In recent years, we have woken up to new realities every day - the result of momentous geopolitical change, shifting demographics and disrupted business environments. While technological innovation has created new opportunities and helped stimulate the global economy, other factors have set us back – including imposed travel bans, a widening gender gap and pervasive income inequality.
It is more important than ever for the public and private sector to work together to solve societal problems going forward, especially for one of the most pervasive humanitarian challenges of our time: the global refugee crisis.
Impacting more than 65 million people worldwide, the refugee crisis remains a global issue requiring a global solution. Nearly 1 in every 110 people is fleeing war or persecution. This cannot be managed by one nation, governing body or multinational organization alone.
Treat refugees as individuals
What if multinational businesses welcomed refugees displaced by social and political upheaval and worked with governing bodies to assimilate them into our global workplaces?
I’ll share one example that recently moved me. After making a 2,300-mile journey to Berlin, Mohammad Basel Alyounes, a Syrian refugee and accountant by trade, was greeted by a German news crew. When asked what he hoped for his new life in Germany, he said, “I want to work for EY.” Much to my delight, an EY colleague in Germany saw the interview, used social media to locate Basel — and EY hired him.
Basel now works with EY’s German Diversity Charter refugee support team — which in conjunction with Germany’s Charta der Vielfalt (Diversity Charter) — took action by bringing together businesses, government bodies and social groups. Together, they’re helping refugees from around the world integrate into the workforce and build new lives in Germany.
The EY team has also liaised with 50 German companies to share leading practices, improve refugee internship programs and expand these program to other countries. As part of their charter, they were encouraged to find similar programs already being deployed by multinationals throughout Europe and find ways to collaborate. While the team learned that a one-size-fits-all approach to integration won’t work, they found the key is to treat the refugees as individuals.
I encourage multinationals to continue working with government to broaden these inclusive integration efforts and identify custom approaches that meet the needs of refugees at the individual level.
Moving beyond fear and misconceptions
When environments are uncertain and income gaps are widening, it’s easy to stoke fears about threats posed by people who are different. We’ve witnessed what can happen over the past couple of years. But refugees are the fabric of nations. They have made and continue to make great contributions to societies, governments and economies.
Case in point: Madeleine Albright – an immigrant and (twice) a refugee – went on to become an accomplished businesswoman, activist, philanthropist and the first female U.S. Secretary of State.
“The divisions brought out by the refugee crisis highlight the issue of global inequality … refugees have made great contributions to our national life. Syrian refugees are learning English, getting good jobs, buying homes and starting businesses. In other words, they are doing what other generations of refugees — including my own — did,” Albright said.
Yet, the global refugee crisis is often met with resistance by nations wary of economic constraints, infrastructure limitations and labor costs.
“I wish … people would see refugees actually as an asset, not a burden. A lot of [refugees] are educated, skillful and entrepreneurial,” Albright said.
Secretary Albright makes a strong point. Forty percent of the largest US companies were founded by immigrants or their children. In Canada, Australia and Germany, immigrants and refugees have had a higher rate of successful entrepreneurial endeavors than the native populations.
To realize the full potential of this, multinationals, government and NGOs must effectively communicate the economic benefits associated with refugees, and identify ways to integrate them into the labor market more seamlessly so they can begin making meaningful economic contributions right away.