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Why Integrating Refugees Into The Global Workforce Is Good Business

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Refugee camps, for many, are not temporary shelters but long-term homes. Some have spent decades in camps.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, invited by the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. Amidst the dust and resilience, I was struck by a powerful message from the many refugees I met: the need for real inclusion in the global economic narrative. These humans are not just seeking aid; they are seeking a seat at the table, opportunities for employment, skills training, and the means to live with dignity.

Their plea is simple yet profound: integrate us into the workforce, recognize our potential, and let us contribute!

Approximately 22 percent of the world’s refugee population live in refugee camps – an estimated 6.6 million people. Among them, 4.5 million reside in planned and managed camps and approximately 2 million are sheltered in self-settled camps.

An estimated 43.3 million are children below 18 years of age. According to UNHCR, over 1.9 million children were born as refugees from 2018 to 2022. Children are dramatically over-represented among the world’s refugees.

“We don’t just want to hire refugees, we want to do more.”

Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya (a long-time, passionate refugee advocate).

His commitment to helping refugees inspired him to create the Tent Partnership for Refugees. The Tent Partnership for Refugees is made up of more than 400 major companies committed to integrating refugees. Members span industries from consumer goods to hospitality, retail to professional services, technology to manufacturing.

Companies like Menzies Aviation also have taken pioneering steps towards this integration. In 2024, they committed to hire 250 refugees in the United States over three years.

In 2023, Menzies Aviation committed to hire 150 refugees, including Ukrainian refugee women in Europe. This is part of Menzies Aviation’s global target to have 1 percent of its workforce made up of refugees by 2026.

Menzies Aviation is also part of Tent U.S., Tent España, Tent México, and Tent UK, exploring opportunities to help refugees enter the labor market in these four countries, including through employment or job preparation.

Why We Need More Companies to Follow Suit

Inclusion drives innovation. Diverse experiences lead to diverse thinking, which is crucial for problem-solving and creativity in business. For instance, companies like Starbucks and Chobani have long recognized this, implementing programs to hire refugees and support their transition into the workforce. Their annual reports highlight these initiatives, showing not just a commitment to social responsibility but a keen understanding of diversity as a driver of business success.

Economic and Social Benefits

The economic benefits of integrating refugees into the workforce are significant. According to a report by the Tent Partnership for Refugees, refugees can help fill labor shortages, contribute to economic diversity, and bring unique skills and resilience developed through their extraordinary experiences. Furthermore, integrating refugees can boost local economies, as they are likely to spend their earnings within their new host communities, supporting local growth in their communities.

Challenges and Opportunities

Of course, integrating refugees into a new workforce is not without challenges. There are legal and language barriers, cultural differences, trauma healing etc. However, these challenges present opportunities for innovative training programs and partnerships between companies, nonprofits, and governmental organizations.

For example, LinkedIn has launched programs to help refugees gain digital skills and find employment opportunities online, tapping into the gig economy. These initiatives not only help refugees but also enrich the platform with diverse, global talents.

“A lack of digital skills is often a significant barrier into employment for any job hunter. For refugees, the digital skills obstacle is further exacerbated as they find it four times harder to access employment. The initiative “Unlocking Refugee Talent” is in fact breaking down the digital skills barrier by drawing on the resources, talent and offers of all its partners”.

Matt Powell, CEO, Breaking Barriers

A Call to Action

The message from Kakuma is clear: refugees need jobs, skills, and dignity. As business leaders, investors, and policymakers, we have the capacity to make substantial changes. By setting KIP goals, companies can take a structured approach to integrate refugees into their workforce, measuring progress and making impactful changes.

Let’s not just give refugees aid. Let’s give them real and worthy opportunities, let’s give them jobs, let’s give them a chance to thrive. And in doing so, let’s enrich our companies and communities with diversity, resilience, and humanity.

Five ideas for execution

  • Partner with local and international educational institutions to design and implement training programs tailored to the needs of the refugee population.
  • Launch mentorship programs involving professionals from various industries to guide and support refugees in their career paths.
  • Collaborate with technology providers to deploy internet access points within refugee settlements.
  • Invest in infrastructure upgrades to ensure a reliable and stable power supply, enabling continuous access to digital resources.
  • Engage with policymakers to highlight the benefits of granting work permits to refugees and advocate for policy changes.

As we continue to face global challenges, from economic crises to climate change, integrating the refugee population into the workforce isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do!

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