First-of-its-kind forum brings together business leaders, refugee change makers and the public sector in Rwanda to find solutions to forced displacement in Africa
By Catherine Wachiaya in Kigali, Rwanda
Malish Godfrey smiles welcomingly at guests as they stop to admire the beadwork arranged neatly on his table. His is one of several colourful stands at the exhibition area of the Kigali Convention Centre in the heart of Rwanda’s capital. The artwork on display is unique – handmade by a collective of refugee artisans across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, they have been selected for an equally unique event taking place right above the exhibition – the Africa Private Sector Forum on Forced Displacement.
The 39-year-old South Sudanese travelled from Juba to Kigali to represent the Roots Project, a non-profit that works with refugees and internally displaced women in South Sudan to make beadwork.
“This is such an incredible moment as I am representing the women back home,” said Malish. “They are so happy to know that their skills, talent and products will be seen by the rest of the world.”
The opportunity to showcase their work was made possible through MADE51, a global collaborative initiative by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and strategic private sector partners, that supports refugees to sell their products on a global scale.
This collaboration is just one among multiple solutions that formed the bedrock of the discussions at the two-day Forum, dubbed “36 Million Solutions” in reference to the nearly 36 million forcibly displaced people in sub-Saharan Africa and the potential to find solutions for each one of them.
The inaugural forum, co-convened by UNHCR, the Amahoro Coalition and the Africa Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), brought together a group of business leaders, philanthropists, and individuals from across the continent, to discuss innovative ways to address Africa’s displacement crisis.
UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner, Kelly T. Clements attended the Forum, where she highlighted the importance of the private sector’s commitment to act, buoyed by the overriding African philosophy of ‘ubuntu’ – I am because we are.
“The private sector leaders joining us here are the disruptors and innovators of their industries, willing to challenge what we know, to create something better,” she said. “When the private sector invests in Africa’s forcibly displaced communities, you invest in Africa’s future. When forced displaced communities are given the opportunities and resources to rebuild their lives, they participate in local economies and contribute to social development in their communities.”
As he officially opened the Forum, the Prime Minister of Rwanda, Edouard Ngirente, noted that “a sustainable solution to refugee concerns cannot be achieved without multilateral cooperation and private sector actors.”
He urged delegates to see the Forum as a call to action.
“It is a wakeup call for our collective response to the forced displacement crisis on our continent. Let’s use it as a platform to find practical and realistic solutions that will positively impact the livelihoods of refugees’ communities.”
Clements also applauded the government of Rwanda for being “at the forefront in making pledges and actualizing refugee inclusion, self-reliance and solutions.”
Rwanda hosts over 126,000 refugees and is notable for its commitment to the various pledges it made at the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in 2019, focused on education, livelihoods, protection, environment, energy and health. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it has stayed on course, implementing various private-sector funded interventions addressing each pledge.
During her visit, Clements was able to see some of these interventions in action.
She visited the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Gashora, established in 2019 through a partnership between UNHCR, the Rwandan Government and the African Union to host asylum-seekers from various African countries evacuated from Libya. Over 600 evacuees have been received from Libya, with over 400 resettled to third countries.
In Mugombwa refugee camp in the south, she met Congolese refugees and Rwandans involved in various initiatives such as the Misizi Marshlands Project – a massive agricultural programme funded by the IKEA Foundation and supported by the government, which allocated over 50 hectares of land for some 1,400 refugees and Rwandans to farm together.
Congolese refugee, Clementine Bugenimana and her Rwandan best friend, Mushimiyimana Yousine are part of the project, working together to grow crops and look after the cooperative’s pigs and poultry.
“We have benefited from this project because we harvest the food together, we make some money and we are even in a savings group,” said Clementine.
Yousine credits the project for bringing the two communities closer.
“If it wasn’t for this initiative, we wouldn’t have known each other and become such good friends!”
Their children go to the same school – the G. S. Mugombwa Integrated School – yet another project that promotes social cohesion among the two communities.
Initially a primary school, the school has been expanded with support from the World Bank and Educate a Child, and now has a secondary school block. A connected learning project funded by Profuturo and LaCaixa has enhanced teaching and learning in the school.
Various private sector leaders attending the two-day Forum made several commitments towards finding solutions, ranging from funding scholarships and improving education facilities for refugees and host communities, investing in businesses, internships and job opportunities, improved access to COVID-19 vaccines and healthcare to enhanced advocacy for the provision of legal documentation for displaced and stateless people.
Sangu Delle, one of the Forum delegates and the CEO of Africa Health Holdings based in Ghana, urged participants to tap into the potential of displaced populations in the continent.
“Africa’s greatest resource is our human capital, it’s our people. It would be a missed opportunity if we don’t leverage all our populations across the board,” he said. “The Africa rising story is not just one of a few rising and the rest being left behind.”
“Africa’s greatest resource is our human capital, it’s our people.”
Sarah Chan, the Manager of African Scouting for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, illustrated how this ‘whole-of-society’ approach helped her and her family in South Sudan find better opportunities after she resettled to Canada on a scholarship.
She believes that the solutions to the displacement crisis is everyone’s responsibility.
“We all have the solutions to our problems in our context and while the private sector has a task, we all as humans owe it to ourselves to address it,” she said at the Forum. “Each one of us can have a domino effect towards these solutions that we want to see.”
As the discussions ended, UNHCR’s Clements reiterated that the private sector can be a critical agent of change.
“Through innovative business models, the private sector can champion more sustainable and dignified access to economic opportunities for forcibly displaced people while at the same time creating value for their own companies.”