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Expert Views: Bold Ideas for Creating a Better World for Refugees

Leaders from the private sector, human rights and refugee protection discuss big ideas for improving the global response to refugees on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos.

Written by Charlotte Alfred, Lara Setrakian Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
A Congolese man holds his child after he crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into western Uganda on January 24, 2018. SUMY SADURNI/AFP/Getty Images

DAVOS, Switzerland – On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, we asked business, policy and humanitarian leaders to weigh in on their boldest idea for creating a better world for refugees in 2018. Here are a selection of their answers.

Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

We need to move from a concept of relief to a model of inclusion so that refugees can go to school, utilize national health services and have access to jobs in the countries where they are, with a corresponding injection of resources by the international community into those countries. This is really the dream of the Global Compact. I think that if we were able to succeed with this model in a few countries, it would catch on. Because it’s a win-win for everybody, including for host countries that are often impoverished. We’re not there yet, with a few exceptions. That’s what I would really like to see happen.

Neal Keny Guyer, CEO, Mercy Corps

My boldest idea would be to create a peaceful world so all the refugees could go home. Obviously that’s a little Polly Anna-ish, but on the other hand, since conflict is the number one driver of refugees, if we, as a global community, can’t find better ways to address the root causes of conflict and create environments where over 66 million displaced people can go home, then we are just tinkering at the margins in a very fragile world. First and foremost, this starts with a shared vision. One of the great divides today are between those who embrace shared society – where we see our common humanity first and then, the things that divide us second – as opposed to those who seem to embrace the notion of segregated society. We need to join forces with those who embrace shared society, creating education systems so that young people are exposed to those ideas.

Gemma Mortensen, Cofounder, More in Common

From the research that we’ve done, we think that the way in which you frame talking about refugees and immigrants can make a massive difference to the level of public support you can win for policies that are supportive of immigrant and refugee populations. The big thing will be to show that it’s possible to take an act of great humanity [by accepting refugees], but also that integration can work – and not only in countries like Germany and Sweden that have taken huge numbers of people. We desperately need additional proof cases to show not just that it’s the right thing to do, but that it’s viable and a good thing for societies to do. Until that is proven, I don’t think that we will know how to deal with the world becoming increasingly more mobile in the coming years.

Tara Nathan, Executive Vice President of Public-Private Partnerships, MasterCard

We have a tendency to think of big ideas as new innovations. But the truth is, most of these innovations already exist. Sometimes the biggest innovation is not about creating something new, but applying something that already exists in a new way. How can we leverage what the private sector already does today? Every single conversation I enter, I see exactly one issue that prevents progress, and that there’s no clear articulation of the demand side, of the business requirements. The NGO or community or implementers either don’t have the ability to fully articulate what they need, or are unwilling to, or maybe it’s a little bit of both. On the private sector side, we also struggle [in] finding a way to engage in order to have high impact with low touch engagement.

How can we come up with partnerships – not just focused on thought leadership – but on an executional and operational level? The Smart Communities Coalition [launched in Davos] is meant to be an operational executional coalition. Now we have a group of people who say: “We get it. How do we take it further?” Ideas like pre-negotiation – to negotiate on behalf of large companies who have no interest in answering RFPs [requests for proposals]. How can we find a mechanism to create operational capacity, and to flexibly integrate and engage, so we extract value from the private sector and revitalize the humanitarian and development space?

Sara Pantuliano, Managing Director, Overseas Development Institute

My boldest idea for creating a better world for refugees in 2018 is to shift our thinking of technology and the ability to have a smartphone from being a luxury to instead a survival tool. People use it to track the best routes, border checks, and security controls, but also for job opportunities, translation apps, and educational or learning mechanisms. Once they’re settled into a place, smartphones can help them stay in touch with people back home and send money. It’s actually one of the most important things for them; we’ve seen people trading food rations in camps in order to buy airtime. We need to reconsider how critical a need technology is for refugees.

These answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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