Accelerating Refugee Employment on World Refugee Day

By Salesforce.org | June 20, 2019 | Volunteering, Workforce Development

Panel for World Refugee Day
Salesforce employees around the world host panel discussions and volunteer activations to drive awareness and action on World Refugee Day. Photo courtesy of Farah Siddiqee.

By: Judith Bird, Director, Commercial Legal (EMEA) at Salesforce.org and Rakesh Bharania, Director, Humanitarian Technology Impact at Salesforce.org

Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night. Danger is at your doorstep. So you and your loved ones pack up what little you can carry, and you leave your home. You don’t know when you’ll be back, or even if you’ll be back. You head out into the night, in desperate search for safety. Somewhere, anywhere…

For far too many people, they don’t have to imagine this scenario. This is the reality of today’s refugee crisis.

Syrian refugees on Samos Island, Greece awaiting a ferry to the mainland. Photo courtesy of Rakesh Bharania.
Syrian refugees on Samos Island, Greece awaiting a ferry to the mainland. Photo courtesy of Rakesh Bharania.

The numbers tell a grim story: There are currently 68.5 million people in the world who have been forced from their homes due to violence and persecution. This translates to roughly 44,000 people who flee their homes every single day. The number of refugees in the world today is the highest it has been since World War II.

But of course numbers alone do not tell the whole story. At such a scale, it becomes easy to overlook the fact that behind the statistics are human beings that long for safety, stability and the kinds of opportunities that many of us take for granted. Forced to flee their homes and their communities, refugees undertake perilous journeys in search of safety and security. The hazards are many: violence from armed groups, smugglers and human traffickers, environmental dangers from the sea and winter’s cold, and a lack of access to basic needs like adequate food, shelter and healthcare.

Refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in a refugee camp in Chios Island, Greece. In 2015, over 800,000 people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Photo courtesy of Rakesh Bharania.
Refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in a refugee camp in Chios Island, Greece. In 2015, over 800,000 people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. Photo courtesy of Rakesh Bharania.

For my (Rakesh’s) own family, this story and those risks were never abstract concepts, as our whole family was suddenly forced from their homes in Uganda under threat of imminent violence back in 1972. Stripped of belongings, stripped of citizenship, stripped of community, our family was scattered across multiple countries and refugee camps, until finally being resettled in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Being displaced was traumatic. But once resettled, my family then had to confront a new problem: how to rebuild their lives in their new countries.

From Displacement to Dignity

Once a refugee is actually able to make the journey to safety (whether through asylum or resettlement), then comes the next set of challenges: how to rebuild their lives in a new community. In many cases, refugees settle in places where the culture, society and language may be very different than those from where they came.

A critical part of ensuring a successful integration into a new community is the access to employment and opportunity.

Refugees want to become self-supporting, find meaningful employment quickly and contribute to their new communities. They represent a range of nationalities and backgrounds that could diversify business culture and add diverse, new skills and expertise. However, refugees often struggle to enter and progress in the employment market. They are often hampered by poor understanding of the language and local business practices of the country in which they have resettled. In addition, they may be hindered by non-recognition of their qualifications and the experiences of their journey to reach safety. Therefore, in many countries, the unemployment rate of refugees is significantly higher than the local average: for example, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that there are about 120,000 refugees in the UK, all of whom have the right to work in the UK, but studies suggest that the unemployment rate of UK refugees is 18% (which is approximately three times that of the UK-born population).

There are measures that employers can take to assist refugees in finding employment, such as adapting recruitment and interview processes to put refugees at ease, recognizing experience and qualifications from abroad and providing training in workplace culture. Offering integrated English language training in the workplace and creating apprenticeships or training programs enable refugees to develop skills and qualifications while on the job or adapt their experience to new sectors.

Local and global nonprofits have developed solutions to create jobs and connect talent to opportunity. Mercy Corps creates cash-for-work programs in places where refugees have settled, creating jobs that also solve social challenges. Upwardly Global moves newcomers from unemployment or survival jobs to living-wage jobs that are aligned to their education and professional experience.

Access to on-demand digital training and mentorship help refugees find jobs worthy of their talents in their new homeland. Photo courtesy of ASU.
Access to on-demand digital training and mentorship help refugees find jobs worthy of their talents in their new homeland. Photo courtesy of ASU.

At Salesforce, we have supported refugees through a number of initiatives. Through a Salesforce employee-driven program called Buddyforce, teams of Salesforce employees in Germany mentor refugees on a number of personal and professional levels, for example, assisting with administrative forms, teaching the German language and helping refugees adapt to German culture. The ultimate goal is to help refugees find employment in jobs worthy of their talent and expertise and enable them to lead enriching lives in Germany.

Refugee-Centered Learning with Arizona State University

Since 2017 Arizona State University has provided educational access to 700 refugees, displaced and marginalized populations around the world. Photo courtesy of ASU.
Since 2017 Arizona State University has provided educational access to 700 refugees, displaced and marginalized populations around the world. Photo courtesy of ASU.

Higher education partnerships are also critical to linking migrant populations to career-level jobs, but the model must match the unique needs of these learners. Salesforce Trailblazer Arizona State University (ASU) recently launched its Education for Humanity program at the request of ASU President Michael Crow, a leader who embodies the university’s commitment to inclusion. In just two years, ASU has provided access to education to nearly 700 displaced learners in 13 sites across Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Uganda, and Rwanda. Their strategy is a collaborative one that centers the hopes and ambitions of the refugees themselves, incorporates research and focus group data and engages international humanitarian partners, like UNHCR, NetHope, the No Lost Generation initiative and local government authorities.

And they are already seeing impact. Around the world, ASU is meeting the learner demand for English language training, university preparation and digital literacy, undergraduate courses, entrepreneurship and teacher training certificate programs. As a university that consistently ranks #1 in innovation, it is no surprise that ASU is not stopping there. They are looking to expand the program and further leverage their networks, research and training assets to serve the humanitarian ecosystem more holistically.

How Your Company Can Help

Salesforce employees around the world stand #withrefugees. Photo courtesy of Judith Tedros.
Salesforce employees around the world stand #withrefugees. Photo courtesy of Judith Tedros.

About the Authors
Rakesh BharaniaRakesh Bharania is Director of Humanitarian Technology Impact at Salesforce.org. He has spent more than twenty-five years in the humanitarian sector, focusing on the intersection of emerging technologies and international humanitarian crisis response and development. Rakesh has also engaged across the board with policy-makers, senior government officials, academia, first responders, NGOs/IGOs, volunteer organizations and industry leaders. His passion for disaster relief and humanitarian aid started when he was young, listening to loved ones retell stories of their time as refugees.

Judith BirdJudith Bird is a Director, Commercial Legal (EMEA) for Salesforce.org, an English qualified lawyer, with over 25 years experience and with responsibility for the commercial legal affairs of Salesforce.org throughout EMEA. She is also the Global Philanthropy Chair for Salesforce’s equality group, Faithforce. She has led Salesforce’s initiatives around the world in relation to World Refugee Day, during which most of Salesforce’s offices around the world will be hosting events and initiatives to celebrate the strength and resilience of refugees worldwide, raise awareness about the crisis, and make a meaningful impact.