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Global Business and Refugee Crises: A Framework for Sustainable Engagement

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This report has been developed collaboratively, drawing on insights from two workshops, expert consultations, and research by a team at the Center for Global Development (CGD). Cindy Huang, senior policy fellow at CGD, is the lead author and co-directed the research team. Jeremy Konyndyk codirected the research team, provided invaluable thought leadership, and is a contributing author. Kate Gough, Asad Sami, and Nicole Cassou are members of the research team and contributing authors. Kate also served as the research and production coordinator for the report. Emily Schabacker provided editorial support.

INTRODUCTION

SUSTAINABLE RESPONSES TO THE WORLD’S PROTRACTED REFUGEE CRISES MUST DO FAR MORE TO ENGAGE REFUGEES AS EMPOWERED AGENTS, RATHER THAN AS PASSIVE RECIPIENTS OF AID.

Realizing this vision requires new partnerships and approaches, particularly given today’s realities of forced displacement. Refugees have been displaced for an average of 10 years; for those displaced more than five years, the average jumps to over 21 years. The 22.5 million refugees around the world seek self-reliance, the ability to provide for themselves and their families. This requires access to basic public services, such as health and education, and opportunities for safe and decent work—an evolving challenge now that more than 60 percent of refugees live in urban areas outside of camps.1 Businesses have a vital role to play.

Global businesses can make unique and valuable contributions given their position as market leaders, policy influencers, and innovators. They can engage refugees as employees, producers, investees, and customers, demonstrating the positive returns from the economic inclusion of refugees. By creating business models that are profitable while delivering social impact, they can motivate other businesses and investors to do the same. They can also leverage their networks and relationships to advocate for policies that improve outcomes for refugees, host communities, and businesses. Finally, global companies can use their technical and innovation capacities to help meet refugee needs.

This report highlights ways that global multinational enterprises can use these distinctive capacities to e€ectively and sustainably support refugee livelihoods and self-reliance.2 It focuses on opportunities in developing countries, where more than 85 percent of the world’s refugees live and where governments have lower capacity and fewer resources to respond to refugee needs.3 Given the scale of need among both refugees and host communities, local, national, and regional businesses must be central players in a broad and sustainable approach. At the same time, global businesses have an important and catalytic role to play given their expertise, assets, and networks. They can support and enable refugees to realize their economic potential—to the benefit of refugees, host countries, and the international community.