At last month’s UN General Assembly, world leaders met to take stock of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set in 2015.
The ambitious targets – which include reducing poverty, ending hunger, and promoting decent work and sustainable economic growth – are the right ones, but progress towards them is not moving quickly enough.
Governments across the world play an important role, but significant headway will require a greater contribution by the private sector. If the world is going to deliver, now is the time for business to step up.
This is particularly crucial when it comes to addressing the urgent issue of helping people affected by conflict and crisis.
The number of people forced to flee their homes has reached a sky-high 68.5m – the equivalent of the entire population of the UK – and it continues to rise. At the International Rescue Committee (IRC), we are working to assist people caught in war and crisis, and we can see that the work the global community is doing is not meeting these people’s needs.
A ground-breaking report by the IRC and the Overseas Development Institute, sponsored by Citi and Unilever, has found that four out of five fragile and conflict-affected countries are off-track to meet the SDGs by 2030, the date agreed by the UN and world powers.
The private sector has an opportunity to change this. From multinational corporations whose turnover is greater than the GDP of some countries, to the millions of small and medium-sized enterprises, business can play a pivotal role.
As innovators, creators and thought leaders, the private sector holds the ideas and resources to help drive international efforts forward. We are not only talking about traditional forms of corporate social responsibility, but about core business activities, including communications, collaboration, advocacy, and funding.
First and most importantly, the private sector can make a statement and change lives at the same time by hiring more refugees and actively drawing them into supply chains.
A recent study by the TENT Foundation found that almost half (48 per cent) of refugees with a known location are of working age. Almost two thirds (62 per cent) of them are living in urban areas, which are hives of entrepreneurial activity.
Businesses are in a unique position to capitalise on that opportunity, unlocking the talents of refugees by including them in their core recruitment activities.
Where refugees are unable to find jobs that fit their skills, companies can take a proactive approach to hiring and training.
Integrating refugees into the workforce is the right thing to do, and can help fill skill or labour gaps in the job market at the same time.
Business also has a role where refugees are unable to work due to legal restrictions.
The private sector has a powerful voice, and can help make a compelling, persuasive argument on the potential of refugees to drive economic growth in their new homes, opposing the stubborn narrative that countries “cannot afford” to take in refugees.
The Business Refugee Action Network currently plays an important coordinating role in Europe, assessing and spreading the word on what works, scaling successful initiatives, and mobilising its members to support a refugee-friendly environment.
This is an ideal opportunity for businesses to get involved and use their influence to send a message, challenging outdated policies that currently act as a barrier to refugees securing employment.
Finally, business should target financing towards employment-based programme for refugee communities. For example, the IRC’s partnership with the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative shows how corporates can work to address the moral, social and economic imperative of reaching those affected by war and crisis.
Together, we focus on finding ways to deploy meaningful, targeted funding to train refugees in entrepreneurship skills and encourage them to pitch for seed funding to turn their business dreams into reality.
Programmes like this not only equip people with sharp business acumen, but also stimulate the economies that host them.
Research from the Open Network shows that investing one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years.
Quite simply, the business case for helping people caught in conflict and crisis has never been stronger: invest in opportunities for refugees and reap the economic benefits.
The potential for change is unprecedented. It could be the private sector that tips the scales in favour of achieving the SDGs, improving global wellbeing to levels never seen before.
We urge businesses to take a stand and actively consider how they can support the achievement of the SDGs for all, before it is too late.