People assembling an IKEA shelter

UNHCR staff together with local Greek volunteers and some Syrian refugees assemble temporary UNHCR shelters sponsored by the IKEA foundation which were air-lifted onto Lesbos 10 days ago. © UNHCR/Ivor Prickett

Ikea, The Lego Foundation and Vodafone lead 30 organizations at the Global Refugee Forum promising education, training, jobs, legal services and cash assistance to refugees.

The growing role of the private sector in mobilizing vital resources to support millions of refugees worldwide went on show today at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, where business leaders made US$220 million in pledges.


The scale and reach of the assistance became clear in a pledge by the IKEA Foundation, Ingka Group and Inter IKEA Group to assist 2,500 refugees through job training and language skills initiatives at 300 IKEA stores and units in 30 countries through 2022.

The commitment is boosted by the IKEA Foundation’s promise to provide 100 million euros in programme grants over the next five years.

“It is good business to do good, and we at IKEA have the fortune to think in generations,” Tolga Öncu, retail operations manager at Ingka Group told a joint news conference with executives from The LEGO Foundation and telecoms heavyweight Vodafone.

Öncu said IKEA sought to shape a positive narrative around refugees: “These are friends and colleagues, and tomorrow it can be myself, it can be you, it can be our children or grandchildren. I think we owe the refugees today to make sure that the narrative throughout the whole world becomes a positive narrative.”

“It is good business to do good, and we at IKEA have the fortune to think in generations.”

More than half of the world’s 25.9 million refugees are children. To improve their lives, The LEGO Foundation announced a US$100 million grant for play-based learning through PlayMatters, an initiative to strengthen resilience and build the social, emotional, cognitive, physical and creative skills of young refugee children.

A group of people smile at the camera at the Global Refugee Forum

Left to right, Joakim Reiter, John Goodwin, UNHCR’s Dominique Hyde, Hamdi Ulukaya and Tolga Öncu in Geneva. © UNHCR/Steve Forrest

“We are particularly focused on the early years of education,” said John Goodwin, CEO of The Lego Foundation. “We feel that it’s imperative that we do all that we can to provide those children with the start that they need, both to overcome the adversity that they have experienced and to put them on a trajectory for a successful, thriving life.”

Stepping up to the plate, the Vodafone Foundation made a commitment to expand the high-quality digital education it provides throught its Instant Network Schools programme, from 85,000 young refugees to more than 500,000.

It aims to boost the number of Instant Network Schools in Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, connecting students to educational resources and the wider online world. Other countries will follow by 2025.

“There are four million refugee children who don’t have access to education,” said Joakim Reiter, Group External Affairs Director at Vodafone. “We need to close the education gap to make sure that all children, no matter where you were born, and whether you were unfortunate enough to be born in a refugee camp … have the right to shape their life as best seems appropriate.”

The first-ever World Refugee Forum is meeting in Geneva through 18 December to find solutions for 70 million children, women and men uprooted from their homes globally by war, conflict, and persecution, including 25.9 million refugees, who have sought safety across international borders.

“We need to close the education gap to make sure that all children, no matter where you were born.”

The three-day gathering brings together refugees, heads of state and government, UN leaders, international institutions, development organizations, civil society representatives and business leaders.

Over 30 other organizations – small and medium enterprises, law firms, multinationals, social enterprises, private foundations, coalitions and investment networks – have come forward with pledges.

These are centred around the goals of the Global Compact on Refugees, a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing affirmed by the UN General Assembly a year ago. It is set to include specific commitments around education opportunities and training and creating jobs for refugees.

“As old conflicts continue and new ones erupt, displacing millions of people, we need smart, inspiring, engaging and inclusive ways of helping refugees and host communities, and we can all play a role,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said ahead of the announcement.

He added: “The private sector, with its creativity, drive and commitment, has already stepped up, making important pledges at the Global Refugee Forum. And companies stand ready to do more.”

Other pledges are around connectivity, pro-bono legal services, business development services, investment in refugee-led companies, innovative financing and cash assistance, as well as access to clean and safe energy.

Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, who founded the Tent Partnership for Refugees in response to the global refugee crisis, spoke of employing refugees at his operations in upstate New York, and the transformation that wrought in their lives.

“The minute they started working,” he said, “was the minute they stopped being a refugee.”

Originally published on UNHCR on 16 December 2019

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