Davos 2017: Why we want world leaders to experience life as a refugee

Demonstrators hold placards during a refugees welcome march in London, Britain March 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Neil Hall  - RTSB7L0

Image: REUTERS/Neil Hall

Oliver Cann
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Participants at Annual Meetings are more familiar with debating the vagaries of the global economy or getting to grips with problems like climate change, gender inequality or food security than they are experiencing the hardships faced on a daily basis by the world’s estimated 65 million displaced people. So why are we inviting them to experience the plight of a refugee?

A Day in the Life of a Refugee is a simulation experience hosted in Davos this week by the Crossroads Foundation, a Hong Kong-based charity. Crossroads’ collaboration with the World Economic Forum goes back nine years. The aim of the hour-long session is to help participants understand some of the struggles and choices refugees face each day, with the ultimate aim of enlisting their help in finding lasting solutions. Refugees helped design the installation.

But what difference has this actually made? Here are some of the things that have happened as a result of the experience:

  • Adecco Group set up a taskforce to examine ways of better integrating refugees into labour markets
  • A multinational consumer goods firm cancelled its decision to close a loss-making factory in a community impacted by displaced people and instead trained the workforce so they could sustain it themselves to avoid job losses
  • The law firm Linklaters has become a regular sponsor of Crossroads, providing pro bono legal support for its projects
  • After experiencing the simulation at Davos, leadership at Wharton now ask MBA students to experience Crossroads’ poverty programme in order to get them to reimagine the role of business and take action for those in need

Crossroads Foundation does not limit its activities to Davos or the plight of refugees: in fact it runs simulations on a range of issues for a range of different groups all around the world. Here’s what people have said about A Day in the Life of a Refugee at previous Annual Meetings:

“A profound experience that reminds us of the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people.” Ban Ki-moon, Former United Nations Secretary-General

“Beautifully done.” Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Management Ltd.

“We have fought hard globally to keep ourselves safe through the economic crisis…We need to fight equally hard to make this world safe for its refugees and internally displaced people.” António Guterres, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and now United Nations Secretary-General

“Truly moving and educational.” Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

“Despite having lived in Calcutta for 23 years, I was not prepared for the shock to my comfort zone. Much needed.”
JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist, Salesforce

“It was a great experience for me as a journalist, who is reporting from war and crises areas all over the world. Very close to reality!” Udo Harnach, Producer, ZDF TV

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