The Sergio Vieira de Mello Chairs Model: GAIN's flagship initiative

If your institution is interested in becoming a De Mello Chair, please contact [email protected]

The De Mello Chairs is a partnership between UNHCR and universities at the local level aiming to promote:

  • Teaching on forced displacement, human rights and statelessness
  • Research on forced displacement and statelessness
  • Community outreach to exiled scholars & students

About the De Mello Chairs

What are De Mello Chairs? 

De Mello Chairs are universities or academic institutions committed to addressing forced displacement by engaging in research, teaching, and community outreach activities. By committing to specific activities under these workstreams, universities become partners of UNHCR through a non-transactional Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the country level.

The MoU establishes a structured framework for collaboration on common priorities, including but not limited to student training, government training, exchange of information, visibility strategies, and service provision (including legal aid, documentation, MHPSS, language courses, and more).

A group of people face the camera and smile


  • Preference is given to universities due to their inherent capacity to implement activities under the three workstreams. However, other academic institutions are also eligible if they can operate within these.
  • Proof of ongoing implementation of at least one activity under each workstream. In exceptional cases where no activities are ongoing in one of the workstreams, universities can still become Chairs if they commit to implementing one activity in that workstream within the MoU.
  • Ability to sign a Memorandum of Understanding valid for 2 to 4 years.
  • Located in a country where UNHCR operates or is active.
  • Annual reporting on the three workstreams.
  • Ability to adopt a whole-of-university/whole-of-institution approach (as opposed to activities limited to only one school or department) is an advantage.
  • For universities based in high-income countries, a commitment to equal or enhanced collaboration with universities based in low- and middle-income countries is necessary.

While the De Mello Chair MoU is non-transactional, it does not preclude the possibility of UNHCR signing a partnership agreement to fund specific community outreach activities or commissioned research by the organization. You can find the De Mello Chairs Terms of Reference here.

A group of people face the camera and smile
    Find out more
    View all
    Why become a De Mello Chair? 
    • A tested and successful model building on 20 years of implementation in Brazil
    • A flexible framework for collaboration with UNHCR at the national/local level
    • An opportunity to exchange and learn from other institutions supporting forcibly displaced and stateless persons
    • A commitment to establish sustainable and durable teaching, research and outreach activities in support of displaced and stateless persons
    • A recognition of institutional efforts to respond to forced displacement situations

    Join the expanding network of Sergio Vieira de Mello Chairs, which spans across Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, and the United Kingdom.

    The first Chair was established in 2003 in Brazil to promote research, teaching, and community outreach activities that address local challenges and build on local opportunities. Through GAIN and since 2021, the De Mello Chairs have become an international model for cooperation between academics and UNHCR to facilitate partnerships and exchanges that transcend continents.

    Participation in the De Mello Chair program offers universities in the Global North an opportunity to become a champion in establishing equal and sustainable partnerships with universities and institutions in the Global South. The model not only fosters partnerships and information exchange with UNHCR but also embodies principles of empowering and amplifying the voices of those directly affected by forced displacement.

    For universities in the Global South, collaboration with the UNHCR at the operational, research, and outreach levels also yields valuable benefits. Engaging in technical expertise exchanges enhances their operational capabilities, while strengthening the visibility of locally produced actionable research. Additionally, the model is an entry point for strengthening institutional trust between UNHCR and academic institutions that can lead to other partnerships and joint activities at the grassroots level.

    Concrete Examples of Collaboration

    Teaching: The University of Essex in the UK has collaborated with the University of Addis Ababa to develop a post-graduate curriculum focused on forced displacement in Ethiopia. Universities in Brazil have shared teaching resources with Chairs in the Dominican Republic, fostering knowledge exchange and cross-pollination of ideas.

    Research: INTEC (Dominican Republic) has partnered with the International Development and Research Centre to establish the first De Mello-IDRC Research Chair, forging a collaboration that combines expertise in forced displacement and development.

    Solidarity: The University for Peace in Costa Rica has introduced DAFI scholarships in 2022, providing educational opportunities to individuals affected by displacement. Furthermore, Brazilian Universities have extended post-graduate and research programmes to forcibly displaced students and scholars.

    By becoming a De Mello Chair, academic institutions can actively contribute to addressing forced displacement challenges while promoting global collaboration and inclusive educational opportunities.

    How to become a De Mello Chair?

    If your university or academic institution is interested in becoming a De Mello Chair and already has an existing informal collaboration/relationship with UNHCR at the country level, please reach out to your focal point in the country and explore que possibility of becoming a Chair. If your university does not have an existing relationship with UNHCR at the country level or is based in a country where the model is already active (UK, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Brazil and Costa Rica), please contact GAIN at [email protected].

    How can you support the De Mello Chairs?

    If you are interested in partnering with or providing fit-for-purpose funding for universities based in low- and middle-income countries in support of teaching, research and community outreach services, please contact [email protected]. Please note that partnerships can be facilitated by UNHCR but established directly with the academic institution.

    How is the De Mello Chair different from the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network?

    The De Mello Chairs have a formal partnership with a UNHCR country office through a properly tracked and reported on MoU. Conversely, GAIN is an informal network of academics and institutions that are willing to contribute to the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). While both GAIN members and De Mello Chairs operate within the same workstreams of teaching, research, and solidarity, there are key distinctions between them.

    GAIN members have the flexibility to choose their level of involvement and contribution to the GCR, focusing on a specific workstream if desired. In contrast, De Mello Chairs actively engage across all three workstreams, demonstrating a comprehensive commitment to addressing forced displacement more generally.

    GAIN, chaired by academic institutions, aims to foster connections between academics and practitioners at the global level. It serves as a platform to bridge the gap between theory and practice. On the other hand, the De Mello Chairs establish localized partnerships with UNHCR, operating at the local level to address specific challenges and opportunities within their respective countries.

    These initiatives are complementary in nature. The operational character of the De Mello Chairs can be further enhanced by the support and collaboration of GAIN, while GAIN can benefit from the Chairs' practical knowledge of on-the-ground challenges and opportunities. Together, they contribute to a comprehensive approach in addressing forced displacement and advancing the objectives of the GCR.

    Where are the De Mello Chairs framework active?

    GAIN Secretariat

    • Professor Liliana Lyra Jubilut, GAIN Chair, Universidade Católica de Santos (Catholic University of Santos), Brazil
    • Professor Geoff Gilbert, GAIN Chair, University of Essex, United Kingdom
    • Ana Carolina Pinto Dantas, Associate Protection Officer, UNHCR Headquarters