August 19, 2015

Congratulations to Olga Abilova MIA ’15, David Braha MIA ’15, Isabela Cunha MIA ’15, and Jessica Dalton, a master’s degree candidate at Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, who together authored a paper that was recently selected as a finalist in this year’s Geneva Challenge.

A project of the Graduate Institute of Geneva, the Geneva Challenge is a competition that seeks theoretically grounded, pragmatic solutions to a designated international development problem. The subject of the 2015 challenge is how return migration can contribute to social or economic development.

The challenge is open to interdisciplinary teams of three to five students in master’s degree programs around the world. Patrons include Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, and Jenö C.A. Staehelin, a former permanent representative of Switzerland to the UN in New York.

After preparing the competition paper in their final semester at school, the authors learned in late July that theirs had been selected from 44 submissions as one of three finalists.

They will travel to Geneva and present the paper to a conference jury on October 12.

“We’re pleased to share this news with the SIPA community,” Abilova wrote. “We would never have been able to get this far in the competition without everything that we learned in our SIPA degree.”

Abilova summarized the paper, titled “The Ethics of Remitting: Building a Normative Framework for the Inclusion of Remittances in Policy Discussions on Migration and Development,” as follows:

The evidence is clear: Migration can be a significant driver of international development. International labor migrants, who make up 3 percent of the world’s population, send more than $400 billion annually in remittances to their countries of origin. This number is three times the size of official development assistance worldwide, making it the largest source of aid.

Compared to other types of development assistance, remittances do not cost taxpayers anything. Yet remitting is very expensive for migrants: In addition to paying tax on their income like anyone else, labor migrants are subject to high fees on the sending of their remittances, and often to double-taxation.

Due the potential role remittances can play in development, the paper argues that the current legal infrastructure on remittances and migration fails to align practice with the ethical debate. Our proposal thus addresses this misalignment by strengthening international law to clarify and provide guidelines that protect the rights of migrant workers to remit, as well as strengthening the role of remittances in the global framework for development, which ultimately acts to ease migration in line with upholding the ethical principles of justice and individual liberty in international relations.

Olga Abilova is researching conflict management and post-conflict development at the Center for Peace Operations of the International Peace Institute.

David Braha is traveling and exploring professional opportunities.

Isabela Cunha is a consultant with the Beyond 2015 campaign advocacy team in New York.

Jessica Dalton is completing the MA program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.