Report: Reclaiming lived experience leadership

Reclaiming Lived Experience Leadership was a conference organised in April 2024. Read the conference report to learn about how the event was conceived, key insights from the workshops, discussions and next steps.

June 2024


Reclaiming Lived Experience Leadership: Definition, power and opportunities is a report put together to capture and share key insights gained during a conference held on 25 April 2024 in London.

The Reclaiming Lived Experience Leadership conference, co-organised by Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, and Migration Exchange and generously funded by Reed Smith LLP and Unbound Philanthropy, brought together 75 staff and volunteers from various organisations in the UK refugee and migration sector. The report’s central themes revolve around lived experience leadership, dismantling barriers to power, and enhancing career opportunities for those with lived experience. The conference and the subsequent report aim to ‘catalyse much-needed action and commitment to the lived experience movement’.

Spotlight: Workshop on Understanding what lived experience means

Reem Assil on behalf of Migration Exchange, and as part of the Equity Catalyst Community of Practice, led a session on understanding what lived experience means by critically examining how lived experience is utilised in the refugee and migration sector and exploring its complexities in leadership and advocacy.


Key takeaways from this workshop

1.  Convening safer spaces and conversations

– The conference is part of an ongoing effort to centre lived experience leadership in a movement to shift power and re-imagine systems.



Reem’s workshops at the Reclaiming lived experience leadership conference, April 2024. Photo credit: Kolbassia Haoussou and Deluxe Mwengula

2.  Valuing lived experience expertise

– There is work to be done to better define and value lived experience leadership not solely as an identity, but as a practice and area of expertise.

– Avoid treating lived experience as a tick-box exercise and commit to valuing lived experience as well as learned experience.

3.  Driving societal change

– Change the media narrative to view refugee and asylum-seeker status as an experience, not just an identity.

Leadership Development – Migration Exchange


For MEX, the focus for this conference was on understanding lived experience leadership and developing a nuanced understanding in dialogue with others about what we mean by ‘lived experience leaders’.

This remains a key priority for MEX, guided by insights from our recent reports on sector priorities. According to our July 2023 report, People Power and Priorities, 65% of NGOs and 74% of funders identify increasing the meaningful involvement of people with lived experience as one of the sector’s top five priorities. Our 2022 report on leadership highlighted three essential areas for leadership development: addressing gaps in leadership development, supporting well-being, and overcoming barriers for leaders with lived experience.

The UK refugee and migration sector faces unprecedented challenges in the current political, economic, and social landscape. A strategic approach to leadership development is crucial to sustain impact and support the refugee and migration sector to bring about transformative change. We need leaders who can engage with complex challenges while firmly keeping a vision of the bigger picture and strategising for systemic change.

This is why our new pooled fund initiative ‘Shaping the Future’, will focus on boosting resources for organisations and networks in the refugee and migration sector that want to build their leadership capability and capacity. It will allow organisations to apply for funding to develop initiatives that nurture and support leaders working for change on refugee and migration issues. We are launching this fund in the coming months.

MEX is now seeking individuals to join the Co-Creation Group, which will design the parameters of the fund, ensure an equitable grant application process, and serve as the participatory grant-making panel to make decisions on the allocation of funding. If you are interested, please contact


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