Supporting Refugee Entrepreneurs

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Image from Virgin Megastore
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With World Refugee Day today, it is wonderful to see MADE51 launch its online marketplace to give refugee artisans a global platform to sell their handcrafted products.

MADE51 is a UNHCR initiative that helps skilled refugee artisans  from around the world connect to the global market, earn an income and rebuild their livelihoods. The project has had an incredible impact so far, and .I’m really proud that Virgin Megastore Middle East is one of MADE51’s retail partners. In December 2019, I was delighted to visit one of our stores in Dubai to celebrate the opening of the MADE51 pop-up shop and learn more about the initiative.

Image from Virgin Megastore
Image from Virgin Megastore

Six months on, the world has changed dramatically. With entire countries in continued lockdown and the death toll still rising, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown markets and economies everywhere into unprecedented turmoil. The world’s 79.5 million refugees and displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to this global health crisis. More than 85 per cent are hosted in low- and middle-income countries that are already feeling dramatic impacts. Many have limited access to water, sanitation systems or health facilities and services.

For many refugees, the situation has been even more challenging as governments have shut outside access to some refugee camps entirely to prevent outbreaks – limiting access to aid and much-needed supplies and services. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has said, “If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home.”

While some of Made 51’s social enterprise partners have found ways to continue their work by delivering raw materials to artisans' homes, others have had to stop production altogether. All have experienced interruptions in orders and losses in sales.

Image from Virgin Megastore
Image from Virgin Megastore

This is why the new online store is so important. Every product sold represents resilience, hard work, and a common belief that a brighter path lies ahead.

It’s also heartening to hear that some of the artisans have pivoted to producing masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet critical needs in this time of crisis. And as all our partners in this work, the UNCHR, the International Rescue Committee and the Tent Partnership for Refugees remind us, we should never forget the important and critical role refugees play in the pandemic response around the world – as doctors, nurses, carers, essential workers. 

I’ve long used my voice to encourage greater openness to refugees. Our first involvement with refugees was with Virgin Atlantic flying in medical supplies and food to Jordan after the first Gulf War and personally meeting refugees and hearing about the issues they face. Last year I joined The Elders in Ethiopia to support the work the UN is doing at one of Africa’s largest refugee camps near Gambela, and I also helped to promote a free humanitarian concert for hundreds of thousands of refugees on Venezuela's border with Colombia. 

There is so much that business can do to support refugees– whether it’s through employment or the integration of refugee enterprises into business supply chains. And there is so much more that we all can do individually. UNHCR’s campaign for this year’s World Refugee Day says it all – every action counts.