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UN refugee agency announces new initiative with business sector to boost aid

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at UN Headquarters.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at UN Headquarters.

UN refugee agency announces new initiative with business sector to boost aid

Calling it “a virtuous circle,” the United Nations refugee agency today announced the formation of a Council of Business Leaders to boost its assistance to refugees and returnees, thus contributing to more stable societies, which in turn are clearly good for business.

The role of the Council, launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is to provide the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with a network of innovative business leaders to generate further private sector support, including funds.

“The world leaders who are gathered here at Davos – politicians, media leaders and business executives – need to recognize that UNHCR cannot solve refugee problems in isolation,” Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin said. “Thankfully, some companies now see that UNHCR is able to empower refugees and returnee communities.

“When corporations help address the plight of refugees and returnees, they contribute to the development of more stable societies – and more stability is clearly good for business. There’s scope for a virtuous circle here,” she added.

The Council consists of top executives from five major corporations that are already working with UNHCR to improve opportunities for refugees: Merck & Co, Inc.; Microsoft; Nestlé; Nike and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie drew on the example of the recent devastating Indian Ocean tsunami to stress the role of business in helping out in crises.

“If there’s been one positive thing to come out of the immense tragedy of the tsunami, it is the amazing response by people and organizations across the world,” the Oscar-winning actress said at the Forum.

“What we need now is for this momentum, and this generosity, to be translated into a sustained effort to help solve some of the world’s other neglected crises, like the desperate situation in Chad and Sudan,” Ms. Jolie added, referring to the desperate plight of refugees and displaced people in the two African countries.

Microsoft and UNHCR have worked in partnership for five years, developing solutions to re-unite refugees and providing education through computer learning centres. Nike and PricewaterhouseCoopers are helping improve refugee girls’ access to education. Merck has helped the agency introduce mobile health libraries in refugee camps in Tanzania while Nestlé is helping improve a major water treatment facility in Ethiopia.

The Council will advise UNHCR on its strategies to best catalyze innovative public-private partnership partnerships, and will help the refugee agency find sources of private-sector funding to complement the funds it receives in voluntary contributions from governments – funds that often cover only basic needs.