Sep 24, 2020
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Finding Talent & Entrepreneurs Among 21 Million Global Refugees

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For the last five years news and images from the Syrian civil war have jarred our collective consciousness. Whether it s the heart-wrenching photos of kids killed drowned or injured by expensive bombs or the consequences of the civil war and associated rise of the Islamic State Americans have watched helplessly from afar – unsure about whether to engage wary of accepting refugees into the United States and frustrated that international efforts have failed

 

But over the last few months culminating with last week s White House Summit on Refugees several organizations have launched important efforts to humanize the refugee crisis and use capital and technology to aid refugees take more control of their own lives. The main ambitious of these efforts seeks to spot entrepreneurs and those with unique skills within refugee camps and communities and attach them with the resources to re-launch their careers or businesses successfully

 

With over 2 million displaced Syrians it’s a safe bet that many of them are extremely talented and capable. Play Video The most important efforts is by Hewlett Packard which committed to opening HP Learning Studios in Jordan and Lebanon including the NGO Digital Promise Microsoft and Intel. Consistent with Nate Hurst Chief Sustainability Officer for HP these computer learning centers will serve two important purposes

 

First they will provide top of the line hardware and software to students in refugee camps and communities to apply for online learning and re-skilling. For older students access to the net skilling programs can ultimately connect them to gainful employment in the region. Any other is a partnership between HP and International Medical Corps to create a Livelihood Center in Istanbul Turkey that will provide app design courses and technical skills development courses

 

The objective is to aid refugees to become entrepreneurs and source freelance work from around the world while using the Livelihoods Center as combination co-working space classroom and contracting office. Children carry their schoolbags as they head to college at the first day of classes at a refugee camp. [+] The Cambridge MA based NGO RefugePoint has long advocated that refugee organizations such UNHCR look deeper at the skill sets and needs of refugees

 

RefugePoint has developed a different model to aid refugee agencies understand individual families their skills and needs better – with the hope that this knowledge can help you allocate resources more effectively and speed the location of refugees into permanent homes and jobs by better understanding their existing skills and experiences

 

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Finally we’ve started to determine the investment community look at refugees and displaced migrants as a potential asset to be developed. This has been termed migrant lens investing – such as the term gender-lens investing which applies to programs that target women entrepreneurs and products and services for girls round the world

 

In this case the focus is opportunities led by migrants. George Soros s $500 million investment announcement following the first-ever UN summit on migrants and refugees is a notable launch to this new investment class. And several global foundations have committed to exploring migrant-lens investing to actively invest in companies serving migrant communities but also actively divesting from companies that exploit refugees and migrants including construction firms in Qatar and for-profit prison/detention center operators

 

Unfortunately the wider philanthropic community has shied faraway from the cause of refugees during the last year by significantly reducing grants to refugee groups using the capability political backlash. Only the UPS Foundation Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the IKEA Foundation have stepped up funding in this area in 2016 consistent with Giving USA

 

There are many investment programs already for diaspora communities and migrants. Indeed Indian and Israeli entrepreneurs worldwide have depended on their diaspora s for seed funding for decades – with incredible success. With refugee communities however we frequently fail to distinguish between people with the abilities and experience to launch businesses and create jobs in their adopted country and those who simply need humanitarian relief medical and language assistance

 

One notable exception is Canada which has already started to create investment funds loan guarantees and small business development programs for migrants and refugees to integrate quickly and become economically productive citizens. The United States and Europe should seek to follow their example. The United Nations estimates that there are 65 million displaced persons worldwide of which 21 million are refugees

 

Thus even large companies are seeing opportunities in this unfortunately growing market segment. Ikea s temporary shelters for refugee camps to illustrate are safer and more secure than traditional canvas tents. Large companies like Ikea can respond more quickly and with greater flexibility than governments and many have secured large public contracts making them a beautiful option for investors at a time when the advent of refugees shows no sign of abating

 

There’s a fine line between helping refugees using the ability of commercial innovation and entrepreneurship and exploiting them to make money. Government agencies the media and NGO s should be vigilant about this. But the work of HP Refuge Point and Soros are a strong indication that in the refugee camps there are possibly thousands of educated smart and resourceful leaders professionals and entrepreneurs

 

Rather than waste their potential and economically productive years we should support and expand these programs vertically and horizontally across industries

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