World Refugee Day: 4 experts on how leaders can support marginalized groups in the workplace

Over 89 million people were displaced globally at the end of 2021.
Over 89 million people were displaced globally at the end of 2021.
  • According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, over 89 million people were displaced globally at the end of 2021.
  • To mark World Refugee Day we asked four Young Global Leaders working in the field to share their wisdom.
  • Here they discuss how leaders can ensure marginalized groups feel safe in the workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that we are one global and interconnected community, with our collective health and safety linked to the health of the most marginalized in society. As the global health crisis rages on, refugees and displaced groups continue to be disproportionately affected. Movement restrictions and border closures left large numbers of refugees excluded from government support programmes and their livelihoods and sources of income depleted.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one in every 88 people on earth has been forced to flee their home. Over 89 million people were displaced globally at the end of 2021.

Among them, at least 27 million are refugees, with more than half being young people under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic and look to “build forward better”, achieving greater social cohesion by promoting the inclusion of migrants and marginalized groups requires us to make migration work for everyone.

To mark World Refugee Day, four of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders recognize the effort of millions of people who escape conflicts, persecution, violence and human rights violations in search of a dignified life, and share what they believe leaders should do to ensure people from marginalized groups feel safe in the workplace.

'People with direct experience of displacement must be involved'

Rebecca Heller, Executive Director and Co-Founder, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

IRAP’s work focuses on empowering displaced people to access the legal aid and information they need to pursue pathways to safety with dignity and agency. In order to provide the best possible services to our clients, people with direct experience of displacement must be involved at all levels of our work.

Therefore, IRAP has prioritized investing time and resources into understanding and responding to the needs of employees with direct experience of displacement and other forms of marginalization. In order to truly create a more supportive environment for all employees, we must always aim for concrete actions and commitments to follow our words.

'Humanity must be at the centre of workplaces'

Lady Mariéme Jamme, Chief Sustainability Officer and Founder, iamtheCODE

To ensure safety in the workspace for marginalized communities, I believe it is essential to mobilize empathetic practitioners who can demonstrate human values of compassion and kindness to support them from day one.

Often this group feels alienated and left behind; therefore, building relationships plays a crucial role in forming an effective collaborative system that enhances inclusion rather than promoting competitiveness.

Leaders must also ensure people feel that they can belong to a trustworthy community or network so when they feel vulnerable, someone can give attention, love and care to their concerns. Humanity must be at the centre of workplaces now, especially after COVID-19.

How is the World Economic Forum helping to improve humanitarian assistance?

Fragility and conflict in one country often has consequences around the world. This has been evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous climate emergencies as well as the war in Ukraine and the ensuing refugee crisis. Regions affected by conflict are particularly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of these crises.

Urgent relief, supported by public-private partnerships, remains necessary in acute crises but it is essential those efforts are supplemented by long-term investments that help affected communities recover and rebuild.


The World Economic Forum is working with partners to identify and scale solutions in fragile parts of the world. The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing (HRI) Initiative seeks to unlock private capital so it flows into financially sustainable opportunities that benefit vulnerable communities. The Global Future Council on the New Agenda for Fragility and Resilience provides guidance to humanitarian and development actors as well as the private sector to improve support to local actors and facilitate responses that strengthen community resilience.

To learn more and get involved in initiatives that are improving millions of lives, contact us.

'Provide mental support and access to education'

Zoya Lytvyn, Founder and Head, Osvitoria

Roughly 6.2 million people have fled their homes since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Most of them are women and children. They expected the war to end quickly. But it still continues, so now women understand they need to keep working in order to support themselves and their families. Therefore, the leaders of the governments of many countries are wondering how to integrate refugees into social and economic life. I see two important areas in working with Ukrainian displaced persons: one, provide mental support for children and adults; second, provide access to education and adaptation programmes for both.

Regarding the second area, NGO Osvitoria implemented the All-Ukrainian Online School. Almost 500,000 Ukrainian children from more than 120 countries are getting education on the platform. For children and their parents, it is a corner of stability during wartime. While the children are studying, their mothers could make first steps in finding jobs and adapting to new reality.

Refugees and displaced persons might be great employees, bringing diversity and new perspectives to their new workplace, but first employers need to support their mental health, invest in their adaptation and provide access to education and daycare for children.

'Increase representation of women leaders from vulnerable groups'

Neema Kaseje, Surgeon, Médecins Sans Frontières

Women and girls make up at least 50% of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. They are often more vulnerable and their health needs persist and often increase during violence and conflict-driven displacements. Despite this, women including women refugees are not represented in global health leadership. According to WHO and Women in Global Health, 75% of senior decision makers in health are men, leading to the exclusion of key perspectives and the implementation of solutions that are often ill adapted to the context at hand and therefore less likely to be impactful and sustainable.

Solving the problem of under–representation of women leaders, including refugee women leaders in global health, requires collective action that not only actively searches and recruits women leaders in leadership positions, efforts must include the active development of a pipeline of women health leaders from marginalized and vulnerable groups who must feel safe in their work environments. To ensure women leaders from marginalized groups feel safe in work environments, current leaders must do the following:

  • Create a space where everyone in any position can speak and voice their concerns.
  • Be intentional about making everyone feel included; each person has a unique background and a unique perspective, and therefore they have incredible value to add to every given situation.
  • Ensure there is a clear process and procedure for accountability and action when anyone, particularly those from marginalized groups, feel unsafe, wronged, or disrespected. This process should be independent of those who may have been potentially involved in wrongdoing.
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