By Alice Barbe. Jan 9, 2020

As the Global Refugee Forum kicked off in Geneva, I thought it was time to remember how important it was to take another perspective on migration. The Summit aimed to translate the principle of international responsibility-sharing into concrete action. Organizers of the Forum has indicated that it will be “an opportunity to showcase impactful pledges and contributions and the exchange of good practices”. Although it is essential to highlight impactful initiatives, may they emerge from the private sector, government or civil society, I believe that labeling people by the word “refugees”, without showcasing the tremendous contributions, skills and dreams they bring to host societies can be counter-productive. Indeed, refugee is a status, a recognized one by the Geneva Convention. But it is far from being an identity. World stakeholders often refer to them as “marginalized”, “vulnerable” and “victims”, which is part of their reality, but does not constitute the entire story. The existing narrative of refugees being objects denies their potential of being subjects. There is plenty of amazing stories behind the “post” refugee identity. Let’s take a few example.

  • Innovation is led by migration

Only in the US, 40% of 500 Fortunes out of the unicorns in the USA were started by at least one immigrant founder, including Google, Tesla and Apple. Let’s face it, these companies may not have created a drastic positive impact on the planet or for equality, especially when it comes to paying their taxes, but they have significantly impacted the way we live. In the past months, I have been visiting some of our SINGA incubators in Europe, and I was thrilled to see how businesses we have supported are impacting the world, for good. SINGA Berlin has organized in November the Newcomer Startup Award, which has been awarded with 50 000 € the most promising startups in Germany, led by newcomers. The second Prize was given to a company that is soon launching a carbon based phone, introducing sustainable high tech into the electronic market.

In the meantime, Google Impact challenge was awarding Konexio, a non-profit based in France bridging the digital divide through innovation and community collaboration, making official that they will scale rapidly in Europe. As alumni from our incubator, Meet my Mama was releasing their book, I had the chance to speak with their founders, and they told me they have supported the professionalization of 300 trained Mamas. Last but not least, Sama For All, an organization dear to my heart, which is training refugees to become tour guides, in partnership with Paris greatest museums, has recently won a share on a 1 million award launched by Open Ideo. No need to say that behind the 317 businesses that SINGA has supported through its 7 incubators in Europe, many jobs and social impact happen.

  • The future of work is inclusion.

There is a gap between CSR policies, employee engagement and brands DNA. Companies like Ikea, Generali or Glovo have understood it. They know that migration is happening and that it does have to be related exclusively on their philanthropy. Newcomers are part of these companies. As they arrive in new countries, they often have to struggle with language barrier and diploma recognition. It does not mean they have to forget about their skills and competences. But here it is, most of the time, they are filling positions that not everybody wants: they deliver food, they clean trains and offices, they drive car we order through some apps. There is no room there for them to shine, create, innovate. Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, understood it well when he said that “we can make a dent in this crisis, we can create real impact, we can improve refugees lives.. just by doing what we do every day in business.”

In the past years, SINGA has been partnering and advising companies who are willing to involve migration in their DNA. May it be by creating new yogurts, focusing on the diversity of tastes represented in their customer base, or ice-creams, like Ben & Jerry launching a campaign to provide free delicious ice creams to locals & newcomers pairing to interact meaningfully, or SNCF in France who is training 150 of their staff to become community organizers with newcomers… There is a need expressed by the private sector to open itself to the beauty of the world, by helping their brand addressing a more diverse audience, and preparing for the future of the world. Data from Tent Foundation show us that a more diverse team is 20% more innovative, and that 77% of Millennials are more willing to buy a product designed by a company helping refugees. What is even more surprising is that these millennials will buy the product even if they don’t fully agree on their borders being open. It means they are aware that migration is a global issue, and could be solved at its premises.

  • It’s a race we can win

I often hear in the public debate that migration should be handled by states. But how to do so when you see that hateful speeches and hyper-nationalist rhetoric is spreading? Let’s face it, the world is lacking political leadership (but the good news is that political leaders are renewable), especially when it comes to migration. The over-hysterization of migration in the media does nothing but highlighting the need to rethink migration, beyond Nation-State. Humanity is plural and this plurality is the key to its unity. We belong to common groups, not only on Facebook or Meetup, MakeSense or SINGA, but globally. A New Yorker can be best pal with someone living in Moscow, just because they play Pokemon Go together. I can love Sri Lankan food and feel at home in Peru, because I would have had cultural influence from my friends or my employer.

The whole concept of national identity is melting. And to speak about great challenges, the world is facing the biggest of all with global warming. If we do nothing, it’s not 70 million as it is today, but 300 millions of forcibly displaced people who will have to flee from their countries before 2050.

Among them, people who love, cook, build, create. Who can be the next inventor or Tesla, Penicillin or Nobel Prize. It does not belong to Nation State to decide upon their future through calculation and statistics. At SINGA, we work with all stakeholders willing to go beyond the us versus them paradigm that prevents host communities to create the right conditions for newcomers to reveal their incredible potential. And maybe you’re one of them?