NONI: Regarding the collective impact, we do encourage businesses to step up together and make this commitment public, because part of our mission is to encourage companies to come into the Tent fold. But one big thing that we also want to tackle is how do you start to shift the narrative around refugees from being victims to them being empowered, economically productive members of society? Encouraging businesses to make these commitments public is a really important way to do that. When the H&Ms and Airbnbs of the world do that, they act as role models. That means that we can encourage a broader cohort of businesses to follow suit and be public about it.
ANDREAS: In addition, it’s part of my role to convince companies to roll out their programs to additional countries. We typically start in the country where the company is headquartered, and then either replicate that model in countries B, C and D, or identify models and projects suitable for specific countries. This increases the social impact because we’re actually adding countries to the portfolio from one member company.
How can business help shift the narrative around refugees, away from being victims or a burden on society?
NONI: It’s not going to happen overnight. For us, what’s really important is to get the big brands on board that are willing to speak up, to get involved and to encourage others—and in particular, to hear it beyond the traditionally more liberal and activist companies like Ben & Jerry’s or Starbucks. Encouraging other types of companies into the fold, companies that you wouldn’t expect to be speaking up for refugees. I think that is what’s going to start shifting the dial.
In terms of advocacy itself, that’s not really what we do. There are plenty of organizations out there, like the UNHCR and IOCs of the world that do a fantastic job raising the public profile of the issue of the refugee crisis. What we do is actually more focused on the idea of thinking through economic integration, why it’s important, and why companies should participate.
There is another strand of our work that is a little bit more advocacy-focused, and that’s when it comes to the refugees’ right to work. In Malaysia, for example, refugees don’t have the right to work and there’s a big refugee population, primarily Rohingya, that has fled Myanmar. We put forward the macro business case regarding why companies should allow refugees to work and we will engage governments and try to put forward the case as to why it’s really important to give refugees labor market access.
Tom McGivan and Ann-Kathrin Richter are Associates with Brunswick’s Business & Society offer, helping leaders of companies recognize and cultivate social value at the core of their operations.
Photographs: Carsten Koall/Getty Images; Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Charts: Peter Hoey