5 ways to build a brighter future for refugees

Image: Charlein Gracia/Unsplash

Annemieke De Jong
Head of Portfolio Refugee Livelihoods, IKEA Foundation
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  • On World Refugee Day it is important for all of us to consider how we can create a safer and more stable world for the most vulnerable members of society.
  • The IKEA Foundation is committed to supporting refugees and we've learned some lessons on how we can best do this.
  • At the heart of the matter, we must learn to work together to support refugees.

As we mark World Refugee Day, I’m saddened and shocked by recent statistics. Over 100 million people are now forcibly displaced. Poverty and inequality are on the rise. It sometimes feels as if everything the IKEA Foundation and our partners have worked on for years hasn’t mattered. An increasingly complex and ever-growing set of drivers of forced migration, including climate change, are making things worse.

Over 11 years ago, we saw the start of what would become a drawn-out conflict in Syria, which has displaced millions of people. The heartbreaking images of children caught up in fighting and targeted by bombs shocked and moved people around the world.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting refugees?

Today, the same images continue to haunt us, with the war in Ukraine a new unfolding crisis. 2021 saw the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan, the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict, and ongoing pressure from conflicts in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Yemen. The impact of a global pandemic, and the frontlines of a food crisis and climate change add to fears over the future for many.

So, should we keep going? Does our work matter? And will it make any difference? I believe that it will.

This Refugee Day we must resolve to be there for one another and protect what we hold dear: a bright future for all children and families on a thriving planet.

Here are five ways we can work towards that future.

1) We can accept our interconnectedness

In Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake beautifully lays out how integral fungi are to natural life in how they make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures. Fungi grow in ways that we don’t fully understand, weaving through habitats, seeking new paths, and working together to stay alive.

Humans are like this, too. We’re dependent on each other and grow when we have the right nourishment, even in the harshest conditions.

Extraordinary talent is seen sometimes in the most adverse circumstances, but is often ignored or suppressed. By accepting cultural and socio-economic differences, and understanding we’re richer thanks to these, we can create the right conditions for unique solutions, creativity, innovation and happiness.

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2) We can embrace our human trait of learning

When digging into the history of humanitarian action, it's clear that many barriers that get in the way of an effective response are not new. These include failing to listen to people affected by conflict or natural disasters and not directing funding to those for whom it is intended. Other barriers include not allowing space for innovation and not enabling communities to build their own capabilities.

If we know all this, why don’t we take it into account in our funding and programming? If we’ve learned these lessons, why don’t we apply them at scale?

One way to ensure we won't keep repeating our mistakes is to be open about them. We need to share where we make assumptions, identify falsehoods or misinformation, and look for evidence of what went wrong. We need to create healthy feedback environments where we drive out polarising narratives.

At the IKEA Foundation, we ask questions and invest in programmes that build on learnings from successes and the failures. There are so many things that contribute to children growing up in safer, healthier homes. There’s amazing evidence that shows what can happen when refugee families and entrepreneurs receive cash grants when they can engage economically or when they’re linked to larger supply chains that empower a thriving local economy. In this way, we can clear the path for things that have a higher probability of success.

3) We can take a different view

Opening ourselves up to learning and embracing our failures allows us to take a different view. To quote Julienne Oyler, CEO of the African Entrepreneur Collective, “We need to place SME businesses at the centre of response, as they are the lifeline to communities, providing supplies and services at the end of a – sometimes – very long supply chain.”

This view offers a different starting point and has led to bringing a new and refreshed set of actors together, who can each deliver on their strengths, including businesses and the private sector.

We recently launched the world’s largest impact bond for refugee livelihoods alongside an amazing set of partners. Not only will the bond build on a good probability of success in delivering business support to entrepreneurs in Jordan, but we also hope it will show a more cost-effective way of sourcing support. It will be a few years before we know if the mechanism delivers, but the stakes are too high to not apply for available funding in the most effective ways.

Taking a different view requires taking different risks. These risks should be reasonable and understood. And if they do materialise, they should be used for learning, whatever the outcome.


4) We can work together

We all play slightly different roles but come together under a shared belief of human ability and creativity. If we surround ourselves with others that lift us up, we can accomplish so much more. By working together, we can strengthen activities and hold each other accountable for our actions.

This is also something that both IKEA and the IKEA Foundation practice. The reason there is a powerful narrative on refugees and humanitarian action within the IKEA brand is because IKEA Retail (Ingka Group) and Inter IKEA Group are committed to different actions that help refugees integrate into society. Our standpoint is a belief that refugees – with their skills and experience – bring value to business and society.

5) We can speak up

Finally, we can only deliver on these other points if we provide platforms for people to speak up and share. We need to create spaces that showcase good ideas and present failures as lessons to be learned.

By partnering with the Humanitarian Resilience and Investing Initiative, the World Economic Forum offers a platform that brings together investors with investable projects. This is a practical way through which we can power more sustainable investments for communities that are often left behind. By investing in well-thought-through and realistic programmes that find sustainable funding streams, we can deliver solutions for the many.

By embracing our interconnectedness, acknowledging our differences, and learning from past experiences, we can allow funding to flow to programmes that have a high probability of success. We should grab opportunities and show the next generation how important it is to keep fighting for our shared future.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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