Companies Need To Dig Deeper for Refugees

The 21 million refugees who have crossed international borders in search of safety share an unenviable, well-founded fear of remaining in their home countries, as well as a common hope for leading a safe life with dignity. While heart-wrenching photos and stories from the field have helped the refugee crisis spark sympathy, there is still too little focus on longer-term solutions.

Emergency relief and compassion alone are simply inadequate when the reality is that the average time before the long-term displaced refugees can return to their home is now 26 years. The world is facing the largest mass displacement on record since World War II and traditional aid systems are stretched beyond capacity. As President Obama hosts world leaders who are making significant new commitments this week, the private sector in particular needs to step up to the plate in much more significant ways.

Fewer than 1,000 companies control 80 percent of the global wealth, yet they have been much less engaged than both governments and NGOs in addressing the refugee crisis. That’s why in June, the White House announced a Call to Action for the U.S. private sector to stand with the Administration and make new, measurable and significant commitments that will have a durable impact on refugees residing in countries on the front lines of the global refugee crisis and in countries of resettlement. In issuing the call, the White House recognized that real innovation happens when the public, private and NGO sectors come together to address a problem.

By taking a stand and pledging much-needed aid in the global refugee crisis, companies also face an important opportunity to align their business values and core competencies with real-world issues by advocating for refugee solutions. Employees expect the places they work to be forces for good, customers want to support brands that shine brighter than others because they stand for something, and investors are looking for innovative talent approaches. There are many bright minds and committed workers among refugees and displaced people that can be a valuable part of companies’ talent pools if companies provide the right support and work with local governments to ensure that refugees are employable.

While taking a stand is one piece of the puzzle, leading companies can also utilize their core business competencies to help address the refugee crisis. This includes providing access to quality education and employment opportunities for those who need it most. A United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report showed that only 50 percent of refugee children enroll in primary education, 25 percent enroll in secondary school, and only 1 percent enroll in a college or university. Companies can also utilize technology platforms to create quality long-distance learning programs and experiences for children and adults. As we all know, education lays the foundation for tomorrow’s workforce.

The needs are great, and so companies are banding together. We are working with Microsoft, Intel and the NGO Digital Promise to bring cutting-edge education solutions to bear through HP Learning Studios in countries including Jordan and Lebanon. Learning Studios have already been deployed in 60 locations across 10 countries, but these are the first to specifically focus on helping refugee youth and adults acquire knowledge and skills. Equipped with hardware, software and teacher training services, these centers are enabling refugees to learn core skills and concepts that can enable them to be prepared for in-demand freelancing and e-commerce jobs to improve their livelihoods and futures in the near-term. There are millions of refugees that have valuable skills that companies like ours can tap into, in turn enabling them to accumulate work experience and savings.

Refugees face extreme helplessness when they have sacrificed their homes, livelihoods, families and friends to find safety. With borders tightening and conflicts enduring, many people do not have the option to return home or start new lives elsewhere. As business leaders who understand that but for the turn of fate we, too, might be crossing seas and rough terrain to save our families, we must find ways to provide hope for refugees who are looking for paths to viable futures. Fifteen companies answered the initial White House call, and now the tally is up to 50 companies, but we need thousands more to help us support the millions who want to learn, work and contribute to society despite their status as refugees. Join the White House call to action by donating technologies and other in-kind donations, providing training and tapping refugee talent to meet your business needs and demonstrate your business values.