The 2023 Ockenden International Prize Winners

GBP100,000 in Prizes

The four winners of the 11th annual Ockenden International Prizes for refugee and/or displaced people projects are Hope Health Action East Africa, Otros Dreams en Acción, Shanti Volunteer Association and SINA (Social Innovation Academy).

Each winner receives GBP25,000, rewarding – and recognizing – innovative work that has promoted self-reliance among refugees, forced migrants and displaced people – the hallmark of Ockenden International since its inception in 1951.

Entries from 58 countries were represented in 2023’s record 169 submissions with the four winning projects operational in  Mexico, Myanmar and Uganda (two). The 2023 winners and their projects are:

Hope Health Action East Africa (HHA EA), Uganda’s project ‘Transforming the lives of South Sudanese refugees with disabilities living in the refugee settlements and hosting communities in Uganda’ for its practical and significant mobility improvements of the often neglected refugees with disabilities – in the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in northwest Uganda, the temporary home for more than 270,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing ongoing civil war. “In the context of refugees” the judges said “HHA EA is doing incredible work, often one-to-one in a project led by people with their own experiences of forced displacement.” They noted HHA EA’s innovations included the involvement of whole households, teaching skills for running businesses, agricultural self-reliance and evidence of community effectiveness that is commendably community-based and holistic.

Otros Dreams en Acción, Mexico for ‘A Dignified Return for the Deported and Forcibly Returned Community in Mexico’, which the judges praised for its focus on deportees forcibly displaced by the state. They also noted the project, based in Ciudad, is run by deported people and forced returnees and the practical support provided: effective help with documentation, reconnection of dislocated families and legal support for appeals to reverse deportations. “This unique project is restoring identity and dignity, building collective self-reliance amongst those rebuilding their lives out of the wreckage of deportation’, the judges said.

Shanti Volunteer Association, Japan for its enterprising library project ‘Assisting returnees’ integration and stable settlement through improving access to information and learning along the Thai-Myanmar Border’, one of the world’s most challenging geopolitical hotspots. The judges liked the fact that Shanti’s 15 community libraries – in seven refugee camps along the border – are self-managed by refugees. All agreed that access to literature and information is a positive form of indirect self-reliance. They were impressed by the project’s provision of computers to strengthen IT literacy and the project’s provision of books in the Karen, Burmese and English languages, which the judges said: “is so important for nurturing independent learning, positive self-identity, as well as multicultural perspectives about the world outside of their immediate lives.”

SINA (Social Innovation Academy), Uganda nominated by Zimbabwe’s Transformation Innovation Hub (TiH) was awarded one of the coveted Prizes for a training project that’s manifestly inspiring young business entrepreneurs by implementing their principle of ‘Freesponsibility’ – combining ‘freedom’ with ‘responsibility’ – and the co-creation of ‘Self-organized Learning Spaces’. The six-member jury said the project entered ‘Marginalized and refugee communities are creating their own sustainable solutions through Freesponsible and Self-organized Learning Spaces’ is empowering refugees in Uganda who are proof positive the training is effective with a range of successful business startups, all distinctive and autonomous ventures. “The positive effect on refugee self-reliance is a compelling outcome of the academy’s award-winning motivation,” the judges observed.

Each project is working to help refugees – and/or displaced people – by replacing their need for and dependence on aid with constructive projects the beneficiaries often manage themselves.

The chair of Ockenden International, Judith Ingham said: “Tens of thousands of refugees, forced migrants and displaced people – as well as their communities – are benefitting from the self-reliance and independence these special projects promote and expand.

“These renowned prizes provide Ockenden’s winners with the cash to extend their winning projects, pioneering best practices and their reach in what remains sadly one of the most challenging, disruptive and defining global issues of the day.”

The projects by this year’s finalists include employment and education programmes, a clothes shopping initiative, community building, mental health, legal assistance and psychosocial support, mobile health clinics, returnee deportees, an education workshop, a unique library project, job training and LGBTIQ+ projects – in Malaysia, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Kenya, Iraq, France, Myanmar, Thailand, Mexico, Serbia, Zimbabwe and Uganda.

The other eight finalists and their projects were::

Asylum Access, Malaysia, for its project ‘Realizing Rights and Self-Representation for Refugee Workers’, which in partnership with refugees is operating a successful employment disputes’ programme focused on mediation, strategic litigation, community empowerment and advocacy in Malaysia.

Fundacion Dialogo Diverso, for its programme ‘My Home Away from Home’ which works for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community of Venezuela and Ecuador through its Reference and Comprehensive Care Centers in Quito and Cuenca.

Give Your Best, UK, ‘Give Your Best Development’ aims to restore autonomy and empowerment to refugee women & children through their innovative online platform, where the public can donate clothes so refugees and those seeking asylum can shop for free with the choice and dignity they deserve.

HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya, for a project titled ‘Increasing protection, resilience, self-reliance and empowerment of the most vulnerable refugees and host community members, particularly women, adolescent girls and LGBTIQ+ population in Nairobi’, which is working to ensure refugees meet their own basic needs by building the resilience required to become self-reliant through food security, access to savings and credit, entrepreneurship support and empowerment.

Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights, a German NGO that promotes the physical rehabilitation, mental well-being and social reintegration of survivors and their family members by providing them with medical treatment, psychotherapeutic support and socio-legal counselling in northern Iraq. Project name: ‘Strengthening mental health and social cohesion in Northern Iraq – Trauma Therapy, Peace-Building and Civil Society’.

L’Auberge des Migrants’ The ‘Calais Common Initiative’ is an inter-organisation consortium led by L’Auberge des Migrants. It integrates the complementary work of five grassroots organisations supporting displaced people stuck at the France-UK border to meet their vital needs: access to water, distribution of food, firewood, tents and clothing as well as defending fundamental rights by provision of outreach work, legal support and assistance of unaccompanied minors, women and families.

MedAcross Onlus, the Italian NGO provides health assistance to isolated migrant and displaced populations in Myanmar, Thailand and Somaliland. The shortlisted project ‘Healthcare and Labor Rights for Burmese Migrants’ is active in Ranong Province, Thailand, where it works with Myanmar migrants with an emphasis on mobile clinics and community health volunteers.

Refugee Aid Serbia provides a safe space and educational hub for refugees and Asylum seekers in Belgrade and beyond. Its project, ‘The Workshop: Education’, is a small refugee-led education initiative in Belgrade and camps elsewhere in Serbia working with refugees predominantly from Afghanistan, Burundi and Iran providing classes to support asylum, job and university applications that must be submitted in Serbian.

The four cash prizes, which are open to projects or programmes focused on IDP/refugee self-reliance anywhere in the world,  recognize and reward innovative work that delivers evidential self-reliance to refugees and/or IDPs, the hallmark of Ockenden International since its inception in 1951.

The winners were selected from a short list of 12 projects by Ockenden International’s independent Advisory Board:

Michael Buerk (Chair), broadcaster

Dr Dawn Chatty, Emerita Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration; former Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford and Emeritus Fellow, St Cross College.

Dr Avila Kilmurray, Board Member of the International Fund for Ireland which is working on peace building and migration programmes with the Social Change Initiative (SCI), an international NGO working to strengthen civil social activism and advocacy in the areas of Human Rights, Migration and Refugee Rights and community-based Peace building.

Dr Alice Nah, Associate Professor at the Sociology Department, University of Durham.

Dame Frances Lannon, former Principal and Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall (LMH), University of Oxford.

Mike Wooldridge, OBE, former BBC Foreign Correspondent.