As the New Year ticked over, a common theme in reflections on 2016 was the adversity the year brought with it. Along with the loss of popular icons such as David Bowie, Harper Lee and Leonard Cohen, we experienced unprecedented global events, like Brexit and the mass migration of people seeking safety, and saw escalating violence in areas such as Syria and South Sudan.
But 2016 also brought positive change. One interesting trend that developed over the year was the emergence of the private sector as an important player in the international humanitarian settlement space.
It was inspiring and gratifying to see more than 50 leading companies pledge to offer long-term, sustainable assistance to refugees around the world, following a call to action from US President Barack Obama.
One innovative initiative came from the professional networking site LinkedIn, which piloted its ‘Welcome Talent’ initiative in Sweden to connect newly arrived refugees with interested employers, resulting in more than 1,000 job postings.
Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson committed an additional $US1 million to partner with Save the Children in offering “resilience activities” for people affected by the crisis in Syria, including children’s educational and life skills programs and mental health support for children and families.
We also saw a lot of local support from Australia’s private sector, where employers including First State Super, Harvey Norman, Australia Post, and Woolworths have signed up to a NSW Government initiative to help refugees find jobs.
The Australian-based staff at multinational tech company Google donated $60,000 to SSI’s Ignite Small Business Start-ups to help people from refugee backgrounds establish small businesses or expand an existing one.
SSI’s partnership with Allianz Australia resulted in new educational and employment opportunities for refugees during 2016, and in December, the insurance company took its support to another level, when Allianz staff volunteered more than 200 hours of their time to support SSI activities.
And it’s not just big businesses getting behind refugees. In 2016, the owners of Sydney restaurant Almond Bar, Carol and Sharon Salloum, began working with SSI to use their hospitality industry networks to identify ways to connect refugees with training and jobs. In the lead up to Christmas, the culinary duo also volunteered to cook a meal for refugees and people seeking asylum at SSI’s final Community Kitchen for the year, and a week later, the sisters generously donated lunch for newly arrived children and families at our annual Children’s Christmas Party.
What’s inspiring about these examples is that the businesses are not just throwing money at a problem. They’re working with both refugees themselves and frontline not-for-profits to identify and find solutions for the unique challenges facing the forcibly displaced.
Ground-breaking research released last year suggests that the economic outcomes of refugees’ lives are shaped by individuals’ capacity to innovate – to transform the challenges they face into opportunities.
One of the researchers, Alexander Betts, delivered a TED Talk where he delved into the case study of Uganda, which is unique among countries that host a significant refugee population in that it has given its 420,000 refugees rights to work and freedom of movement.
If you have the time, I’d encourage you to watch the talk in full. He gives some great examples of just what refugees can achieve when allowed some freedom to innovate. In Uganda’s capital city, for example, 21 per cent of refugees own businesses that employ other people and 40 per cent of those employees are Ugandan nationals. Mr Betts argues that the support provided to refugees must go beyond basic emergency assistance to include "connectivity, electricity, education, the right to work, access to capital and banking".
SSI has long recognised the need to offer refugees support in addition to the essential assistance and information we provide during the early stages of settlement. We have a suite of complementary services that help refugees to find and retain employment, engage with their new communities, and start new businesses, with the aim of enabling new arrivals to successfully settle in Australia and make a meaningful social and economic contribution.
Last year, SSI partnered with Thrive Refugee Enterprise to fast-track refugees’ entrepreneurial plans by providing microfinancing and mentoring support to aspiring business owners from refugee backgrounds. The initiative was co-founded by philanthropists John and Anna Curtis, and businessman Huy Truong.
As a founding member of Thrive, SSI has provided the charity with eligible applicants for its micro loans along with the on-the-ground expertise that will help Thrive to provide thoughtful, informed and appropriate support to refugee entrepreneurs.
But this innovative arrangement would not have been possible without the cooperation of partners in the private sector. Westpac is on board as the principal banking partner, providing loan capital to the tune of $2 million, in addition to credit management and administration input. Thrive had also engaged corporate partners to provide legal, audit, insurance and recruitment services – everything it takes to run a successful not-for-profit.
This is just one of many great examples of the contribution the private sector is making to assist some of our newest community members. I look forward to seeing what new and innovative ideas emerge in the coming year.