It was a great honor to be invited to speak at the 2018 World Investment Forum about the work we’ve done at BCNA to support refugee entrepreneurship in the United States as well as to participate in a panel discussion on Entrepreneurship, Migration, and Sustainable Development Goals. This important conference, which is held every two years, provides a global platform for engagement and dialogue on emerging and key issues related to investing for sustainable development.
It had a particular importance this year as the current US administration’s unfortunate anti-immigrant and refugee rhetoric has overshadowed the fact that the US has a well-developed refugee resettlement process and a progressive 18-year-old program to support refugee entrepreneurship. Much of the success of those programs is due to the strategic thinking and dedication of past and current leadership and staff at the Office of Refugee Resettlement and I was pleased to be able to acknowledge that important contribution.
This year’s Forum included over 50 events, which ranged from private sector-led sessions, to TED Talk-style presentations, high-profile stakeholder round tables, networking events, an Investment Village, award ceremonies, and the Global Investment Game Changers Summit, which included a conversation between David Hanson of Hanson Robotics and Sophia the Robot that was definitely a highlight for many of the attendees.
The opening remarks by Laura Thompson, Deputy Secretary General of (IOM); Volker Turk, Assistant High Commissioner of UNHCR, and Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, set the stage for the discussion that it is critical – and the responsibility of each one of us at the packed session – to convey the positive impact refugees and migrants have on local economies, a proven fact but not publicized as effectively as it should be. Mr. Turk spoke about the trend to not warehouse refugees but rather enable them to integrate into the local communities and become a participant in the local economy, citing the example of Jordan, which has provided work permits to a large number of refugees and has also instituted a program to train women to become plumbers and electricians.
The highlight of the conference for me was clearly our panel on Entrepreneurship, Migration, and Sustainable Development Goals, which included Heloisa Menezes from Brazil, Stetieh Nayef Zakariya from Jordan, Alfonso Abdo Felix from Ecuador, and Usman Iftikar from Australia and which was organized by Dr. Fulvia Farinelli and her staff at UNCTAD.
To coincide with the session, UNCTAD, the UN High Commission for Refugees, and the International Organization for Migration produced a 163-page Policy Guide for Migrant and Refugee Entrepreneurship, which is filled with case studies, lessons learned, and best practices to support migrant and refugeeentrepreneurship from around the world. We were very pleased to be included in this excellent document with case studies and stories featuring three of our refugee clients who have leveraged support from BCNA’s services and programs to start and expand their refugee-owned businesses. During our panel’s remarks about the policy guide, I stressed the importance of providing access to capital, noting that BCNA has made over $7 million in microloans to refugees and that refugee participants in BCNA’s Individual Development Account (IDA) Program have invested over $27 million into microbusiness, further education, recertification, and purchasing their first home.
I came away from this year’s Forum with a renewed sense of purpose to continue to support refugee entrepreneurship and bring attention to the positive economic impact it has to the host country.