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Commons in Action

"Commons in action" is a joint program by the IASC and the Elinor Ostrom Award. The animation was done by the Viumasters. Get to know their work at

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Migration – Helping build sustainable communities?

People are on the move. The latest figure shows that one in every seven persons in the world is a migrant. Do migrants augment or destroy communities and the common resources communities depend upon? This is the question that development sociologist Kei Otsuki from Utrecht University is addressing at the Biennial Conference of the International Association for Study of the Commons (Utrecht, July 10-14, 2017).

Conventionally, common resources enable people to share a community objective of managing their living environment. Common resources and communities are considered to be resilient and sustainable when people are well-organized and manage their resources collectively. In many current discussions, migrants are described as outsiders, with nothing to contribute to the community, and in fact possibly a threat to community.

In her research in Latin America and Africa, Kei Otsuki has found that migrants are very flexible and responsive people who gain new knowledge and survival capacity when they are forced to move in or out of communities. They learn new technology and practices from working in new places, and when they return, they innovate their ways of doing things; or when they resettle they improvise both infrastructure and livelihoods. Migrants can thus recreate communities and join in designing newly sustainable societies – and that needs to be appreciated by policy-makers, citizens, and migrants themselves.

Kei Otsuki
Utrecht University

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Photo of a migrant farmer in front of his okra farm in Ghana: It is culturally rare for men to farm okra in the region but he believes his innovative farming helps the community

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