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Refugee crisis: What the private sector can do

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© World Bank Group

There are about 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, of which more than 25 million are considered refugees.  Almost 85 percent of them are hosted by low or middle countries with limited resources such as Jordan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Turkey, and Bangladesh. These countries face enormous challenges in meeting the needs of refugees while continuing to grow and develop themselves. 

I visited Jordan in 2014 and 2016 and was struck by the generosity and hospitality of this small, middle-income country, which accepted the influx of more than 740,000 refugees of the Syrian war and other conflicts (and that only counts the number officially registered by the UN Refugee Agency!) In 2017, Jordan had 89 refugees per 1,000 people –the second-highest concentration in the world. Its services and economy were under tremendous strain. The refugees themselves were frustrated by lack of opportunity to support themselves.  

I asked, how could we help? It was clear that any solution must involve the private sector and benefit both refugees and the host communities.  

It’s virtually impossible to consider refugees without acknowledging the communities that host them, because the reality is that most refugees do not live in camps but in cities and communities.  Half of them will remain displaced for more than four years. They all need jobs, schools, services - in sum, opportunities to rebuild their lives and contribute to the community. 

The World Bank Group’s work with Jordan focuses on creating an environment that will do just that: generate jobs and expand opportunities for Jordanians and refugees.  

It has involved reducing a budget deficit brought on by the impact of the Syrian war and influx of refugees. Recent measures include work permits for up to 130,000 Syrian refugees, cutting red tape for businesses, and attracting investments in key sectors with export potential.

To address the impact of the refugee crisis in Jordan and elsewhere, in 2016, we partnered with the UN and the Islamic Development Bank to launch the Global Concessional Financing Facility. This vehicle has unlocked $1.4 billion in very low-interest, long-term financing for middle income countries like Jordan and Lebanon to promote job creation and expand vital public services and infrastructure. 

But this crisis requires much more help. This is why we are now going a step beyond by bringing together public, private, and philanthropic actors to work together– first in Jordan and later in other countries. 

We are setting up an Investment and Matchmaking Platform to support refugees and host communities through enterprise and market development.  This work has several components:

First, it will “match” enterprises affected by the refugee crisis with global supply chain actors and investors. Twenty businesses announced new concrete commitments in Jordan and other countries on September 24 at an event hosted by the World Bank Group and the Tent Partnership for Refugees. The assistance may take the form of hiring or training, investing in companies owned by or employing refugees, or adapting their core business to better service them. 

These matchmaking deals are the result of a partnership that began a year ago when Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of the Tent Partnership for Refugees and CEO of Chobani, came to the World Bank to talk about Tent’s work to mobilize the private sector to address the refugee crisis. He has led by example, employing many refugees in his yogurt factories in New York and Idaho. With Tent, he has expanded his philanthropy to help refugees in other countries. 

Second, it will support the establishment of a multi-partner Investment Catalyst, with the financial and technical assistance to accelerate the upgrading of existing enterprises. We are collaborating with the Open Society Foundations and others to create new opportunities for investors to step in and support local small and medium enterprises or launch new projects. 

Third, it will use that market-driven knowledge to inform our work on the ground to make sure it’s responding to employment and market constraints.

The World Bank Group is committed to deploying the full range of our financial and technical assistance to address the refugee crisis not just in Jordan and Lebanon, but around the world.  For instance, our private sector-focused group, IFC, is working to create markets in refugee camps such as Kakuma, a town of 60,000 people in northwestern Kenya that hosts 180,000 refugees.

It’s great to see businesses stepping in. We need to keep encouraging that. When the private sector combines doing good with doing well, it’s a powerful force to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. 

This post was originally published on LinkedIn


Jim Yong Kim

Former President, World Bank Group

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