How “Hello Europe” is Enabling Systems Change for Migrants and Refugees

93% of Ashoka Fellows have achieved change in public policy as a result from their work.
Hello Europe - Migration
Source: Hello Europe - Migration

Ashoka Fellow Inge Missmahl has transformed mental health services for refugees by developing the IPSO Context,[1] which has been adopted by the Afghani government as the official methodology for trauma therapy in refugee shelters. Ashoka Fellow David Lubell’s Welcoming America[2] has led processes to design policy at municipal and even federal level in the U.S. Due to their success, Inge and David’s models are being replicated in other countries.

How can Ashoka better support Fellows working in the field of migration and refugees? Based on almost 40 years of learnings from working with leading social entrepreneurs through the Ashoka Fellowship, we know that social change almost always involves some degree of systemic transformation, also known as “systems change”. This can be defined as creating “fundamental change in policies, processes, relationships, and power structures, as well as deeply held values and norms.”[3] In other words, it’s not just about providing a service, but changing the way the major stakeholders relate and work together. For the issue of migration, given that it affects almost all major systems, any kind of serious change requires complex systems change thinking and strategies. Within that systems change, public policy plays an absolutely essential role, directly affecting processes such as freedom of movement, documentation to be employed, and access to healthcare and education.

Ashoka Fellows know public policies and governments are key to spreading their idea to the most people possible. Within Ashoka’s network of leading social innovators 93% of our Fellows have achieved change in public policy as a result from their work, according to the 2018 Global Fellows Study.[4] In fact, over 74% of respondents also have established partnerships with local and regional governments, and 61% with national governments to accelerate the rate of change they are seeking.[5]

Ashoka’s Hello Europe[6] initiative was launched in 2016 to scale proven solutions to challenging underlying migration to European countries., Initially, “cohorts” of social innovators included Fellows as well as policymakers and others. Fellows in the first cohort included Inge Missmahl and David Lubell, as well as other social innovators such as Abdoulaye Fall and Jane Leu.[SW1] 

Since Hello Europe launched, we have learned valuable insights about engaging with public policy in the context of migration and refugees. As we mapped out shared challenges and solutions within the sector, we found migration and refugee social innovators working in fields as diverse as healthcare, education, employment, human rights, and even urban design. But for any of these solutions to achieve systems impact, there needed to be deep collaboration and coordination amongst the social innovators themselves as well as with policy makers.

Through a European-wide partnership, based on the success of our national accelerators, we designed a roadmap to connect citizen sector solutions with policy makers and together build better policies based on the objectives of each group. Here are some of the lessons we have learned and are applying to the program now:

  1. Make policy change a goal from the start. We are including conversations and spaces to think about policy change at a strategic level throughout the program. Social innovators are encouraged to identify what kind of policy they could address alongside other social innovators in their cohort.
  2. Provide better training on how to affect policy and connect social innovators with technical experts. We learned early on that national level policy change requires a different skillset than policy change at the international level. Rather than asking the social innovators to figure it out, we began bringing more technical experts into the conversation who knew policy and could help translate between the two sectors, as well as broaden social entrepreneurs’ imagination as to what kind of policy changes are possible and how to get there.[7]
  3. Gather policy makers and social entrepreneurs to work together. To bridge the gap between policymakers at the EU level and social innovators, Hello Europe organized a summit with 20 high level social entrepreneurs and 150 key policy makers and experts in Brussels.[8]  In that summit, we gathered participants both around fields of work (e.g. employment, healthcare, etc.) as well as around ways of working together (e.g. multi-stakeholder platforms, scaling initiatives across borders) in order to discover together new ways to work together across topics and countries.
  4. Transform conversations into specific recommendations. It is not enough to just have the conversations and to open doors for collaboration — the ideas must be translated into policy language and shared with the key players in the system. To achieve this, we are creating collaborative groups with social entrepreneurs and policy experts to boil down the ideas generated at the summit to simple and applicable recommendations that can become roadmaps for change for the key policy decision-makers in the EU.

Our hope is to provide new tools and possibilities to policy makers in the European Union who aim to improve processes around migration, integration and refugee movements for the good of the newcomers and host communities. This process is also quickly impacting the social entrepreneurs involved, who are improving their ability to understand and impact policy at all levels.

Solving social problems is difficult, and it can often be overwhelming, especially when these problems affect so many systems. The only way to continue advancing towards sustainable solutions is to work together, and to involve all key stakeholders in the conversation. In fact, developing these collaborative models between social entrepreneurs, policy makers and other key stakeholders is a systems change in itself, aiming to unlock a world where Everyone is a Changemaker, contributing actively to solve our most pressing problems.

Help us create a world where Everyone is a Changemaker by donating to Ashoka. If you would like to partner with the Hello Europe! Initiative, please contact Kenny Clewett.


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[1] For a short summary of IPSO Context, see

[2] For a short summary of Welcoming International (the global arm of Welcoming America), see

[3] Srik Gopal and John Kania, “Fostering Systems Change”, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Nov. 20, 2015 (URL=, accessed 11/5/18 at 8:00am.

[4] Quoted from Ashoka’s Global Fellows Study, September 2018. Regarding types of policy change: 31% have achieved change at an international level, 75% at a national level and 53% at a regional/local level. How this impact happens varies, including contributing directly to legislative change or new government policy (74%), brining research or missing data to policy makers (74%), advising policymakers or legislative bodies as an expert (76%) or, less frequently, convincing governments to allocate funds to a particular cause (59%) or representing marginalized populations or challenging laws in court (37%). In this survey we also found that Fellows selected in the past 5 years are achieving policy change faster than their elder peers (40), which indicates, at the very least, an increase in intentionally changing policy more quickly.

[5] Ashoka’s Global Fellows Survey, 47.

[6] For more information see

[7] Thankfully, there are more and more organizations helping to bridge the gap between citizens and citizen sector organizations and policy makers. One great example of this is The Good Lobby in Brussels (, who are partnering with us to give policy tools to social entrepreneurs.

[8] A longer summary of the Summit can be found at