Patterns of migration are affected by many different factors © Shutterstock

Adapting to a changing world
For an organization that plays such a critical role in protecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world, it is crucial to reform
1 Dec 2023

Born in the wake of the Second World War, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was designed to support those displaced by the deadliest and most destructive war in human history.

Today, it continues to assist people impacted by violence – extending humanitarian aid to migrants, migrant workers, internally displaced persons, and refugees. Initiatives include advocacy across International Migration Law, policy discourse, guidance, safeguarding migrants’ rights, and the promotion of migration health and gender equality.

Right now, the IOM is undergoing a series of structural, budget, and internal governance reforms, which aim to optimize and future-proof its operations. For an organization such as the IOM, it is crucial to reform for the sake of the people that it aims to serve. 

Irena Vojáčková-Sollorano is currently the Interim Deputy Director General (DDG) for Management and Reform at IOM and has worked in matters of global migration for more than 30 years. She explains that the reforms will capitalize on and further enhance IOM’s organizational strengths while identifying areas that will bolster and improve the quality of IOM’s operations. The goal, she points out, is to make IOM a more efficient, resilient, and impactful organization.

With operations in more than 400 offices across 160 countries, IOM has witnessed a doubling of staff numbers in the last six years alone. It now boasts 20,000 staff members, 7,000 non-staff personnel, and approximately 5,000 consultants. The majority of these staff (97%) work in the field. “We need to better equip them to support Member States in responding to emergencies and providing innovative solutions to challenges for migrants and host communities”, says DDG a.i. Vojáčková-Sollorano.

By identifying pain points and structural roadblocks as part of the review, the team responsible for managing the reforms has been able to formulate recommendations to address issues such as improving coordination, addressing duplication, dismantling silos, and eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy. Simultaneously, the reforms aim to enhance agility, consistency, accountability, and transparency across IOM. These reforms involve streamlining processes, applying different controls based on risk levels, and utilizing digitization and automation where appropriate.

A moment captured during migration © Freepik

The challenges anticipated in implementing these reforms are rooted in the complexities of the global landscape, as explained by DDG a.i. Vojáčková-Sollorano. “We operate in a very dynamic environment. Migration patterns are increasingly complex, driven and impacted by the changes we see in the world today,” she says. “Beyond this, we have been and are on the front lines of responses to crises worldwide. In this context, we should be aware that these reforms are taking place while our staff continue with their day-to-day work, providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and programming to respond to emerging needs”.

She also emphasizes that, to ensure the success of these reforms, it’s important to acknowledge that deep reforms can create a sense of insecurity among personnel, who are the organization’s main asset. Open and effective information sharing and communication are crucial to prevent the potential loss of talented staff, a risk that can be mitigated through a straightforward and honest approach. “We want IOM to become a better prepared and more inclusive space for our staff through these reforms. We are doing our best to manage the change and the best way to do that is through transparency, consultation, and communication”.

All staff members at IOM have been encouraged to contribute to reform efforts, with communication channels including virtual meetings, webinars, townhall sessions, weekly newsletters, and a dedicated platform accessible to all IOM staff.  The organization is also seeking external advice by engaging with the UN Advisory Alliance, which has experience in structural design and reviews projects within various UN agencies. “Change management teams are responsible for different reform areas, with a readiness to prioritize or de-prioritize initiatives based on evolving needs. Close collaboration with the staff welfare unit ensures that support is available for individuals and groups, while experienced staff counselors are on hand to assist in managing change and addressing feelings of uncertainty”, says Irena.

Once fully implemented, IOM is confident that it will be in a stronger position to serve migrants, Member States, and its workforce. Concluding with the organizational vision for their impact and the positive outcomes that will be achieved, DDG a.i. Vojáčková-Sollorano says, “These reforms enable IOM to lead the climate migration response, improve accountability to our stakeholders, build migration pathways, and invest in partnerships. Through a people-focused, data-driven, strategic approach, among others, IOM will have the structure, processes, and resources it needs to deliver effectively and efficiently in the field”. 

* Jamie Barclay is a Freelance Writer and Communications Consultant.
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