Consulting firm Geneva Global eyes $10m fund to aid Syrian refugees

Consulting company plans to launch a fund for Jordanian businesses to assist Syrian refugees

Geneva Global, a consulting company with expertise in international development, plans to launch a fund to assist Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon in an effort to offer a more sustainable solution to their plight.

“It seems to me this Syrian crisis needs some new thinking. We are interested in creating a Syrian refugee fund and administering it and working in Jordan and Lebanon,” said Doug Balfour, CEO of Geneva Global.

The fund will help create Jordanian businesses that provide services for Syrian refugees. After that, permissions would be sought for Syrians to work on an incentive basis for these companies.

“That will give them some dignity and the Jordanians will also benefit from that. What we need is an element of sustainability whereas what we’ve got is a model of unsustainability,” said Balfour, referring to aid handouts that are failing to bring about change to a long-term crisis.

Geneva Global, which creates customised international programs for clients that include wealthy donors, foundations and corporations, is in talks with a “number of people in the Middle East and others who have regional connections” to create a philanthropic fund that uses private capital to run programmes in the two countries.

The consultancy will look to look to raise cash from foundations and individuals, as well as in the west from corporations and private donors. The target is to raise north of $10m for the fund to be spent over two to three years, with a view to launching publicly in Spring 2016.

It has previously created and administered funds dedicated to health and empowerment and is preparing to launch one for out of school children around the world. The company has worked in more than 100 countries and often helps foundations and nonprofits engage better with major donors.

The idea for the Syrian fund stemmed from Balfour’s recent visit to Jordan where he interacted with Syrian refugees working in villages. The dire conditions under which most Syrian refugees lived highlighted the increasing difficulties host countries face to accommodate them.

“I was really struck by the sense of complete hopelessness and the fact that the refugees in Jordan are stuck,” said Balfour. “Jordan’s got some 14 per cent of Syrian refugees and they’ve done a good job looking after them, along with the other countries that received the refugees. But we are into the fifth year, with these people having no release in sight and no change to their situation… with no idea about their future.”

Surviving on very small UN handouts due to lack of funding, most Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon cannot afford basic needs such as food, shelter and medical care. They are not allowed to work in Jordan, which is grappling with a high unemployment rate. These desperate circumstances lead many to live in substandard housing that is mostly inadequate.

Balfour has seen aid organisations treating the crisis as a normal emergency aid-granting event, while it doesn’t have the normal dynamic of a relief situation where a big crisis occurs and then people are relocated back to their villages, he said. In this case, Syrian refugees have nowhere to go.

“We need to bring a whole lot of development thinking into this emergency, instead of handouts that are running out. Everybody is cutting down what they are spending and yet we have this whole army of people who can work but don’t work,” he explained.

“We could be talking about another five years of people being stuck and host countries would become less tolerant,” he said.