How refugee employment benefits us all
In an exclusive column for Arabian Business, Princess Lamia bint Majid AlSaud, Secretary General at Alwaleed Philanthropies, explains why there has never been a more significant time than the Covid-19 pandemic to support displaced people.
There has never been a more significant time to reaffirm the importance of economic opportunities for refugees and displaced people. The pandemic has illuminated the importance of economic vitality for the social and economic health of all in society; as we create our ‘new normal’ we must ask ourselves – how do we build a society to lift up those in need?
For refugees and displaced people, there have been few reports on the chaos the pandemic has caused. This is largely because of low access to healthcare or testing facilities, while overcrowded housing has placed many people at risk of illness. Additionally, loss of employment has been rife across the world, but has a particularly detrimental impact on vulnerable communities. A recent survey by the Danish Refugee Council showed that 3% of Syrian refugee households in Jordan currently have one employed family member, compared with the 65% before the pandemic. It is estimated these figures are representative of many refugee communities. With vulnerable communities unable to access adequate job opportunities, we risk pushing people into further poverty, as well as negatively impacting economies.
We cannot underplay the multitude of benefits that economic opportunities for vulnerable communities has on the individual, communities and host countries. Through access to labour markets, finance, and resources, there is an increase in self-reliance, resilience and autonomy amongst refugees and displaced people. In turn, this reduces the dependency on humanitarian aid and assistance while developing further social integration. Ultimately this benefits everyone. For refugees and displaced people, they are able to gain greater financial independence, as well as increased access to services and the protection of their emotional wellbeing. For economies, they benefit through job creation, trade and increased spending.
Refugees and displaced people across the world have showcased their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit through the growth of small enterprises, from launching blockchain in refugee camps to opening boutique cafes across Europe. Through these avenues, we have witnessed greater cultural understanding across the world, as many of the entrepreneurs have infused their heritage in the work they do; from the food they make to the history of embroidery on clothing they sell. I strongly believe that engaging with other cultures and beliefs is a vital tool to create a truly collaborative and prosperous world.
We know this first-hand, through our partnership with Turquoise Mountain, where we have harnessed the creative power of displaced women in Afghanistan and Myanmar, to provide tools and support to create products that reflect their heritage. Importantly, we also assist in selling these items to empower women through increased economic independence. For example, in Myanmar, there are few job opportunities for displaced women, however, through their creative skills and passion, we were able to work with them to commission orders. For example, two of the artisans who are part of ‘Entrepreneurs of Watch 2020’ by Turquoise Mountain, Ma Htwe Htwe Soe and Daw Sein Phyu Khine, were unemployed and struggling to find work after escaping conflict. Using their skills and passion for weaving they have been able to maintain a sustainable livelihood, even during the pandemic by working from home. Currently, they are working on creating traditional silk products for a five-star hotel. There are numerous inspiring stories from our female artisans. Ultimately, these economic opportunities lift families and communities. It allows refugees and displaced people to shape their own lives, develop their skills, follow their passions while also reaching financial stability.
We now have the unique opportunity to harness these talents to build back a more harmonious society; and the economic benefits of promoting and supporting these small to medium enterprises (SMEs) is endless. A report by the Centre for Policy Development and the Open Political Economy Network found that launching 1,000 new refugee businesses a year can yield nearly $100 million in annual economic gains in Australia. As we look to rebuild our economies, it is vital we ensure viable economic opportunities for vulnerable communities across the world. This can be achieved through the support from and collaboration with NGOs and philanthropic organisations who can provide the resources needed for refugees and displaced people to build the foundations for their own futures. Resources need to reflect the diverse needs of vulnerable communities, including access to healthcare and tools to encourage entrepreneurship. This is only possible when we engage with refugees and displaced people directly to truly understand the needs of different groups in different countries.
We all have a role to play to inspire a better world. Through greater social awareness when purchasing products, the public can invest in the long-term and sustainable livelihood of vulnerable communities by simply engaging with such enterprises. I also strongly encourage global and local businesses to support refugees and displaced people, from partnering with key initiatives to hosting pop-up shops to raise awareness and provide a platform for greater commercial exposure. Our actions today will inspire the future of tomorrow. This World Refugee Day there is no better time to remind ourselves that ‘every action counts’.