On World Refugee Day 2019, the refugee population around the world stands at over 25 million refugees—even more than at the end of the Second World War. Most of the world’s refugees today have fled countries with long-term crises, like Somalia and South Sudan. This means they’ll be displaced for long periods of time: in fact, half of all refugees will be displaced for 20 years or more.
Now that we know that refugees are typically displaced for a generation or more, there’s a real opportunity for businesses to go past philanthropy, and think about how they can support refugees in more sustainable ways. This goes beyond just “doing good”—it’s also doing good business.
WeWork is a member of the Tent Partnership for Refugees—an organization that works with businesses around the world to make a meaningful impact on refugees’ lives. Here are four ways companies can do just that:
1. Hire refugees into your workforce
Refugees are highly motivated and loyal employees, and research shows that they are likely to stay with an employer for longer than non-refugee employees. Although businesses will have to make some tweaks and small investments upfront to bring refugees into the workforce—like, for example, offering language classes––these investments will quickly return dividends. That’s why WeWork launched the WeWork Refugee Initiative: a commitment to employ 1,500 refugees over five years and encourage its more than 50,000 member companies to hire refugees and offer them support in other ways.
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 over a million. To reach these communities, companies can work with their suppliers to integrate more refugees. Major brands like Puma are working with their factories in Turkey to increase the percentage of refugees in their workforce, and furniture giant IKEA is sourcing hand-crafted products made by refugees and locals in Jordan to sell in IKEA stores.
3. Support refugee entrepreneurs and refugee-owned businesses
Companies can also improve refugees’ lives by investing in, incubating and mentoring, and providing market access for refugee entrepreneurs and their small businesses. Refugees have shown to be incredibly entrepreneurial: in Turkey alone, Syrian refugees have started over 6,000 companies since 2011, creating more than 55,000 jobs for refugees and the local community. Companies are seizing these opportunities: ING, the Dutch financial institution, is providing USD $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 app and website for three months.
4. Tailor your goods and services to better serve refugee communities
Companies can also tailor their existing goods and services to better reach refugee populations—or create new ones that better meet refugees’ needs. Businesses can actually build their customer base by reducing barriers for refugees to use 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; while Turkcell, the leading Turkish cell phone operator, has invested in cell phone towers and Arabic-speaking agents to better reach refugee customers in Turkey.
On this World Refugee Day, we challenge all companies to think about how they too 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 workers, entrepreneurs, and customers. These initiatives are good for refugees, good for the communities that host them, and good for business.
Gideon Maltz is the executive director of the Tent Partnership for Refugees, an organization which mobilizes the business community to improve the lives and livelihoods of more than 25 million refugees forcibly displaced from their home countries. Learn more about Tent’s free-of-charge services for companies at Tent.org, or reach out to our team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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