Last month Virgin Management hosted Better Chances 2017 – an event which brought Virgin companies together to discuss what businesses can do to take action on the refugee crisis. Guests for the day included UNHCR, Google.org, IKEA Foundation and many more. 

Taking place at Shoreditch’s Wimborne House, the event was kicked off with an opening talk from Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, Emergency Response Coordinator at UNHCR. Having recently returned from Myanmar, Joung-ah drew upon her experience working in Bosnia, Rwanda, Syria among other conflict zones to truly elucidate the extent of the global refugee and migrant crisis.  

She highlighted staggering figures, such as the estimated 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. That is an average of one person forcibly displaced every three seconds, and a total that exceeds the entire population of the UK. As millions flee, the majority end up in neighbouring and often low or middle income countries. Those who make it to Europe often face restricted access or outright rejection from some of the continent’s wealthiest countries. 

 

Virgin Unite, Better Chances, Refugees

As Joung-ah explained, to effectively tackle the challenges faced by refugees throughout their journey from conflict zone to host country, we need new alliances between governments, business and civil society.  

Turning specifically toward the role of business, comapnies heard from a number of leading organisations already making a difference in the field. 

An incredible session was mediated by the International Rescue Committee, whose work across a number of crisis regions seeks to scale and improve delivery of humanitarian services and opportunities for refugees and migrants. A large proportion of this work is done by partnering with businesses, including Western Union, Intel and many more. 

In order to highlight some examples of NGO-corporate partnerships, Stuart McLaughlin, Senior Regional Manager for EMEA at Google.org spoke about Google’s ‘Crisis Info Hub’, which provides critical information on lodging, transportation and medical facilities to refugees via their smartphones. 

 

Virgin Unite, Better Chances, Refugees

Other examples were presented by Annelies Withofs, Programme Manager for IKEA Foundation, who talked about IKEA Foundation’s ‘Better Shelter’ – an innovative refugee tent design created alongside the UNHCR which has been distributed to camps globally. Finally, Jenny Casswell from the GSMA took to the stage to share the myriad of ways in which mobile technology can be used to make a difference to the lives of those escaping conflict. 

It is estimated that 53 per cent of citizens globally believe that “much more” needs to be done to immediately help the refugee crisis.

Not all businesses can take action abroad and the event’s second session took a dive into the opportunities available for businesses to help at home – the most immediate of which concerns employment. Mediating the session, the Refugee Council UK introduced Russell Butcher, Senior Manager for Education, Qualification & Skills at Starbucks to speak on their global commitment to hiring 10,000 refugees. He elucidated on the initial steps taken to turn this vision set out at the start of this year into a reality. 

 

Virgin Unite, Better Chances, Refugees

Further examples of refugee-focused employment came from NGO Breaking Barriers. Their work focuses on refugees’ access to education and employment opportunities by providing them with advice, mentoring, employability workshops and work opportunities. Their expanding client-base has already seen them partner with a range of companies, including Bank of America, IKEA, Allen & Overy and Thomson Reuters.  

It’s not just about hiring, either. Amnesty International closed the session by speaking about their experience working with the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative. After launching in the UK this year, it is now possible to privately fund and support refugees looking settle in the country. Drawing upon the Canadian government’s experience of resettling over 300,000 refugees through its private sponsorship programme, the aim is for groups of individuals in the UK to provide financial, emotional and resettlement support to help newly-arrived refugees integrate into life in a new country. 

 

Virgin Unite, Better Chances, Refugees

It is estimated that 53 per cent citizens globally believe that “much more” needs to be done to immediately help the refugee crisis. From assisting in humanitarian relief operations to improving conditions in refugee camps and, where appropriate, offering education and employment opportunities upon resettlement into host societies; it’s clear business can do more. Let’s hope Better Chances is the first step on the road to progress. 

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