Consultants supporting governments with refugee crisis

08 October 2015 4 min. read

With the refugee crisis becoming a growing practical issue, EU member states are increasingly turning to management consultants to bring practical solutions to the situation. While turning to management consultancies may be unexpected and even controversial for some, Alan Leaman, CEO of the MCA, says consultants may be able to bring considerable value to the table.

With increased global tension and widening conflict areas in Syria and Iraq, and with continued instability in sub-Saharan Africa – the plight of the world’s more than 50 million refugees continues. While two thirds of the refugees are displaced in their countries of origins, around 16 million people have fled their roots to find safe harbour abroad. The biggest forced movement of people since World War II comes however with a range of challenges for those dealing with the influx, including geo-political conflict, food and water shortages and pressure on infrastructure.


Rather than remaining a regional issue, with refugees taken in by neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan in the Middle East, recent months have seen more and more refugees on the move to Europe for safety. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of people in Europe comes with considerable practical, social and political issues – from states refusing to accept refugees on principle, to those that simply lack the infrastructure to house them. Europe is looking for solutions to provide care within the bounds of what is possible.

With systems buckling under the pressure, individual states have recently started turning to management consultancy for support – in Germany for instance the Government hired the prestigious McKinsey & Company to reduce waiting time for the processing of asylum claims, while across Europe reports are surfacing of consultancies being hired to support (local) governments with dealing with the repercussions of the refugee crisis.

Managing the crisis
In an interview with The World Tonight programme on BBC Radio 4, Alan Leaman, CEO of the MCA, elaborates on the value consultants can bring to the current crisis. According to Leaman, the vast talent and capacity management consultancies have on offer can be easily leveraged to make a clear diagnostic of the situation. “They will also look at what resources are already available within the client organisation that they can mobilise. From this they will complete an analysis that states what is really needed in order to get from A to B. It will be quite a creative process,” he says.

Alan Leaman - Dealing with the refugee crisis

Leaman proceeds with care however, noting that specifics of A and B are political and social issues – and it is not the role of consultancy firms to decide those issue for citizens and their representatives. Consultancies therefore need to be sensitive to the views of Germany and the wider EU. “It is important that when you are involved in an enormously complex project like this, that you think about the huge numbers of actors and players who are affected by it,” says Leman. “You must have good communications program in place and must understand the views and perspectives of different stakeholders, be it their government or others. The best management consultancies can be very alert to all those issues and bring them to the table when they do their analysis and recommendations.”

He reflects however that consultancies can develop possible solutions to current problems, as well as consider ways of preventing future issues. “Management consultants cannot duplicate or substitute for [government] but they can give advice. I am sure in instances like this management consultancy firms are offering good guidance and point out where perhaps problems can be solved more successfully by tackling them earlier in the process.”

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The cost
One question often asked by citizens and sometimes their representatives relates to the terms procuring the – often expensive – services from professional services to solve social and political issues. Leaman remarks that it is not always practical to hire in staff on a permanent basis for issues that only crop up from time to time. Through having an external party that can be relied on for advice only when it is required provides a beneficial solution for both parties – although care must be taken that the balance is maintained. “It makes sense in today’s world for governments to draw on the best advice, skills, knowledge and experience that is available to them, but not to burden themselves to employ that continuously. A lot of that is available on tap via the management consulting industry for them to use and deploy. It just doesn’t make sense for the public and the taxpayer to have to employ that all the time when it might not be used all year round.”