Power Dynamics and Self Determination
Power Dynamics
Download the Power Dynamics and Self-Determination sheet here
Download the entire AURA Sponsorship Handbook here

To successfully engage in refugee sponsorship, you must understand the power dynamics that may shape a sponsored newcomer’s experience, not only when it comes to the sponsor group, but with society in general. It is equally important to recognize and appreciate the importance of self-determination in newcomers’ lives. These concepts can be difficult to navigate and easy to ignore.

Take a moment to look at the diagram above and consider the differences between equality, equity and justice. As sponsors it is important to approach refugee sponsorship aiming to provide a fair and inclusive opportunity for newcomers to build their lives in Canada. This cannot be done, however, if we do not consider the power imbalance that exists within the sponsor-newcomer relationship, and respect their right to make their own choices.

Power Imbalance:
A power imbalance refers to a relationship where one party has more actual or perceived power than the other. An inherent power imbalance exists between the refugee sponsors and the sponsored refugees. As sponsors, you must be aware of pressuring newcomers to do or accept something that goes against their wishes. Be intentional about treating them with respect.

• You ask a newcomer to speak at your church about their experience. They may feel obliged despite not wanting to.
• You take pictures or videos of the newcomers and their children assuming but not asking if that is OK.
• You reach out to grab the baby of a family from her mother’s arms without asking the mother if you can.
A sponsor-newcomer relationship is not to be treated as a child-parent relationship. Avoiding a parent-like approach can be very challenging when you are responsible for someone financially, and genuinely care about his or her well-being.

The Right to Self-Determination:
Privately sponsored refugees have the right to make their own choices, after receiving the best information possible. It is NOT the group’s responsibility to choose for them, but rather to help them make informed decisions and understand the impact those decisions will have on their lives.

1. You may not share all the same values with those you sponsor.
2. A difference in values cannot impact the support you provide.
3. You may not always agree with the decisions newcomers make.
• You show newcomers where to buy cheap healthy food, but they shop at a more expensive store instead.
• You do not drink alcohol or smoke, but they do either one or both.
• Newcomers make a choice about their children’s education that you would not make for your own children.
• Newcomers hold strong religious beliefs that are challenging for your group to accept.

Strive to minimize the power difference by:
• Asking questions and carefully listening to answers.
• Checking for understanding, avoiding yes/no questions.
• Explaining things clearly, repeating important points over several meetings.
• Ensuring newcomers understand they have the right to make their own decisions.
• Explaining that as sponsors you also have certain responsibilities.
• Whenever possible/appropriate, provide options from which the newcomers can choose.

It is important to recognize that in our society, differences such as skin colour, language ability, background, religion and culture are factors that determine power and status and inevitably shape someone’s experience and ability to participate.

In a refugee sponsorship context, these differences may be magnified because, regardless of your group’s makeup, you will have a wealth of expertise and financial power that differs from that of the newcomers.

Refugee sponsorship is about utilizing your power and privilege to help newcomers find a meaningful and safe Canadian life. At the same time, you must be constantly mindful of how you can provide support in a way that encourages self sufficiency and independence.

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