposite sides of the globe. With globalization, community-building is even less only a national affair and we are all, in a certain way, more interconnected and interdependent than humanity has ever been.

At the same time, the importance of the local level has also grown. Think of migration: people move not only between countries, but also between territories and people from the same community of origin move frequently in the same neighbourhood, city or region so that human mobility works often according to “local-to-local” logics. The same can be said of our economies; while globalization is connecting different countries in the same global economic community, it is becoming more and more important in a context of global competition to find development strategies which can value and benefit from local features.

The world in which we live is a GLOCAL WORLD – moreGLobal and more loCAL at the same time. What we have to do, in this context, is to enable local differences to interact globally. TO MAKE M&D GLOCAL is the way forward in order to ensure that it makes sense in today’s world: migration and development are certainly more global, but at the same time M&D actors are becoming increasingly obligated to take into account the “local” dimension.

Why are local authorities M&D actors?

One of the corollaries of the glocal dynamic is also that numerous governments are devolving many competences to the local level and strengthening the capacities and the role of local authorities.

Indeed, four elements make local authorities’ role crucial: 1) their proximity to their constituencies; 2) their direct experience in implementing policies; 3) their potential for participatory dialogue and decision-making; 4) their skills in spatial development strategies.

Thus, according to the first feature, local authorities (compared to national governments) are closer to the life of the people and are consequently more aware of the context on the ground (for example, whether immigrants are effectively integrated, if there is real social cohesion or what it means for locals to have a large part of their family abroad). Local authorities must also deal with the reality of migration and mayors of large metropolis frequently have important insight regarding the life and needs of migrants and their relationship with local citizens.

At the same time, local authorities in developing countries are well placed to understand what the need of their locals are and how they can be addressed through local development projects. Since we determine problems and solutions in relation to their impact on the daily life of the people, this proximity to them represents an essential advantage in decision-making processes.

Furthermore, local authorities are frequently responsible for policy implementation: national governments decide what has to be done and local governments ensure that it is done. This puts them in the privileged position to be conscious of what has or has not worked in the past, as well as to know what might or might not work in the future. This knowledge is extremely important to create effective and realistic policies and programmes – hence, local authorities have a major role to play with regards to decision and policy-making processes. In the field of migration, this implies, for example, that local authorities are those frequently providing assistance to migrants arriving in the national territory and are at the forefront in implementing mechanisms for the social integration of migrants. In the field of development, this also means that local authorities in developing countries have an extensive and practical knowledge on how development projects can efficiently address the needs of local people.

In addition, local authorities are spatially closer to the people, so that it is easier for everyone, as well as for civil society associations (working in the field of migration, development or both), to be involved in and to keep tabs on decision-making processes, which means that local governments have a strong participative potential that can boost effective and democratic policy ownership.

Finally, thanks to their strong knowledge of the geographical features of the territory, strong competencies related to spatial planning have frequently been devolved to local authorities and local authorities are thus to be considered as essential partners of spatial development strategies. All in all, if M&D initiatives are to take place on the glocalstage, local authorities can and must play a major role in it.

Why should migrants and local authorities partner up?

In order to answer this question, we have to take into account the fact that migrants are people who belong to more than one country and more than one territory at the same time and therefore have a lot to share with us on what it means to be citizens of this new glocal world.

They belong to both their country of origin, their country of destination and may even spend many years of their lives in a transit country. In this respect, we have to address this question in two manners:

Why should migrants and local authorities in their country of origin partner up?

In relation to the first question, we can affirm that migrants are frequently more attached to their community than to their country of origin as a whole. There, they often leave behind family members and friends. Even in the following generations, family memories develop a strong attachment to a specific place from where their ancestors have emigrated from in the past. Migrants are mainly local actors. 

Development strategies can take advantage of this attachment, which make migrants strongly willing to invest in their community of origin, which are not covered by traditional development aid. Furthermore, migrants have four main elements to offer to their community of origin: 1) social capital; 2) financial capital; 3) human capital and 4) cultural capital. The potential migrant wealth in social capital means that, thanks to their double “membership”, migrants are part of broad networks able to foster the development of their country of origin.

Think of, for example, diaspora associations, professional and commercial relations or religious groups established in the country of destination. All of these connections could be used by local authorities to foster local development. Remittances represent another important resource as a fincancial capital: migrants send home large amounts of money through remittances to help their families. For example, in 2010, 40 billion dollars were sent by African emigrants to their countries of origin. This can help foster development by increasing the revenue of families in the countries of origin and thus creating local economic growth. Some negative effects can also be linked to these resources: the money can be used without creating long-lasting benefits, receivers can become financially dependent or inequalities can grow in the community of origin between those who receive remittances and those who do not.

Therefore, to effectively maximise the development benefits, local authorities must engage with remittance receiving families and the migrants that send them. By human capital, we mean migrant professionals and increased interpersonal skills and self-confidence. Migrants, thanks to their path of migration, have had the opportunity to develop, learn and grow themselves, become more confident and skilled. For example, they study abroad and become professionals – and local authorities should be able to take advantage of these skills for the development of the country of origin. Migrant knowledge and capacities have proven to be greatly helpful for instance in the field of business creation, infrastructure projects, fair tourism, where they have been able to import and develop in their communities of origin new and innovative models for local development. Local authorities can strengthen the link with their citizens and ensure that the entire community benefits from it.

Finally, migrants have profound cultural knowledge which is rooted in their community of origin and in their country of destination. Consequently, the can play the role of efficient and conscious mediators in development projects, which deal frequently with two or more cultures at the same time. Misunderstandings could be thus avoided and the initiative’s effectiveness exponentially improved.

These practical questions require the development of an in-depth understanding of the way migration and migrant related activities are taking shape at the local level. Assessing the potential of migrants’ contribution to local development can only be understood by adopting a territorial approach where the actions of both local authorities and migrants and other local stakeholders can be combined to achieve positive results in the fields of integration, local governance, decentralized cooperation and local economic development.


Why should migrants and local authorities in their country of destination partner up?

The four elements we have mentioned before are also valid for the country of destination. Networks of migrants in their country of origin, their remittances, their professionalism and their knowledge of the local situation are vital resources which can and must be used and channeled by local authorities in countries of destination when they create and implement successful development projects. At the same time, we have to take into account two further elements.

Firstly, local authorities are highly concerned with social cohesion. Immigrants can live in a condition of social exclusion within the community they have moved to and local authorities are at the forefront in the battle to improve social cohesion and migrant integration.

Secondly, decentralized cooperation – development cooperation between two local authorities in different countries - has become a new and important tool for development. Indeed, there are interesting cases of local authorities using decentralized cooperation to enhance immigrant integration: For example, the municipality of Montreuil, located in the suburbs of Paris and inhabited by many Malians taking advantage of the many associations of migrants has, for many years, developed decentralized cooperation projects with local authorities in Mali. This strategy has efficiently optimized the capital of local immigrants and increased their sense of membership in the local destination communities. At the same time, it has opened new perspectives for all the others, giving them the possibility to be citizens of new communities around the world.