Governance from below: Examining How Grassroots Refugee Groups Expand the “Who, When, Where and How” of Welfare Services in the Resettlement Policy Domain

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Odessa GONZALEZ BENSON, University of Michigan, USA
Andre STEPHENS, University of Washington Department of Sociology, USA
The top-down arrangements of governance that conjoin the welfare state with the private and nonprofit sector are increasingly challenged by heightened migration and advanced urbanism. Scholars focus on the “dark side” to public-private partnerships (O’Toole & Meier 2004), the “shadow of hierarchy” (Whitehead 2007) and “partnership crisis” (Bristow et al 2009) in ways that call into question the promise of NGO- and community-inclusion envisioned in public-private partnerships. Scholars of multiscalar governance point to the ‘lower scales’ for renewed visions of participatory policy approaches (Sommerville 2011). In the US refugee resettlement domain of social welfare provision, grassroots Refugee Community Organizations (RCOs), formed and run by refugees themselves, operate alongside state-funded NGOs but are marginalized in official policy processes. Our study applies a critical perspective in re-examining RCOs within resettlement policy and the scope of services they provide vis-a-vis their state-funded counterparts. We draw on interviews with organizational leaders of RCOs in Bhutanese communities in 35 US cities, using directed content analysis. We find that the scope of RCO-provided services are wider— in terms of the “who, when, where, and how” of service provision — than those of state-funded organizations which are stifled by the regulatory and fiscal limits of federal policy. Who and when: Findings show that RCOs extend assistance well beyond the eligibility requirements and time limits of policy and target assistance to those neglected by work-oriented policies. Where and how: Whereas mainstream social welfare organizations have difficulty reaching marginalized communities, our findings show that grassroots RCOs are closer to the needs of refugee communities in terms of proximity and service delivery. In our final analysis, we argue that multi-scalar governance has not gone low enough. In the resettlement domain of social welfare, these most peripheral levels — at the grassroots — constitute the core and sustain multi-level governance.