Economic vulnerability, climate change, violence and protracted conflict have displaced nearly 65.3 million people in the world. That’s equivalent to the population of France -- Europe’s second largest country.
So, it's no surprise that, this past year, the refugee issue has rightfully risen to the top of most international policy debates.
But it has yet to gain the attention it deserves from businesses and companies that may be able to provide workable economic solutions.
While governments worldwide have a critical legislative and institutional role to play, it’s ultimately up to businesses to integrate refugees into nations' individual economies. And, here, the private sector needs to stand beside governments and civil-society actors struggling to assimilate these refugees into their societies -- until the day these suffering people can at last return home.
Why should companies and businesses care?
First, they should care because that's the right thing to do. The images of refugees stranded in Greece, crowded onto platforms at train stations across Europe -- blocked from traveling farther -- or alternately trekking thousands of miles for safe passage, evoke a moral responsibility for the rest of us.
Of course, even as businesses debate their role here, they need to watch their bottom line. And yet, frankly there is good news here, because hiring refugees is good for business.
What do employers ideally look for in an employee? The characteristics of an outstanding employee include hard work, perseverance, the resolve to overcome challenges, problem-solving skills, self-sufficiency and motivation.
Employers also typically want to to diversify their workforce and attract teams with diverse skill-sets.
Refugees fill all these needs -- and more.
Having overcome unimaginable hardships, refugees embody the traits of ideal employees.
Consider: Refugees have survived adversity that the average person can hardly imagine. They have seen war and strife firsthand, lost loved ones and been uprooted. After everything they have gone through, they continue to endure, in search of a better life elsewhere.
They are fighters with the strength and conviction to face challenges head-on.
Refugees are entrepreneurial go-getters capable of strengthening any company.
Businesses need to recognize the potential refugees offer, and to welcome them into the workforce in innovative ways. For many industries and economies, bringing refugees into the workforce is a win-win. A study released by the German Institute for Economy Research shows how over the long term, the net contribution of refugee migration to overall economic performance could be positive.
Companies and businesses need to invest in this potential and be part of the conversation to address the refugee crisis. This week, world leaders are gathering in New York for the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants to coalesce support around a more humane and coordinated approach to this issue.
President Obama will also hold the Leaders' Summit on Refugees on September 20 on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly, where he’s expected to make a huge push for increasing the number of refugees accepted into the United States.
Will the private sector have a seat at the table?
Concordia, the organization I co-founded, will be hosting the Private Sector Forum on Migration and Refugees in partnership with the Columbia University Global Policy Initiative, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with support from Open Society Foundations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
We’ll welcome many of the same multilateral actors to the table to instigate a dialogue on the private sector’s role and responsibility in addressing global migration challenges and the current refugee crisis. By highlighting new business initiatives and commitments, we hope to draw attention to the urgency of partnering across sectors to provide tangible solutions to address forced migration.
The time is now: Considering that some large corporations, like Walmart, surpass the GDP of even high-income countries like Norway, leaving these companies out of the discussion is a huge missed opportunity.
Only by involving companies and business can we make progress on this issue and help economies work for the benefit of refugees, companies, and society at large.