By Matilda Herben, Team Leader Nauru

“You take what’s thrown at you, and you make a life out of it.” This is a quote from Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan, who spoke at the Devex Conference in Washington, US, that I attended in June. I have worked for HOST for just over 12 months, as a Team Leader implementing our program on Nauru, and this quote struck me. It echoed the sentiment of a young man, a former refugee, who we met in the US.

I felt like this quote aligned with HOST’s way of working; finding purpose, hope and meaning for people affected by forced displacement.

I was fortunate to attend the DEVEX conference with HOST International CEO David Keegan and attended several meetings in Washington and New York with organisations that share similar visions, values and missions as those of our organisation.

Prior to our trip to the US, I felt like I had a good insight into HOST’s values and mission and the ‘why’ behind the work we were doing with refugees in Nauru. This experience, however, has shown me how our work fits in to a broader, global, context by helping me realise the relevance of HOST’s vision and the opportunities for HOST to contribute to creative solutions to the refugee crisis. My understanding of how innovative our work is and how it can ensure better outcomes for displaced people in the Asia Pacific region and beyond is now far greater.


I now understand that HOST’s approach to working with refugees is a new way of thinking and one that values the untapped potential of refugees and host communities. While in the US I began to understand that HOST was moving away from the historical approach of International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) working with refugees and towards an approach that enables refugees to make the most of their situation through innovative funding approaches and employment strategies.

We avoid the traditional aid and development framework that is based on hand outs, and instead take a more strategic, strengths-based and economically sustainable approach to affect the refugee crisis. We’re apart of a movement that’s changing the lens to see refugees as assets with skills that can add value to a host community, country and economy. We are seeking partnerships with other organisations and individuals that share this vision.

Our work on labour migration pathways is one example of these new approaches. Currently HOST is engaged in research and pilot projects throughout the Asia Pacific where we are working with partner organisations, communities and government representatives to explore employment options and pathways to re-settlement that are mutually beneficial to displaced people and the communities hosting them.

In the US we met with several organisations that are also interested in exploring labour migration pathways, including Talent Beyond Boundaries and the Tent Foundation. I was really blown away by the vision of the Tent Foundation, in particular, to bring ‘entrepreneurial approaches and creative solutions to help end the global refugee crisis’. The Tent Foundation has partnered with big businesses (like Facebook, LinkedIn and Starbucks) to encourage them to invest in refugee protection, businesses and employment of individual refugees.

Listening to our CEO David speak with the Tent Foundation team about possible future partnerships and that HOST could potentially encourage investment from big business in refugees as well as providing practical support, made me excited about the future of HOST and the direction we as an organisation are going in. It provided me with space to reflect on our work and I found I was re-energised, and ultimately it re-defined my personal ‘why’ for working in Nauru. It made me excited for the future of refugee’s in the Asia Pacific region.