ARU in Spain – The work of Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)

The Spanish ARU was set at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, using the facilities offered by the university itself. The UCM team counted on several experts in Social and Computer Sciences, with a background in RRI and forced migration to start the work of the ARU. UCM team was able to leverage on previous experience in projects and innovation actions to activate contacts and participants. The first ARU meeting took place in July 2019. Later, with the COVID-19 outbreak, the meetings were all held online. Both in face to face and virtual ARU meetings, all attendees were divided into working groups to discuss about the different issues that were posed. The ARU started working as an open structure, welcoming experts and actors from different fields due to their interesting profiles, being them experts in dealing with the detected vulnerable group, with forced displaced people, or upon recommendation of other ARU members. The process of engagement of stakeholders was an ongoing process along the years. As an example, some institutions, specialists and civil society activists, for example already working with Sub-Saharan women, were identified later in the project, once that this vulnerable group was chosen for the TAIS. Examples of the ARU actors include UNHCR, Red Cross Spain, and Madrid City Council. The most difficult helixes to involve were companies/business, public administration and individual FDP. In the specific case of the Spanish ARU, it was crucially important to engage beneficiaries of the TAIS, to avoid revictimization. However, especially for the FDP, the change of residence prevented many from joining the ARU meetings with continuity.

As a result of the fieldwork and the discussion in the ARU, one of the vulnerable groups that was identified was Sub-Saharan women because of the special difficulties for inclusion during transit and destination areas: violence, racism, gender discrimination, language, and greater migratory mourning. To these vulnerabilities, being single mothers or family charges can be added. On the other hand, all interviewers during the fieldwork highlighted the difficulty of finding a decent and stable job in Spain.

The aim of this TAIS is to develop skills to promote the socioeconomic inclusion of sub-Saharan refugee women or applicants for international protection in Spain. The women beneficiaries are the principal actors, the centre of the action. All resources are at their disposal. The TAIS focuses on empowering the group of beneficiaries and promoting their autonomy. It is a training and support process with two courses of action:

In terms of entrepreneurship, so that they can create a collective productive project (cooperative)

Strengthening of abilities and preparation for a greater employability and professional growth

Changing the migrants’ narratives empowering beneficiaries to start their own businesses

The Spanish ARU has worked since the beginning with high ambitions. Given the capacity of the project, the ARU leaders and members aim to drive an actual change in the lives of the beneficiaries, providing them with tools and advices to face discrimination, empowering them through inclusion, understanding and real-life support. They aim to advise beneficiary women and support their business development. Final beneficiaries are activated through learning and exchange processes, labour insertion and accompaniment dynamics with other women. The work of the ARU became even more relevant and necessary in the current isolation situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the health and social crisis. Moreover, the ARU worked coherently in the promotion of a change in the narratives of the migrants themselves, knowing that there are different possibilities for their future, involving volunteers, the university and the society in general in the co-creation of new, powerful and meaningful stories. Another great element of strength in the Spanish ARU was the ability to engage stakeholders well beyond the TAIS implementation, producing a change not only in the beneficiaries’ lives, but also in the working methodology and approaches of all the organisations involved. In this sense, exchange has been a driving factor and one of the main side-effects of the ARU establishment, enriching in turn the outcomes of the project itself.

    The ARU has faced different challenges. How were you able to involve different stakeholders of the helix?

    At first, the most difficult helixes to involve were policy makers and business. But, without a doubt, the most difficult helix was business. The Spanish ARU has among the stakeholders some organisations focused on entrepreneurship with migrants, and occupation of migrants. Nevertheless, their availability for the ARU meetings and reports for the TAIS is smaller than other helixes such as NGOs. In the specific case of TAIS beneficiaries, they have not participated in ARU meetings except on rare occasions, as reported by the ARU Leader, such as TAIS evaluations, due to their Spanish level and the difficulty of participating on equal terms with social services providers. Nevertheless, other forced migrants have actively participated in ARU meetings, granting the success and efficacy of the Unit.

    How to overcome difficulties in the decision-making process, in the co-creation processes?

    A key issue to avoid the problem is anticipation before misunderstandings may arise. ARU members feel free to express their opinion and ideas. A space of free participation has been created, since many stakeholders’ needs and complaints are shared. The rise of anti-immigration political parties in Spain has not affected the Third Sector in this regard, except that some experts asked to be identified at an individual level and not representing the official position of their organisations.

    How to avoid losing the participation of ARU members that are not directly involved in the TAIS? How to motivate stakeholders to participate in the ARUs work?

    A big challenge has been not losing the participation of ARU members that are not directly involved in the TAIS. UCM has worked to do so by different means, such as providing perspective to the work of the ARU in the future. Means of engagement were: talking about the future observatory; using the online platform to share information and good practices related to their expertise; the development of policy recommendations so that necessities can be heard; participation of forced migrants that are not included in the TAIS in the documentary film…

    Positive and innovative factors of the ARU working
    • We have managed to hold bimonthly meetings, even with the added difficulties of the pandemic. It is an ARU in constant growth, operation, and participation.
    • There has been a transfer of knowledge of great value to stakeholders and their organizations, which can be a factor of innovation and generate positive impacts on their professional experience. Methodologies and new forms of participation, project results, good practices, training courses, new contacts, and work networks are some examples of transference.
    • Spaces have been created to share experiences among the different stakeholders of the helixes of RRI.
    • Other initiatives, different to the TAIS, have emerged as a result of the ARU´s activity: teaching innovation activities, contacts for the documentary, an app in collaboration with university students and the knowledge of ARU members, an international conference for young researchers and innovators (Research for Change), a story contest, collecting ideas for the future observatory…


    It gives me the opportunity to activate and create, from a network that considers different voices: migrants and refugees themselves, social organizations, and the university

    The stakeholder narrating the experience in the framework of the Spanish ARU is Maribel Rodríguez from the organization La Merced Migraciones, a civil society organization which has been working for more than 30 years to guarantee protection and promotion of the inclusion of migrants and refugees in vulnerable situations. The interview is a tangible proof of the willingness of stakeholders to participate in the ARU, despite being oversaturated in their jobs, taking the project as the opportunity to grow, share and be heard. From conversations, dialogue and exchange very valuable people met, with great contributions. The great human capital of the ARU members is rewarded through the ARU work itself. Maribel highlighted how the ARU contributed to her routine both professionally and personally. It gave her the opportunity to stop and think, analyse and exchange impressions; to activate and create, from a network that considers different voices: migrants and refugees themselves, social organizations, and the university; to serve participating women, assess actions and improve. It also helped her to acquire a methodology of work, facilitate and systematize initiatives, planning carefully. Personally, it provided her the opportunity to listen to others’ experiences, other ways of doing things, challenging and building her way of being in the world. All in all, it was a valuable learning experience, learning new approaches and visions on vulnerability and vulnerable contexts.