The Most Profound Statement at Last Week’s World Economic Forum in Davos Came from a Refugee — and Nobody is Listening to It

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org.

Mohammed Hassan Mohamud is a motivating and brilliant millennial who happens to be living life as a refugee, and he’s been living that life for 20 years. He was also one of the 6 co-chairs of the 2019 World Economic Forum hosted in Davos last week. During his opening remarks, he shared this touching statement:

We talk about ethical and sustainable development. We talk about how we can be ethical with robots and machines. We want to solve death. And yet there is so much human suffering… we haven’t figured out life yet.

You can see his full talk here and it’s the best 4 minutes you can spend this week.

Mohammed lives in Kakuma Camp refugee camp. It has 185,000 people living in it from 10 different nationalities, and in late 2018, it exceeded its capacity by over 50,000 people. All these people living as refugees have one thing in common with each other, and in fact, in common with everyone else on this planet. As Hassan explains,

We have aspirations and we have dreams… and we’re not asking for much. Access to education… and the tools that I need to thrive and to make a life for myself.

This statement from Mohammed is profound in its simplicity and it shakes the foundation of institutions dealing with people who are living as refugees. This is especially true of governments, global development nonprofits, and international organizations like the United Nations. Mohammed is not asking for charity, grants, or handouts. He is asking for an opportunity to create a life for himself where he can contribute to society as a citizen, not as a refugee. During a time when many countries are facing a labor shortage and historic unemployment rates (like in the UK and in the USA), creating employment pathways for those hungry to work should be a top priority for corporations and governments who are suffering from this human capital shortage.

While large international institutions might be slow to head these words from Mohammed, other innovative organizations are taking action and delivering results. Take London-based TERN – The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network – which provides mentorship, education, and seed financing to refugees to create their own jobs.  In its first two years, they supported refugees that created 40 new businesses, and many more jobs for people working at them. In Germany, organizations like Sharehuas and CodeDoor developed innovative models to provide housing and job training, which has led to employment pathways for refugees. The research is compelling that these social enterprises are using market-based business models to help educate and employ refugees for the benefit of the society they live in.

Back in Davos, Mohammed challenged participants: “My story is inspiring and I get that. But what do I inspire you to do?”. 

Now is not the time for donations or charity to support the refugee crisis. Mohammed put a face and a story to what leading economists know: There is a human capital shortage. Simply put, we do not have enough of the right talent to create inclusive businesses and a more sustainable planet.

According to the World Economic Forum’s own human capital report, “How nations develop their human capital can be a more important determinant of their long-term success than virtually any other factor.”

Now is the time to create social enterprise models that create immediate employment and educational opportunities for refugees, and in the long-term, demonstrate to governments that there are constructive pathways for refugees to find homes in new counties where they can help elevate the quality of life for themselves, and all those that surround them. 

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