4 things companies can do on World Refugee Day to go beyond philanthropy

By Gideon Maltz
as published in Global Giving on May 31, 2019

With 25 million people displaced from their home countries, the refugee crisis is a global challenge that the business community can’t ignore. The Executive Director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees shares business-based solutions.

As we approach World Refugee Day 2019, the global refugee population stands at an all-time high. With more than 25 million refugees around the world—an even greater number than at the end of the Second World War—the crisis shows little sign of abating. Recent crises are compounding the problem. Most recently, the number of people who have fled Venezuela has risen to more than 3.4 million, and experts predict millions more will leave in the coming years if current conditions don’t improve.

In addition, many of the world’s refugees, having fled countries with protracted crises like Somalia and South Sudan, remain displaced for long periods of time. In fact, half of all refugees today will be displaced for an average of 21 years.

At this scale, it’s clear that the refugee crisis isn’t just a challenge for traditional actors such as governments, multilateral organizations, and nonprofits—it’s also a challenge for the business community.

Traditionally, refugee crises have been framed around the short-term challenge of meeting immediate humanitarian needs. In that context, corporate philanthropy was especially valuable as it allowed NGOs and other actors to do their life-saving work. However, now that we know that refugees are typically displaced for a generation or more, there’s a real opportunity for companies to think past philanthropy and leverage their core business to support refugees in more sustainable ways. This goes beyond just “doing good”—it’s also doing good business.

At my organization, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, we work with businesses around the world to help them do just that. Here are four ways your company can go beyond philanthropy to make a meaningful impact on refugees’ lives:

  1. Hire refugees.
    Refugees are highly motivated and loyal employees, and research shows that they have higher retention rates than non-refugee employees. Although companies will have to make small adjustments and modest investments upfront to bring refugees into the workforce—like, for example, investing in language classes—these investments in training and hiring quickly yield dividends. That’s why companies are tapping into refugees’ potential as employees. The food services and facilities management company Sodexo has committed to hiring 300 refugees and fashion retailer Inditex has hired 100 refugees to date.
  2. Include more refugees in your supply chain.
    The majority of the world’s refugees today are hosted in low- and middle-income countries like Turkey, which hosts nearly four million refugees, and Colombia, which hosts more than one million. To reach these communities, companies can work with their supply chain partners to integrate more refugees. Major clothing brand Puma is working with its garment factories in Turkey to increase the percentage of refugees in their workforce, and furniture giant IKEA is sourcing artisanal products made by refugees in Jordan to sell globally.
  3. Support refugee entrepreneurs and refugee-owned businesses.
    A wide range of companies can improve refugee livelihoods by investing in, incubating and mentoring, or providing market access for refugee entrepreneurs and their enterprises. Refugees have shown to be highly entrepreneurial. In Turkey alone, Syrian refugees have started more than 6,000 companies since 2011, creating more than 55,000 jobs for refugees and the local community. Companies are already seizing these opportunity. ING, the Dutch financial institution, is providing $11 million in loans to help refugees launch new businesses in Turkey with the aim of creating 2,000 new jobs; and Uber Eats is supporting refugee-owned food businesses in Brazil by waiving fees and highlighting them on its platform for three months.
  4. Tailor your goods and services to better serve refugee communities.
    Companies can also tailor their existing commercial goods and services to better reach refugee populations—or create new ones that better meet refugees’ needs. Companies can actually build their customer base by reducing barriers for refugees to use their banking, telecommunications, and other products and services. For example, TD Bank offers refugees and other newcomers to Canada free checking accounts and credit cards for six months. Meanwhile Turkcell, the leading Turkish cell phone operator, has invested in additional cell phone towers and Arabic-speaking agents to better reach refugee customers in Turkey.

This World Refugee Day, we challenge you to think about how your company can go beyond philanthropy to step up to the refugee crisis. Collectively, we will have the greatest impact when we start seeing refugees not as victims, but as economically productive workers, entrepreneurs, and customers. These initiatives are good for refugees, good for the communities that host them, and good for business.

As published on Global Giving

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