Stand #withrefugees by focusing on their strengths
By David Keegan, HOST CEO
There’s a growing body of research and analyses, bolstered by personal stories, that shows refugees and former refugees enliven economies and cultures. Yet, despite the evidence, perceptions of refugees as a burden persist. Ethical, humanitarian and moral considerations aside for a second, refugees offer a society human capital.
Research shows, as do the many examples, that investing in the right support for refugees can yield more benefits for economies. Philipe Legrain’s research shows that for every one euro, or dollar, invested in refugees can produce nearly two in economic benefits within five years.
When Karla Spetic arrived in Australia as a refugee at age 11, she spoke no English. She now owns and runs her own fashion label, which uses ethically sourced materials and labour and exports around the world.
Spetic says her experience as a refugee fleeing Croatia has underpinned her success in business.
“When you’ve been given a second chance, you really strive for it, and just try very hard. You have these fighter qualities within you from going through certain hardships. It makes you want to achieve what you set your mind on,” she told SBS recently.
Huy Truong is another former refugee who has created wealth in Australia. He arrived here by boat from Vietnam in 1978. Truong has created several successful businesses and is now a private equity investor.
These are just a couple of examples of former refugees who have found the support they needed to help themselves and who have gone on to create wealth and give back to communities and refugee causes.
Former refugees in Australia are highly entrepreneurial, with data showing they report the highest proportion of their income as being from their own businesses. It’s no coincidence that two of the five richest people in Australia are former refugees (Harry Triguboff and Frank Lowy). People with experience of being a refugee are generally highly motivated and resilient.
CEO of Humans on the Move Christine Mendonça penned an article recently with Negar Tayyar that called for funding for refugee programs and projects to be refocused on “asset-based” initiatives rather than “deficit-based”. Deficit-based funding is said to be much more common, yet lacks the results of asset-based funding models.
Deficit-based funding models look at the missing elements – the lack or shortcomings that refugees and their host communities may have – and look at ways to apply resources, specifically money, to fix those gaps.
An asset-based model on the other hand upholds the assets that refugees, displaced people, host communities and other stakeholders have. For example, Refugee Talent is an asset-based model that links skilled and qualified former refugees with employers who have a skills shortage. The online platform gives former refugees the means to support themselves, and in turn contribute to the community.
At HOST we seek to operate from this asset based model by facilitating access to resources and expertise that will activate the potential of displaced people and host communities. We do this by finding local partners and community members to work with in the design of localised solutions.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, our partner Same Skies is utilising the skills and assets of refugees in their programs. The Same Skies Refugee Empowerment Project in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, is supporting refugee communities to build infrastructure they can rely on for self-determination. For example, the project has identified the education levels, professional backgrounds, daily activities and other personal information, to map the strengths and resources of refugee communities.
The project, which HOST provided funding for through our Little Things initiative, found that the groups had a lot to offer. Many had a high-level of education, including a PhD in education, degrees in IT, pharmaceuticals and media. They possessed vocational skills including as bakers, drivers, cooks, builders, and waiters; they had already started businesses, and were multilingual.
The challenges and threats to these people were also numerous. They had low-levels of local languages Malay and English, for example, and no legal access to Malaysian public schools or work rights.
But through human-centred design, the Same Skies program is linking skilled and enthusiastic refugees to problems they can solve as a community, rather than relying on the intervention of governments or NGOs.
Rather than focusing on humanitarian aid or welfare for refugees, support organisations should focus more on enabling displaced people and communities to develop and implement their own practical solutions to their circumstances.
On World Refugee Day we must stop viewing refugees as victims of conflict and instead see them as capable people that can make a valuable contribution to any community. As refugees continue to show us, they do not need handouts, they need a framework that will allow them to support themselves and others.
Let’s give them a voice and the tools to design their own future and stand #withrefugees along their journey.