World Refugee Day: How business can step up when government retreats

  • Published: 27 June 2018
  • Author: Aaron Sloan

On 20th June, for World Refugee Day 2018, António Guterres, UN Secretary General asked the world, “What would you do if you were forced to leave your home?”

Each day last year, 45,000 individuals were confronted with this question as they fled their homes trying to escape persecution, conflict or violence, driving the number of forcibly displaced to a record high of 68.5 million worldwide. This record is likely soon to be eclipsed as two-thirds of refugees face protracted displacement of five years or more, and  socioeconomic and environmental causes spark new crises and exacerbate existing situations, sending the numbers of refugees spiraling even higher.

Guterres went on to call for solidarity, compassion and action. However, the current political climate in the West, is one in which anti-immigration sentiment runs high and provisions for protection and solutions for resettlement are increasingly facing opposition. In the void created by government fearmongeringinaction and pushback against immigration, actors as far ranging as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Pope are calling on the private sector to step up, show leadership and meet these challenges.

Business sense

Numerous multinational corporations (MNCs) are already active in empowering the displaced. When interviewed for this article, David Keegan, CEO of Australian refugee focused non-profit Host International enthused that the benefits are mutual. “Refugees not only meet labor needs but also add diversity and loyalty to the companies that hire them,” adding that, “They are resilient, motivated and resourceful [and] an untapped source of labor and are found all over the world.” Fiscal Policy Institute research has shown the retention figures for refugees to be higher than other employees across industry sectors, in addition to individuals possessing sought-after personal qualities such as resilience and problem-solving ability.

As an indication of the private sector appetite for hiring refugees, in Australia 300 businesses have signed up to the online job matching platform, Refugee Talent, since it went live in 2015. The service helps refugees already in Australia find work in their field. Keegan affirms that, “There’s a growing body of research and analysis, bolstered by personal stories, that show that refugees and former refugees enliven economies and cultures.”

Private sector and non-governmental organizations from Australia to America are providing the networks, platforms and tools to support companies eager to engage and empower refugees, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides three key ways for businesses to step up and help.

Three ways business can step up

In his speech given at the Google Zeitgeist Conference on May 15, David Miliband, IRC President & CEO listed the record high statistics on the global refugee crisis and provided three key ways in which businesses can step up to help:

  1. The provision of cash. The biggest thing refugees and displaced people lack is cash, and the most powerful aid tool is cash. Corporate initiatives like Mastercard’s payments technology has helped to reduce inefficiencies and expenses, add transparency, empower refugees, and stimulate local markets in Kenya and Uganda. Programs are currently being tested and scaled up in 2018.
  2. The transformation of education. Three-quarters of refugee children are not getting an education and many of them have deep social-emotional trauma. Companies can work with NGOs to train and equip teachers and parents utilizing both technology (as Microsoft and IRC in Thailand) and face-to-face interaction to ensure displaced children have access to a future-securing education.
  3. Engineering a new deal on employment. “Refugees are people like you and me yet they have been ripped from their homes due to war and discrimination. They want to make a new home for themselves and work is a critical vehicle to independence,” said Keegan, CEO, Host International. Initiatives such as those by Starbucks (see below) and Intel ensure host communities can welcome refugees and be positively impacted by these new arrivals.

“Precisely at the moment when we most need a redoubling of effort, governments are reducing their effort. And that means NGOs, business, and private citizens need to step up in their place,” said Miliband.

Mapping for impact

In spite of, and in response to the negative impacts on refugees induced by government policies such as the heavily media-covered closed-door and ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policies in the USA, which have seen the US resettle the lowest number of refugees in the history of its 38-year refugee program, and separated more than 2,000 children from their parents as they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, corporations are increasingly recognizing the need for (and benefits of) employing and empowering refugees, and organizations like The Tent Foundation (Tent) are helping to support private sector efforts.

The Tent Foundation is a non-profit organization working to mobilize the private sector to improve the livelihoods of the forcibly displaced and meet what its founder calls “one of the defining challenges of our generation.” Tent, along with the Center for Global Development, a U.S. nonprofit think tank, have released a report on the overlap between refugees and major urban areas in low and middle income countries to highlight implications for employment opportunities and MNC engagement.

The report, ‘Are Refugees Located Near Job Opportunities?’, aims to showcase the locations where companies and other actors are best placed to affect change through hiring and supply chains, as innovators or as policy influences. An embedded interactive mapping tool provides key information including the number of refugees of working age in the major cities and the number of OECD MNCs in that country. “These findings are critical for companies and regional businesses that are looking to engage refugees where they live,” said Gideon Maltz, executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees.

For instance, in Malaysia, home to more than 92,000 refugees, the map makes clear that 79 percent are of working age and located in or around Kuala Lumper. This represents a potential labor pool of almost 73,000 candidates to the 2091 MNCs headquartered in OECD countries with operations in the country.

Solidarity, compassion and action

The Tent Partnership for Refugees boasts a network of more than 80 corporate heavyweights such as Citi, IBM, Google, Mastercard and Unilever who have made commitments to use their skills and resources to support refugees. Beyond solidarity through commitment, corporations are exhibiting the action Guterres called for.

Starbucks: In the wake of President Trump suspending the US refugee program, Starbucks CEO, Howard Shultz penned a letter to staff announcing that Starbucks would hire 10,000 refugees over five years in the 75 countries around the world where it does business. Shultz wrote of doubling down on the company’s values, linking the initiative to Starbucks’ purpose as providing a place of respite for those who seek it.

Google: Google engineers have leveraged their strengths while working with IRC to create to allow refugees to find out where they are, what services are available, and how to report abuse in receiving countries like Greece and Jordan where language and determining one’s location may prove challenging particularly on first arrival. Over 800,000 unique visitors have used the website across 18 different countries.

WeWork: After a refugee-hiring pilot program which saw retention rates higher than 80 percent, WeWork has made a commitment to hire 1,500 refugees over the next five years.

Purpose, reach and impact

MNCs have the reach and capacity to contribute to livelihood initiatives that support both refugees and host communities which can often struggle with high unemployment and limited economic opportunities before the arrival of refugees. Numerous corporations across the globe are defining their purpose and many are finding it overlaps with refugee needs in their areas of operation. Those in a position to explore opportunities with refugees not only answer the needs of the vulnerable and the call of global leaders, but can build into their companies the resilience evident in displaced individuals and boost employee retention rates. Supported by NGOs and powerful tools like Tent’s data-backed interactive map, businesses are provided with the knowledge, networks and platforms from which to explore. The greatest challenge of our time will not be overcome with the indifference of business-as-usual; it’s time more companies stepped up and stood #WithRefugees.

  • For more information about how your company can step up, contact Aaron Sloan ([email protected]).
  • For further information about the Tent Partnership for Refugees, contact Yaron Schwarz ([email protected]).
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