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Promoting Settlement-Sponsor Collaboration: Best practices Report

Posted on:
April 17, 2019

Allies in Refugee Integration (ARI) Project
Ontario Council of Agencies Service Immigrants (OCASI) in partnership with Refugee 613
April 2019 | Avril 2019

Allies in Refugee Integration (ARI) is a 3 year IRCC-funded project that aims to strengthen collaboration between settlement service providers and refugee sponsorship groups in Ontario. Led by OCASI in partnership with Refugee 613, the focus of ARI is to drive innovation in order to ultimately improve settlement outcomes of privately sponsored refugees.

Executive Summary | Résumé

“The Allies in Refugee Integration (ARI) project emerged out of a belief that there is too often a lack of understanding between two important players who assist in the settlement of Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) or sponsored refugees: Private refugee sponsors and Service Provider Organizations (SPOs). They are common allies in supporting sponsored refugees in their first year in Canada, and each has an important role to play in their successful integration. However, sponsors and SPOs are not always working together efficiently. New tools are needed to improve settlement-sponsor teamwork in Ontario.

Based on the Canadian Federal Government’s 2019-2021 immigration levels plan, there is a planned increase in sponsored refugees arriving in Ontario. Therefore, the need to improve understanding and collaboration between these two key stakeholders has never been greater. The ARI project, led by OCASI in close partnership with Refugee 613, is responding to this need through collaborative approaches.

The purpose of this report is to summarize the findings from ARI’s Environmental Scan, conducted between July 2018 and February 2019. The results of the scan will form our baseline understanding of the current settlement-sponsor relationship. The project has three phases: an environmental scan of current and promising practices, followed by a co-design phase, and finally the piloting of selected tools to improve collaboration.

These findings will provide a direction and empirical grounding as ARI moves into the second phase of the project, bringing together stakeholders to collectively design tools that will improve settlement-sponsor collaboration in Ontario. ARI also hopes that the findings in this report will increase understanding in the sector and spark interest in SPOs and sponsors to consider how they can work better together in their communities. The ARI project seeks in all aspects of this project to keep the interests of sponsored refugees at the centre of all decisions, involving formerly sponsored refugees in research and decision-making throughout the project. The ARI project’s central aim is to improve the settlement experience of privately sponsored refugees so that they have the right kind of settlement support they need in their first year in Canada.

For this environmental scan, we conducted focus groups, interviewed key stakeholders, completed two online surveys, and undertook a literature review. We consulted with more than 341 individuals and dozens of academic and grey literature to capture the diverse voices and perspectives of the settlement, sponsor, and PSR communities in Ontario. While there is no monolithic experience of the above stakeholders, we were able to identify common themes in the current state of collaboration, including both the challenges and opportunities for growth.

Our research found that there are indeed collaborations occurring between SPOs and private sponsors, but they are mostly sporadic or based on personal connections. There is strong support among all stakeholders for increased collaboration. This is based in large part on the recognition that sponsored refugees will benefit from better teamwork as both SPOs and sponsors bring different sets of strengths and tools to the settlement process. Results suggested a need for increased mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities among sponsors and SPOs, and also an increased awareness of sponsored refugees and sponsors about what settlement services are available to them.

Our findings suggest that best practices for building collaborations in this context include:

·         Improving information sharing and collaborative settlement planning right from the beginning of the sponsorship, even before the arrival of sponsored refugees

·         More equitable programming for sponsored refugees at SPOs and considering community-wide and client-centred approaches to settlement programing could lead to greater interest in sponsored refugees and sponsors wishing to approach SPOs

·         Building strong interpersonal connections based on common understandings the value-added of each player

Stakeholders identified a number of barriers to greater collaboration, including:

·         A lack of understanding of mutual roles in PSR support

·         Contradictory messaging about roles from various authorities, including IRCC itself, that can lead to confusion and a lack of interest in working together

·         Constraints of sponsoring groups that are voluntary in nature and vary widely in experience, leading to inconsistent reaching out to SPOs

·         Restrictions experienced by SPOs whose funding models or confidentiality policies make it difficult to work with sponsors, especially in the pre-arrival period

Moving beyond the challenges to possible solutions, stakeholders had a lot of ideas on how to improve collaboration in support of sponsored refugees. While some of the following ideas could be seen as resource-heavy interventions, we believe that they could also increase efficiencies, avoid duplication of services, avoid costly sponsorship breakdown. These tools have the capacity to enable all sponsored refugees to have access the settlement services that fit their needs, and sponsors and settlement workers could avoid burnout. Stakeholders suggested interventions that include:

·         Creating opportunities for relationship-building between SPOs and sponsors concentrating on the value-added of each player Increased opportunities for information sharing, more frequent training for both sponsors and SPOs, and improved processes for connecting sponsors and SPOs

·         An important moment for intervention in improving the relationship was found to be before the arrival of the PSR during the settlement planning process

Learning Summaries | Sommaires d’apprentissage

Section 1 – What is currently happening in settlement-sponsor collaboration ?

1.       There is some confusion around the roles and responsibilities of SPOs and sponsors, and a need for increased mutual understanding.

2.       There are collaborations already happening, and sponsors, settlement workers, and sponsored refugees alike generally see the importance of collaboration. However, most current collaborations are sporadic and based on personal connections.

3.       While some sponsored refugees and sponsors do access settlement services, a number of sponsors and sponsored refugees are unaware of the settlement services or feel unwelcome in settlement agencies.

4.       There is a wide variance in experiences and needs of sponsors and sponsored refugees in accessing settlement services.

Section 2 – What are the benefits and best practices of collaboration ?

1.       There is strong support for the importance of collaboration amongst all stakeholders.

2.       The primary motivation of sponsors and SPOs to work more collaboratively together is to expand the resources available to sponsored refugees.

3.       Best practices include innovative settlement and programming approaches, such as client-centred or community-wide responses to refugee settlement.

4.       Successful collaboration relies upon interpersonal connections, and the method and quality of these connections has a big impact on the desire to work together.

5.       Ensure players have the necessary information at the right time, and get the sponsorship off to a good start by understanding what SPOs and sponsors can do.

Section 3 – What are the challenges and how can we overcome them ?

1.       The top challenges identified were lack of time and resources, as well as not understanding how sponsors and settlement can work together.

2.       Some of the internal dynamics of sponsorship can prevent or delay sponsors from reaching out and collaborating with SPOs.

3.       SPOs sometimes aren’t given the tools and information they need to reach out effectively and target their services to local PSR needs.

4.       SPOs ability to work with sponsors is limited by internal dynamics, such as confidentiality concerns or funding restrictions.

5.       Some sponsors and sponsored refugees don’t always feel welcome in SPOs or find programs meet their needs, leading to a lack of interest in working together.

Section 4 – Pilot ideas and key factors for successful collaboration

1.       Create opportunities for relationship-building and trust between SPOs and sponsors.

2.       Stakeholders seek a more intentional process for connecting sponsors and SPOs.

3.       During the settlement planning process, and again upon arrival of the PSR are two key moments to build healthy connections between settlement and sponsors.

4.       Stakeholders want improved methods for information sharing, and in particular training opportunities.


“The ARI project’s environmental scan, including extensive consultation with stakeholders and discussions of best practices in the sector, formed a baseline understanding of the benefits, challenges, and opportunities for collaboration. Our findings confirm the need for improvement in settlement-sponsor teamwork. Stakeholders see the value that collaboration can bring to the settlement of sponsored refugees, and made concrete suggestions for how to bring these natural allies closer together. We hope that this research is not just useful for the ARI project, but can be a useful baseline for organizations across the country to have an evidence-based approach to strengthening collaboration. This research is valuable for the design and experience of private sponsorship, but could be relevant for those looking to promote new partnerships in support of newcomers, between faith organizations and settlement organizations, for volunteer programs that support GARs, and more. By engaging the community in the effort of welcoming refugees in a very tangible way, our communities are strengthened and our efforts to welcome newcomers are magnified. In order to give the best possible support to sponsored refugees in their settlement journey, we cannot afford to work in silos any more. Our findings emphasized that no matter what kind of intervention is undertaken to improve settlement-sponsor teamwork, it is first important to remove the barriers to collaboration, and to centre the needs of the PSR in all decisions. Thanks to the generous and insightful input of hundreds of privately sponsored refugees, sponsors, and SPOs who shared their experiences, we now have a way to move forward together as allies in refugee integration.”

Download the full report | Télécharger le rapport complet (en anglais) :

Related resources | Ressources connexes :

Allies in Refugee Integration Project

·         Working together to support sponsored refugees: A literature review on best practices in settlement-sponsor collaboration (April 2019)

·         Best Practices infographic

·         Webinar: Best practices for sponsors-settlement collaboration (April 2019)

Refugee Settlement Support Project

·         Refugee Settlement Pilot Project Report (2017)

·         Working with Refugees – Resource library

Making Ontario Home (MOH) Study | L’étude MOH(2012)

Collaboration Toolkit (2010) – North Etobicoke Local Immigration Partnership

Refugee 613 website | Site Web Réfugié 613

Research and Evaluation Branch Knowledge Scans (available externally on request) |

Analyse des connaissances de la Direction générale de la recherche et de l’évaluation (disponible à l’extérieur sur demande)

·         Privately sponsored refugees – Social and economic outcomes – 2019-03-04

·         Privately sponsored refugees – Sponsor motivations, characteristics and experiences – 2019-02-18

·         Refugee resettlement outcomes – 2018-11-06

·         Syrian refugees – Resettlement outcomes – 2018-10-18

·         Vulnerable migrants – Settlement – 2019-01-22


Research at a Glance is designed to inform the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) community and other interested parties about recently published, policy-relevant research from government, academic and NGO sources. The views expressed in the documents described do not necessarily reflect those of IRCC.


The purpose of this report is to summarize the findings from ARI’s Environmental Scan, conducted between July 2018 and February 2019. The results of the scan will form our baseline understanding of the current settlement-sponsor relationship.