Over the past two decades, the number of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially. For the first time in modern history, nearly 1% of the global population is displaced. Among them are more than 22 million refugees, over half are under 18.
The magnitude and urgency of the crisis requires support from all parts of society – including business. That’s why we are committed to helping people navigate these challenging times and rebuild their lives, while working to make our business more resilient.
As Rebecca Marmot, Global VP, Advocacy and Partnerships, explains: “We mobilise our strongest assets – our brands, employees, products and partnerships – to help displaced individuals and their families access everyday essentials, develop their skills and settle into their new homes. We also use our voice as a global company to raise awareness, engage the private sector and champion policies that support refugee rights.
“To ensure we can make the greatest and most sustainable impact, we align these initiatives with our business objectives. This both unlocks growth and drives support to tackle the refugee crisis.”
Here are three of our initiatives, in the words of the refugees and Unilever employees involved.
Ben & Jerry’s supports aspiring refugee entrepreneurs
In 2017, Ben & Jerry’s teamed up with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) to launch the Ice Academy, a programme for refugees looking to start a business in the UK. The Ice Academy combines part-time employment with a four-month entrepreneurship training programme that allows participants to test their business ideas.
Chris Gale, European Head of Social Mission for Ben & Jerry’s, says: “Refugees face high levels of unemployment and underemployment. And yet, refugees often demonstrate incredible creativity and resilience in starting a new life in another country – clearly important factors for success in entrepreneurship.
“The Ice Academy programme offers refugees – who want to start their own business – the tools and connections they need to unlock their potential, supporting them to create some pretty cool ideas and ultimately, make a decision on what the best next step is personally.
“Refugees face a tough challenge in having to rebuild their lives in a new country. Too often there isn’t enough information or support for people to access, as well as the time and space to develop a business idea. The Ice Academy, while small, shows us what is possible for people to achieve with the right help at the right times.”
Asraa, who joined last year after arriving from Libya, agrees: “It was really good for my CV, as I learned about business and selling. I also grew in confidence. When you have confidence, you can speak loudly, you can laugh. You have to be confident. I think it’s the first step if you want to be successful.”
Unilever Levant supports refugees through cold winter
Unilever Levant, Carrefour and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) joined up to drive consumer engagement and raise funds for refugees facing a harsh winter.
The Smile with Us multi-brand campaign gave shoppers a glimpse into the lives of refugees through a 3D virtual reality capsule. Initially, it ran for a month and raised funds used to help 400 families, while delivering a sales uplift. A second, two-week campaign raised additional funds and increased sales in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Zeina Al Mouallem, Shopper Marketing Manager, Levant & Iraq, explains: “Business has a responsibility to tackle the humanitarian crisis we are facing, and Unilever has the power to make an impact through our purpose-led brands. This initiative directly touches the hearts and minds of consumers, encouraging them to be part of the solution.
“Having been born and raised in Lebanon – a country that has suffered from years of wars and today hosts one of the highest refugee populations – I decided to act, mobilising customers, colleagues and partners. Initiatives such as this allow us to be relevant to the needs of our communities.”
Unilever leaders in Turkey learn from Syrian refugees
Unilever Turkey is running a reverse mentoring programme that connects young, talented Syrian refugees with senior leaders to exchange ideas and develop cross-cultural insights.
We benefit in a number of ways. We get insights into where young people see culture, technology and business heading; a better understanding of the needs of Syrian consumers; and increased brand value, by showing our commitment to support the communities in which we operate. We are also challenged to look beyond stereotypes about refugees and realise their untapped potential. The refugees meanwhile get invaluable guidance and advice on their career paths.
Odai Al Hashmi, an architect and one of the mentors, says: “Key insights can be drawn into how the corporate sector could potentially tap into a labour market that is abundant and valuable. I hope it shows the amount of talent available here that is being neglected.”
Mustafa Seckin, VP, Foods & Refreshment Marketing, NAMETRUB – one of the mentees – adds: “We can be a role model for other organisations and really accelerate the movement. Is there a chance, in five years’ time, that we can have 150 Syrians in our company? That would be a great vision.”
This view is backed up by Harm Goossens, EVP, Unilever Turkey: “One of our values is around creating a diverse workforce and respecting those from different backgrounds. Given that we employ 5,000 people in Turkey, we want to help ensure that refugees have opportunities to integrate within society.”
Good start, but more to do
This is only a starting point. We know there is much more to be done and we cannot do it alone. That’s why we are working with the , a global coalition that helps to more effectively leverage the ingenuity of the world’s businesses in support of refugees.
And to mark World Refugee Day, we are co-hosting a gathering of European business leaders to discuss the role of the private sector in addressing the crisis and to mobilise companies to take action.
What you can do to help
As an individual, you can to help provide survival essentials such as shelter, food and medical supplies. You can also add your name to the to send a message to decision makers that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility.
If you represent an organisation, we encourage you to read The B Team’s report Refugees are an Opportunity for Humanity, which outlines a clear case for business action and shows how companies can help refugees regain control of their lives. We also encourage you to join the Tent Partnership for Refugees.