Dipti Pardeshi: Awareness weeks - are they worth it?

Our guest columnist's experience of Refugee Week suggests they are

Dipti Pardeshi
Dipti Pardeshi

With hundreds of awareness days and weeks taking place in the UK, it can be hard to measure their impact. Many organisations (my own included) reflect on these campaigns and try to find a marker for success, a key phrase often being "greater awareness". It seems to me that we need to ask what this might look like in practice and how to measure the impact of wider societal change. How can you tell if these discussions, badges and hashtags effect change?

It’s rare that you can see a direct cause-and-effect response to awareness campaigns. One tangible way of analysing success is through statistics, but can you, and should you, infer that increased use of a campaign tag on social platforms means it is more effective? This year, the International Organisation for Migration celebrated and helped as partner in the biggest ever Refugee Week, which exceeded 2016's figures of 600 events and 1,350,000 people in attendance. The Twitter reach doubled, with 750,000 tweet impressions from the Refugee Week account. This means that media from the week is estimated to have reached more than seven million people.

Our approach to Refugee Week was threefold, each strand of activity designed to attract a unique audience. We started with Portraits of Welcome 2.0, an interactive photo booth at the Southbank Centre capturing the public’s perspectives on the UK’s diverse and multicultural population. Alongside this, we held Building Tomorrow Together, a new initiative combining artwork from primary schoolchildren from Bethnal Green, London, and Syrian refugee children residing in Lebanon. And, finally, the sold-out Singing Our Lives concert at Guildhall, where we experienced the world premieres of two new song cycles commissioned by two community choirs to tell the real-life experiences of migrants and refugees, hosted by BBC Radio London’s Jumoké Fashola with a brilliant speech by YouTube and TV star Humza Arshad.

Were these the right activities for the society we wish to influence and alert to the cause? Have they made any tangible difference? The simple answer is yes. Even if a wider community misses the nuances of such events and activities, the concert alone was an example of the act we are trying so hard to promote. There is immense privilege in giving a platform to voices less often heard and to honour these voices by projecting them far and wide. To conclude Refugee Week celebrations with such a powerful reminder of every migrant’s voice, collaborating with British institutions such as the Royal Opera House, is the type of result we want. For this to be replicated in different permutations, offering refugees the space and chance to tell their unique stories, is the most that IOM could hope for as a result of our awareness week.

It is an amazing freedom we possess where we can come together at events such as Refugee Week and celebrate the resilience, creativity and bravery of refugees who are living in the UK, and to stand in solidarity with those who are not yet here. Numbers should not be the ultimate measure for success, but as I sat in the packed-out Guildhall School theatre, the sheer volume of voices couldn’t help but impress me and I left the concert with my heart feeling a lot fuller than it did when I went in. I don’t think there can be any doubt that Refugee Week was 100 per cent worthwhile, and I and my team are already looking forward to the next one.

Dipti Pardeshi is chief of mission at the International Organisation for Migration UK

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