June 15, 2016

Finding displacement solutions with the private sector

Business Consultation 2016

On Monday the 13th of June SPARK & UNDP hosted the Solutions Alliance Business Consultation which brought together some 50 participants representing over 20 companies and many humanitarian and development actors. The aim was to share experiences and jump start creative collaboration solutions to the protracted displacement which is causing the global refugee crisis.

We were excited to welcome representatives from the private sector including Google, who showcased their partnership with NetHope to increase connectivity in refugee camps; Holland Group who shared the results of the survey on the potential for employment of Syrian refugees by Dutch companies in Turkey; UNIQLO clothing manufacturer and their socially responsible value chain; Randstad, the major human resource service provider and thought leader in developing future workforce skills and lastly a designer from Better Shelter, architects for IKEA’s new solution to refugee housing.  Business generally felt they were, ‘doing something relevant but lacked a roadmap or plan to sustain work and achieve impact.’ Everyone expressed how working with humanitarian and development actors was a new focus for their business.

The break-out sessions were by facilitated Deloitte, which inspired the audience to work together to create new solutions using Design Thinking methodology. Clearly the key question was ‘how to break down the barrier between private and public.’ Facilitators used brainstorming and role play techniques to get groups imagining and creating new business models which can respond to refugee needs and harness their capacities together with the communities that are hosting them.

Imagining the life of a refugee, harnessing the potential of the host communities

Groups were formed who were given a selection of refugee personas, ranging from displaced taxi drivers in Beirut to long-term refugees surviving on an informal economy in the world largest refugee camp in Kenya (329,811 people). They brainstormed opportunities and challenges and compared these to the needs of other shareholders. Three shareholders – the refugee, the business and the host citizen – were carefully examined for their inter-relations and shared contexts to pin point how they complement and opposed each other. For instance, practical needs or even challenges in a refugee context, such as need for housing and free movement, could become opportunities from a business perspective. Of course there are many tensions and bridges to be built between shareholders, but Deloitte’s design thinking methodology pushed the groups to find initial points of contact and to challenge the perception of what is a refugee. The aim was to improve or create new business models which addressed these in a practical way.

Business sweet spot

Many participants felt that tackling societal issues with business and entrepreneurial initiatives is both ‘timely and necessary to bring together the public and private sector.’ Innovative businesses who have been leading the way talked of a ‘sweet spot’ for combining humanitarian aid and business aims which goes beyond CSR and tap into sustainable development opportunities.

Three start-up businesses were presented as practical inspiration. These were the Business in a box, initiative which wants to see NGOs use more business expertise in order to move away from short term aid. For them, ‘the goal is to inspire people with a starting point and let entrepreneurs then improve the idea.’

Second were groups who link talent with skill gaps through online platforms for remote job solutions and who ‘want to achieve less discrimination against refugees.’ And finally a growing trend to empower refugees with skills for digital jobs to open up their market possibilities, powered mainly by engineers.

Technology and looser labour regulations were common solutions which provide new spaces that business can move into along with a common call to ‘stop with the refugee obsession.’ This was because of the negative connotations that come with the term and a desire instead to focus on areas with high displacement in order to support host communities as well as refugees.

Each team created a small business pitch through brainstorming, inspired by the contexts which had been discussed previously. The business ideas created on the day ranged from online apps to cut red-tape, to solar powered living spaces and better tools to locate skill sets between large populations. The participants are planning to keep engaged with the development of the business ideas and both UNDP and SPARK, as co-chairs of the Solutions Alliance Private Sector Group, will drive the process forward with members and interested business partners.

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