One year ago, then-US president Obama hosted a United Nations roundtable on the refugee crisis with US business leaders. He spoke about the vital role companies must play to address the crisis. In the year since, the role of the private sector has only grown more important, as the number of refugees has swelled—22.5 million by the last official count, up by another 1.2 million from the year before. The number is rapidly expanding as many hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled South Sudan and Myanmar in the last couple of months alone, even as some governments, including the US government, have sought to cut refugee admissions and reduce funding to the UN Refugee Agency.
It’s clear that the private sector, especially multinational businesses, have a stake in addressing the refugee crisis. With supply chains that span the globe, the stability of major refugee-hosting countries—from Turkey to Kenya to Bangladesh—is not an esoteric concern. Business leaders also understand that hardening public attitudes to immigrants and refugees often threaten trade and their bottom line (see: Brexit). They also know that their customers and employees increasingly expect businesses to stand for certain values, and that they can enhance their brand by doing so. But, most of all, business leaders have an interest in creating a better world.
Yet amid the exhortations for the private sector to do more, it hasn’t been clear as to just what it is that businesses should be doing—and specifically where multinational businesses have a comparative advantage over traditional actors. The Center for Global Development, in partnership with the Tent Foundation, set out to close this gap—and today we released a report that outlines the best ways CEOs can help right now.
Our first finding: let business be business. There’s no question that the private sector can help by donating money to the organizations that work with refugees (or, in certain circumstances, by donating in-kind goods and services to them). But even a generous financial contribution is more likely to be one-off or occasional, and it delivers much less impact over time than a business decision, say, to source certain items from a refugee-employing enterprise—which can pay significant dividends for refugees indefinitely. Additionally, we don’t think that philanthropic donations from companies can reach the critical scale to make meaningful inroads in addressing the refugee crisis.