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Re-Thinking The Refugee Crisis

It turns out we may have been doing the math on refugees all wrong.

An insightful new article from Karen Coates, a senior fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and a fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation, sheds light on new and ongoing research that helps quantify the economic value that displaced people, despite their dire conditions, can bring to a host community.

At least a dozen local, regional, and global analyses published in the last five years provide credible evidence that refugees and migrants offer long-term economic benefits for their new communities. J. Edward Taylor, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis, and director of the Rural Economies of the Americas and Pacific Rim Program, led two such studies, from Rwanda and Uganda, finding that every dollar spent by governments and organizations on refugee aid is multiplied as added income.

The same is true here in the U.S. as well. According to many experts, the children of immigrants “are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.”

And that, in Fortune’s world, is what’s known as a business case.

The analyses may be arriving just in time. By the end of 2015 some 65.3 million people around the world were displaced from their homes by conflict, famine, persecution and other horrors, a new record nobody wanted to set. And many are abandoning hope of living any other way. RED CEO Deborah Dugan recently returned from a trip to Dadaab in Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. It is also home to some 245,000 Somali people. Some, after enduring a five to eight year vetting process, longer believe they would be welcomed in the U.S. “They’re now choosing to go back to Somalia, to face the same conflict they left,” she told raceAhead. “It’s a terrible thing to see.”

But I’m sensing a ripple in the force. For the better part of last year, I’ve been having occasional conversations with senior executives, many of whom are in positions of real influence, who have become increasingly bothered by the refugee crisis. I’ve collected enough of these asides to feel there’s something brewing. It’s a truly hairy problem, complicated by war, corruption and local politics, inextricably linked with the human needs for safety, shelter, food, health care, education, dignity and meaningful work. Heroic stories of people and communities taking in refugee families are always inspiring. But to begin to solve these problems at scale will take a new type of thinking.

This new research offers what most responsible entities need to take meaningful steps toward committing to the hard work of doing the right thing. That’s what business cases are for, right?

So, I’ve got a prediction and a request.

First, the prediction. More and more, compassionate leaders from important multi-national corporations will become increasingly aware of the nature of the worldwide refugee situation. They will begin to propose solutions, at first close to their core businesses – then, with a view to inventing new solutions across multiple levels. And it will be driven in large part because someone visited a camp or because employees care. (It’s happening at LinkedIn, Cisco, Airbnb and UPS, for starters.) These solutions will ultimately have multiple, beneficial use cases, and a lot will go wrong. But the work will necessarily include unusual alliances, broad political engagement and a deep collaboration with refugee populations. And money. People who represent shareholders are going to have to drop some real cash.

Now my request. If you see some a glimmer of interest in these issues within your organization or your leadership, fan the flame. (It works.) If you know someone who has visited a refugee camp or has a personal connection to the migrant experience, ask them to share what they know. Get an idea. Run it by someone. Cold call a like-minded. By connecting the nodes, you can write the kind of business story that really does save the world.

But I do want the exclusive.

On Point

Ten thousand IKEA refugee shelters remain mothballed due to fire concernsIt’s both a setback and a reminder that the work is hard. The award-winning shelter, designed to be built by four people in four hours without special tools, may be more vulnerable to fire than previously understood. Only 5,000 of the 15,000 shelters purchased by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees have been distributed, the rest, worth a total of $12.5 million are being stored while an investigation into their safety is being conducted.Dezeen

Puerto Rico declares a form of bankruptcy
The move, which would transfer some $73 billion of bond debt, and nearly $50 billion of unfunded pension obligations into federal bankruptcy court, would make it the largest government to seek relief in U.S. history. The legal maneuver, called “Promesa” is a form of protection designed for territorial governments.
New York Times

Adam Jones, an all-star center field for the Baltimore Orioles, spoke out after being taunted by racial slurs at Fenway Park
After being called racial epithets and having a bag of peanuts thrown at him during the Orioles-Red Sox game on Monday night, Jones returned to the ballpark yesterday to face reporters. He addressed it head on, calling the incident one of the worst cases of fan abuse in his career. Although apologies from Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker were immediate, there were plenty of players ready to tell their own stories. “’I’ve never been called the N-word anywhere but Boston,’ New York Yankees veteran pitcher CC Sabathia told reporters. ‘There’s 62 of us (African-American players in MLB). We all know. When you go to Boston, expect it.’” Here’s another way to work the headline: A black professional gets racially taunted showing up to work in Boston; not unusual say his colleagues.
USA Today

Ben Carson’s listening tour of affordable housing facilities is sending mixed messages
If you need help from the government to survive, then don’t expect much in creature comforts. After touring facilities for the poor in Ohio last week the housing secretary told reporters, he thought it was important to not give people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’” For some, that he’s touring facilities at all – he’s visited Dallas, Detroit, and Miami, as well – is a sign that he’s looking to understand the issues for himself. And he’s waving off fears that big budget cuts are necessarily coming. But residents thought the listening tour itself was not enough. “There needs to be a forum where you can just sit and talk with him, and he could ask you how you feel and then you could express yourself,” said one 87-year old resident, who receives government vouchers.
New York Times

Angela Merkel presses Russia on reports of abuse of gay people and Jehovah’s Witnesses
The German chancellor raised human rights issues on a rare trip to Russia, in a departure from their normal conversations. “I have, in my talks with the Russian president, indicated how important is the right to demonstrate in a civil society and how important the role of NGOs is,” Ms. Merkel said at a news conference in Sochi, Russia. “I also spoke about the very negative report about what is happening to homosexuals in Chechnya and asked Mr. President to exert his influence to ensure that minorities’ rights are protected.” It was Merkel’s first trip to Russia since May, 2015. There was no indication that the two made any progress on sanctions, Syria or Ukraine in their two hour meeting.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

What happened to Puerto Rico?
The liberal American Prospect blames vulture investors, saying “Puerto Rico is just the latest battlefield for a phalanx of hedge funds called ‘vultures,’ which pick at the withered sinews of troubled governments.” The New York Times adds on with a political twist. The investors, who had been soaking the island for a 20% return on loans, have stepped up their attempts to influence government after the 2010 SCOTUS Citizen’s United decision. “On the surface, it is a battle over whether Puerto Rico should be granted bankruptcy protections, putting at risk tens of billions of dollars from investors around the country. But it is also testing the power of an ascendant class of ultrarich Americans to steer the fate of a territory that is home to more than three million fellow citizens.”
New York Times

How the “backfire effect” makes it hard to change your mind
This utterly delightful tale, told in a graphic romp, is a wonderful explainer for why, despite your best efforts, you are predisposed to believe some facts more than others. And why, despite all good sense, some new information will make you explode into a fit of rage, and other new information won’t. It has to do with your brain. Counterarguments to core beliefs are perceived as physical threats to your well-being. So, when you tell Cousin Peggy that black lives matter, her brain interprets that surprising new information like a predator just burst into the room. Don’t believe me? Click through. Just promise to read to the end.
The Oatmeal

Get to know Puerto Rico through these twelve artists
Despite the island’s dire financial situation (or perhaps because of it) the art scene has continued to thrive in Puerto Rico. San Juan has been enjoying a renaissance of late, which many compare to an earlier, more optimistic time in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Here are twelve leading creatives working in a variety of media, which run from the conceptual to video and pop-up experiences; many are creating loyal followers in art centers around the world.  Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, a married pair of hybrid-form artists are probably the best known, and typically explore themes of colonial power in a playful but political way. Bet they’ve been busy lately.
Paper Magazine


Inequality between peoples continues to rise, and many communities are impacted directly by war and poverty, or the migration and displacement which flow from them. People want to make their voices heard and express their concerns and fears. They want to make their rightful contribution to their local communities and broader society, and to benefit from the resources and development too often reserved for the few. While this may create conflict and lay bare the many sorrows of our world, it also makes us realize that we are living in a moment of hope. For when we finally recognize the evil in our midst, we can seek healing by applying the remedy.
—His Holiness Pope Francis