The business case for helping refugees


Matt Powell

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Recent heart-breaking events have resulted in an increase in corporate social responsibility. 

With a new generation that craves a deeper meaning from work, private companies are progressively trying to find new ways to do business for good.

The new search for a profound purpose in the workplace, combined with recent heart-breaking events around the world, has now resulted in an impressive increase of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives in both SMEs and large corporates.

One challenge that has become clear, however, is that business – and their employees – often want to help, but often don’t know how to.

Many businesses find themselves wanting to embed CSR into their broader strategy, but struggle to make a strong enough business case for more socially responsible practices.

This is where the charity sector must play its part – it has to be better at working collaboratively with businesses to show them how these practices can actually positively impact their bottom line.

Office impact

A little-known fact is that there are approximately 120,000 refugees with the legal right to work in the UK today. But despite high levels of education and experience, more than 70 per cent of those people remain unemployed.

Breaking Barriers is an organisation that, in its first three years, has already shown that there are ways of bringing out the energy and spirit of big business. We have worked with over 20 corporate partners, and in household names in charity’s portfolio, there is clearly a benefit for business.

But the impact has to be real.

By providing services across employment support, cultural orientation, English language skills, IT training and access to work placements and job opportunities, the programme has been built around refugees’ specific needs.

Initiatives such as these are only successful if they are willing to adapt.

Our charity has moved away from a two-dimensional philanthropic approach, towards a top-line business-focused one. We develop the business case for offering work placements, employee engagement, and hiring refugees to show how this can add value to companies.

WeWork is one of the most recent partners. The space and services provider that fosters collaboration has given the charity workspaces to host English language classes and workshops across three different sites.

There are already 220 refugees who have benefited from the classes, and WeWork has pledged to hire 1,500 workers from these communities over the next five years.

Meaningful change

These partnerships are not just made for the traditional office environment, but span industries.

Another example of this in action is the charity’s programme with IKEA, where refugees enrol on a tailored customer service training course, providing them with long-term skills for a career in retail.

With over 110 refugees taking part in this scheme to date, every participant who completes the course is offered an interview with IKEA. Today, 21 of the charity’s clients are working for the company in a range of different roles.

There are of course challenges when it comes to placing refugees into meaningful employment. Language barriers, gaps in employment due to the lengthy asylum process, and the lack of a support network can all contribute to difficulties when finding employment.

However, with the provision and training, these individuals can overcome the barriers they face initially, and go on to flourish and become loyal and skilled members of your team.

By offering grounded initiatives, there is a real opportunity for businesses of all sizes to really do something meaningful when it comes to working with refugee communities.