Lessons in giving from the global south

If we can look beyond the US model of giving, diverse and innovative philanthropy is going on under the radar all over the world, writes Arthur Gautier

In the global conversation around philanthropy, the American model dominates, and for good reason. Until recently, there was little to rival the range and quality of knowledge stemming from American universities - or the interest shown by the public in figures such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. It is a testament to the country’s history where elite and mass philanthropy have often foreshadowed government welfare.

In Europe, where welfare states are prevalent, philanthropic research was much scarcer. Yet the region has long relied on private giving to fund innovative solutions to unmet social needs. Philanthropy has provided a key contribution to medical research, education, poverty relief and the arts, among others.

In other regions, we have even less knowledge of giving patterns. With this in mind, we interviewed 10 so-called ‘frontier philanthropists’ in Pakistan, India, Turkey, Kenya, South Africa and Hong Kong, who are part of the Empower Families for Innovative Philanthropy platform, founded by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations. Our goal was to uncover the motivations and strategies developed by these entrepreneurs and family businesses to foster social change, as well as the specific challenges they face.

Two key takeaways emerged from our study in the form of dilemmas faced by these families: whether to collaborate with governments or not; and whether to run their own programmes or to fund existing organisations. Their responses yield lessons for us all.

Private foundations need champions among elected and senior officials who share the same willingness to achieve positive changeIn several countries where these frontier philanthropists are active, government interventions are often associated with bureaucracy, governance concerns, weak institutions and a lack of legitimacy. At the same time, wealthy philanthropists are sometimes considered as unwelcome funders of initiatives that could undermine state action. We expected global south philanthropists to stay away from the state as much as possible, so it was surprising to find eight out of 10 families we interviewed actively collaborated with governments.

There are three reasons for this. First, governments can remove hurdles faced by programmes on the ground, notably in terms of security or access to infrastructure like roads and airports. Second, governments can provide additional funding. Third, government support is necessary to expand and roll out programmes that were successful on a small scale, in order to serve more people.

Indeed, given the scope and urgency of social ills such as limited access to clean water, lack of primary education for girls and unaffordable eye care in many developing countries, philanthropists need the government if they want to scale and deliver a long-lasting social impact.

The families we interviewed used their business background to leverage existing ties with key government officials, but this time for philanthropic purposes. Effective collaboration is even more crucial in emergencies, such as the devastating earthquakes that afflicted South Asia in the 2000s. This is what Ali Siddiqui, CEO of the Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation, realised in 2005 after the Kashmir earthquake. His foundation’s camps for internally displaced persons secured police guards thanks to effective, in-person negotiations with the local police.

In fact, more than the state apparatus per se, private foundations need champions among elected and senior officials who share the same willingness to achieve positive change. Mutual trust and a deep understanding of the cultural and political context give global south philanthropists an edge over foreign donors and international development agencies.

“It is important to see officials as good people working in a sometimes dysfunctional system,” noted Nicola Galombik, executive director of Yellowwoods, a family-run holding company in South Africa.

Rich, diverse and innovative philanthropy is going on under the radar all over the world, quietly improving the lives of millionsThe second key takeaway is how frontier philanthropists operate. While some 75 to 90 per cent of foundations in the Western world are grantmaking (and only a minority are operating), this ratio appears inverted in emerging nations. We were struck by the strong involvement of philanthropists on the ground, in addition to financial support. Many run their own programmes and some even build and operate top-tier facilities such as universities, hospitals and museums, because public infrastructures in healthcare and education, for example, are usually insufficient and too expensive to cater to whole populations’ needs. This is the rationale behind AmanAmbulance, the Aman Foundation’s own network of 80 ambulances with doctors providing 24/7 emergency medical interventions in Karachi, Pakistan.

Sometimes no NGO at all is doing the type of work philanthropists want to support in a given area. While the NGO sector is thriving in countries such as the Philippines, India or Jordan, there is a dearth of trusted NGOs with professional staff in some other parts of the global south. Private foundations are forced to carry the operations themselves if they want to achieve their philanthropic goals.

Rather than a handicap, this can be an advantage. Family philanthropists are often entrepreneurs and business leaders, and can capitalise on their skillset to achieve tangible results and even mobilise staff and board members from their own enterprise. They can train and transfer knowledge to NGOs to build management and leadership capacities in the long run. Getting involved on the ground beyond traditional chequebook philanthropy is also a way to set an example, and inspire other public and private funders in their home countries, ultimately leading to more impact for every grant awarded.

Are there any downsides to this hands-on approach? Some fear that philanthropists exert too much power if they are both funders and operators. There are also concerns that overconfident entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists may think they can solve problems in a snap, overlooking the complexity and subtlety of social ills. But initiating a new programme to address unmet needs is different from clinging to it forever. Global south philanthropists are often eager to gradually transition responsibility for the programme to the government.

Rich, diverse and innovative philanthropy is going on under the radar all over the world, quietly improving the lives of millions. We should acknowledge the contributions of high-profile billionaires from the US, but we also need to shed more light on the giving traditions from all continents. Tomorrow, it could well be that Asian, African and Middle Eastern philanthropy will raise the bar for the rest of the world.

About the writer

Arthur Gautier is executive director of the ESSEC Philanthropy Chair and a research fellow at ESSEC Business School in France.

A working solution

Refugees can boost host economies - if only they are given the chance to work. Jessica Holland lays out the business case for seeing refugees as a benefit, not a burden

In the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2014, Aline Sara was in Beirut struggling to find a tutor to help improve her conversational Arabic. Formal courses were too expensive for the recent graduate, and focused too narrowly on the written dialect.

The search sparked an idea. Lebanon is home to at least 1 million Syrian refugees – among them former doctors, engineers and teachers – but legal barriers mean few can work. What if Sara connected Syrian refugees to Arabic learners for hour-long video chats to improve their conversational skills? Engaging refugees as tutors would offer them a way to earn money – and also give language students an opportunity to hone their Arabic with native speakers. 

Natakallam – which means ‘we speak’ in Arabic – launched in 2015. To date, it has enabled more than 60 refugees in 11 countries to tutor 1,500 students, while universities including the US’ George Washington, Northeastern and Tufts connect their students to the platform.

Tutors receive $10 an hour, paid via a local NGO if they are unable to obtain an official work permit, and a further $5 paid by the student goes towards Natakallam’s running costs.

By the end of this year, Sara hopes to provide 100 refugees living in Lebanon with full-time work.

“People all across the planet are excited to feel like they’re contributing to supporting displaced people,” she says. “A lot of us feel helpless, and it’s a tangible, direct solution.”

“This waste of talent is senseless in a world where many employers have trouble filling skilled positions”Around the world, more than 22 million people have fled across borders to escape spiraling conflict, persecution and poverty. Many will spend years in exile – and a significant number will never return home. In Dadaab, the world’s second-largest refugee camp, established in Kenya in 1992, second- and third-generation refugees are being born in tents.

In many host countries, a combination of legal restrictions, cultural factors and language barriers conspire to block refugees’ access to job markets. In some countries – such as Lebanon and Jordan, which have borne the brunt of the fallout from the war in Syria – work permits are limited in order to protect already scarce employment opportunities for native citizens.

The result is that refugees can spend years in limbo, unable to earn a living and with eroding skillsets, dependent on aid handouts or illegal jobs to survive. Too often they are painted as victims, very rarely as degree-holders, or professionals, or as people with diverse knowledge and skills to share.

“This waste of talent is senseless in a world where many employers have trouble filling skilled positions,” says Sayre Nyce, executive director of Talent Beyond Boundaries. Launched in 2016, the US-based social enterprise operates a global database of refugees’ professional profiles that can be browsed by employers in developed nations. When a match is made, the refugee is able to migrate to a new country with a job already in place.

The scheme is being piloted with refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, and the goal is to have relocated 10 to 30 people to jobs in countries such as Canada, Australia and Morocco by end-2018.

“There is broad consensus that refugees need additional safe, legal ways to move and rebuild their lives,” Nyce says. “To us, it seemed natural that someone should be creating a pathway to help refugees put their skills to use in companies and countries that need them. We as a global community can do more to recognise refugees as assets with expertise to offer.”

In high-income countries with ageing workforces and particular skill shortages, allowing more refugees into the workforce can be of benefit. Sweden and Germany have welcomed a high number of migrants in recent years, compared to other European countries, and in both cases GDP has continued to grow, while unemployment rates have held steady or fallen.

In poorer host countries, the path is more complex. Giving refugees open access to the labour market in nations with high unemployment, for example, could trigger unrest. Innovative, government-led employment schemes are being piloted, but can be slow to take root. The Jordan Compact, for example, signed in 2016, pledged more refugee hiring in Jordan in return for grants, low-interest loans, and special trade deals with the European Union. Progress has been made, with 38,516 permits issued to refugees by February 2017, according to Ministry of Labour data, but it falls short of the 200,000 permits promised originally.

A similar deal was struck in Ethiopia, which is home to more than 700,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia. In September 2016, the government made a deal with the UK, EU and the World Bank to give employment rights to 30,000 refugees, in return for funding for two industrial parks which would create 100,000 jobs overall.

“This at an early stage,” says Nicholas Grisewood, a specialist in crisis migration at the International Labour Organisation, “but it’s a big step forward.”

This type of scheme offers economic wins for both the native community and refugees — but there are still problems to be ironed out, according to Heaven Crawley, chair of international migration at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

In Jordan, for example, domestic labour was one of the work permit categories opened up to refugees. But Jordanian households, Crawley says, prefer non-Arabic speakers working for them, and Syrian women often don’t want to work as domestic labourers.

“You have to understand the particular dynamic,” she says. “The key is to get people into the mainstream labour market. People need to be given support and retraining and recognition of their qualifications, so they can enter the labour market on the same terms as everyone else.”

Ideally, she says, leaders would invest in programmes —“whether they’re in Uganda or the UK” — that bring together diverse groups of unemployed people, including refugees and others, and trains them together. This type of initiative “can serve that dual purpose, of bringing people together, challenging stereotypes, and building relations, as well as providing employment. There’s much more value added,” she explains.

“Big corporate banks being more willing to lend to refugees, that would be a huge thing”Companies and social startups are also attempting to bridge the divide. LinkedIn created a programme in 2016 to connect refugees in Sweden with internships and jobs, and a longer-running scheme in Canada called Immigrant Access Fund has lent $17m to 2,700 immigrants, including refugees, since 2003. The loans are backed by the government and by private donors, and allow the recipients to train, get licenses and set up businesses.

In the UK, a social enterprise called TERN is helping a small annual cohort of refugees become entrepreneurs, by giving them mentoring, access to loans, and – as of this year – part-time employment with ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, paid at the London Living Wage, while they complete the programme.

“Gaining access to credit and traditional entrepreneurial capital is very difficult for refugees,” says TERN cofounder Charlie Fraser. “Big corporate banks being more willing to lend to refugees, that would be a huge thing. It’s on us to convince them.”

The idea of TERN was born in 2015 when Fraser, then a student, helped deliver aid to refugees on the Greek island of Cos, and later Calais in France. He felt the media painted them as “victims, burdens or even threats,” and learned that unemployment rates among refugees in the UK was much higher than the national average of 4.8 per cent. Together with two cofounders, he realised entrepreneurship could provide “a route around the barriers that refugees face in getting into the labour market.”

In October 2016 the trio launched a pilot programme with three refugees: a Zimbabwean fashion designer, a Syrian app designer working on a mobile-credit platform, and a Syrian software developer who created a platform for media verification.

A second cohort of 15 completed the programme this summer; a third, of 25, will start in the autumn. Financial consultancy Oliver Wyman has invested £50,000 ($64,500) so far in enterprises launched by TERN, and a further £10,000 has been funnelled towards product development from grants.

“The much bigger aim,” Fraser says, “is to change the conversation about refugees. It’s a great challenge for my generation.”

It’s a complex and time-consuming process, figuring out to get the world’s tens of millions of refugees into steady work. But there are encouraging signs that the international community is starting to take the problem seriously. Policy frameworks are being put together painstakingly, but in the meantime, the refugee crisis remains as urgent as ever.

“This isn’t a short-term problem that needs a temporary fix,” Crawley says. “This is permanent. This is how life is going to be from now on. There is nothing that is going to happen that will end refugee movement. So it’s not just about putting a sticking plaster on ‘the problem of the refugees’, it’s about creating opportunities for all.”

Building a future

While millions of Syrians wait for the opportunity to return home, diaspora-led charity Jusoor is laying the groundwork for regeneration

Like many Syrians during the bloody summer of 2012, Hani Jesri was looking for a way out of Damascus – and the country.

“Everything had changed forever: my plans, my dreams and my future,” he recalls today. “It was devastating.”

Born and raised in Aleppo, the young economics graduate had expected to spend his life in Syria, and to build a career with NGOs working to improve the lives of children and youth. Now, as limited resources swung away from long-term developmental projects and behind emergency relief efforts, he was left with nothing to do but escape the violence.

He found his lifeline via Facebook, and an internship opportunity at a small nonprofit by the name of Jusoor, meaning ‘bridges’ in Arabic. He would apply successfully for the nine-month unpaid role, taking the first step of a journey that would take him to Lebanon and eventually on to the UK. Five years later, at the age of 29, he is living in London and credits Jusoor with having opened a world of possibilities for him.

“For someone like me inside Syria, with very limited access to opportunities, Jusoor was a second chance,” he says. “They gave me hope for the country and for its future.”

“What Jusoor has done is provide every Syrian who has left, with a platform to give back”Jusoor, the brainchild of a handful of likeminded Syrian expatriates, is dedicated to delivering programmes in education and career development around the world. Over the last six years it has persuaded members of the Syrian diaspora to donate more than $5.6m to support Syrian youth. As importantly, it has mobilised that diaspora’s expertise to priceless benefit: Jusoor today counts more than 100,000 individuals in its network from more than 50 countries.

The inspiration for Jusoor predates the current conflict by a matter of weeks. In early 2011, a small group of Syrian expatriates were toying with the idea of launching a mentorship programme to help students looking to study at university abroad. When fighting erupted, those thoughts turned quickly to action, and evolved to incorporate funding as well as intellectual support.

“The Syrian expatriate community is huge: we’re talking about as many as 20 million people, as many as there are inside the country itself,” says Dania Ismail, one of the cofounders. “We felt that there was no network bringing people together and we thought we could play that role and build a bridge into the country to help people.”

The resultant scholarship scheme leverages a consortium of more than 70 institutions offering full or part scholarships to young Syrians, and has so far placed more than 500 students at universities in the US, Canada, Europe, Middle East and Asia. It has also matched mentors with more than 600 students looking for guidance on the university application process and other academic choices that will shape their futures.

“As a Syrian expatriate you naturally draw a comparison between yourself and the youth that are inside the country,” says Aziza Osman, a social entrepreneur and startup advisor, and Jusoor board member. “What Jusoor has done is provide every Syrian who has left, with a platform to give back.”

The publication of detailed annual reports, as well as operational costs below 10 per cent of total spend, helps attract and retain supporters. Currently individuals are responsible for some 51 per cent of donations, with corporations responsible for another 36 per cent, and foundations accounting for the rest. Nor does the private sector contribution stop there: while financial support is invaluable, so too is the lending of time and talent by leading multinationals in the region and beyond.

“They [corporates] want to give back to society, they want to help different causes and with many of them it’s not just money that they want to provide, but their employees’ time and experience,” says Rami Zayat, another Jusoor cofounder.

The impact of corporate support is perhaps felt most keenly at Jusoor’s career development workshops, which take place in Dubai and were launched in 2012 in response to the influx of young Syrians into the Gulf. Private companies host one- or two-day workshops on choosing a career, matching to the right jobs, and the honing of skillsets including CV writing, job interviews and portfolio development.

“We’re trying to show Syrians from a positive perspective: they are intelligent, talented, and can contribute to society”Another Jusoor initiative to leverage healthy corporate backing is an entrepreneurship programme which aims to identify Syria’s business leaders of the future – and plug them into a network of international partners and investors that can help scale new products and ideas.

Startups in Syria face a wide range of obstacles. Some are a mechanical consequence of the conflict: physical insecurity, collapsing infrastructure, power cuts, and slow internet. Others are economic or bureaucratic: sanctions and payment restrictions, restrictions on movement of people and goods, a diminishing market, a lack of financial support and investment, and an unfriendly regulatory environment that is enough to suffocate new business before it gets off the ground.

Yet despite these challenges, while rates of poverty and unemployment are soaring, so too are the numbers of Syrians embracing entrepreneurship. A recent study interviewed 268 people over 12 months and found a significant increase in the number of people working on a startup idea in 2015 (65.8 per cent), compared to the year before (52.2 per cent).

According to Ismail, who has a background in venture capital with Dubai-based MBC Group, Jusoor recognised the emergence of this new commercial class and now employs mentorship, incubators and competitions in order to build skills and confidence.

“I was exposed to a lot of entrepreneurs around the region, however it always felt like the Syrians were a little bit behind compared to their peers,” she explains. “They didn’t have access to resources and training facilities, the industry wasn’t as developed and then the war came along and made everything even worse. So it always felt like there was room to improve.”

So far more than 700 companies have applied and 100 have taken part in ‘bootcamps’ in Beirut and Berlin. Startups are exposed to Jusoor partners and given training in building a business model, structuring their financials, pitching for funding, and more. It’s a precious opportunity: one young man was so determined to attend that he took 26 hours to travel the short distance from Aleppo to Beirut, after his bus was run off the road by gunfire courtesy of Islamic State.

“He showed up three days late, but he made it,” smiles Ismail. “There are a lot of those stories of people trying so hard to make it. This is their lifeline and from the day they come in, to two weeks later, it’s crazy how much they are transformed.”

The remaining pillar of the Jusoor offering is its refugee education programme in Lebanon, launched in 2013 under the direction of Hani Jesri, who after his internship volunteered to pilot the scheme. The building of three education centres in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley has so far helped more than 3,400 children of primary school age to make the leap back into formal education.

“At first we provided schooling for refugees because the Lebanese system wasn’t available to them – schools were over capacity and even then the registration fee of $60 was more than most [refugees] could afford,” says Osman.

“When the Lebanese Ministry of Education opened up the second shift and gave education for free, an influx of Syrians went to formal school,” she continues. “That is a good thing, but we realised that a lot of them weren’t at the level they needed to be for that system.”

Jusoor expanded to offer accelerated remedial classes to enable Syrian refugees to catch up with their peers in Lebanon. Today it works closely – if informally – with the Ministry to ensure that they are pulling in the same direction to assist young Syrians both inside and outside the school system.

“As we continue to grow we are always trying to fill an area of need,” says Zayat. “Today, once [the children] are in school we follow them and support them because the idea’s not just to get into school, but to succeed.”

There is a need to salvage something from this “lost generation”, says Ismail, to enable Syrian youth to reconstruct not just infrastructure but institutions. There is also an opportunity to relaunch the narrative around that generation.  

“Right now people just see Syrians as refugees because that’s all they see in the media,” she says. “We’re trying to show Syrians from a positive perspective: they are intelligent, talented, and can contribute to society in different ways and forms.”

Back in London, Hani Jesri’s trajectory is testament to what Syrian youth can accomplish if given the chance. In 2016 he achieved his Masters degree in Public Policy at the University of Oxford, supported by a scholarship from the UK-based Saïd Foundation. He has since completed a two-month placement with the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), working on DFID’s engagement with Syrian civil society and studying how NGOs might better contribute to programming and policy advocacy.

He credits his opportunities at Oxford and DFID to his experience with refugee children at Jusoor. And like many members of the Jusoor family, he now balances a full-time career with pro bono work for the charity that changed his life. One day, he hopes to parlay those efforts into a future in policymaking in education in Syria. Today he is classified as a refugee, unable to return home. Tomorrow, he will help rebuild from what remains of that home.

“Even though I can’t be in Syria, everything I have done and everything I am doing is for my return there,” he says. “Until then we have millions of Syrians all over the world who need support. That’s what Jusoor does: it allows us to help those who need it.”

In the loop

Can tech entrepreneurs help reboot how we respond to a refugee crisis?

As the European refugee crisis reached fever pitch in 2015, Shelley Taylor, founder and CEO of app developer Trellyz, had an idea. Why not use her team’s expertise to link refugees to shelter, sustenance and other critical services? 

The result was the Refugee Aid app – or RefAid for short. Created over the course of a weekend in early 2016, RefAid uses geolocation and real-time data to show migrants, refugees and aid workers up-to-date maps of the nearest service points, filtered by category. Some meet simple short-term needs – such as water or blankets – while others cater to the long-term demands of a life lived in limbo: legal support, medical aid, and access to education.

“It is meant to cover many years of the refugee life cycle,” explains Taylor, a Silicon Valley veteran.

Two years on, RefAid is active in 14 countries, features more than 400 aid organisations and charities – ranging from the British Red Cross to Save the Children – and continues to attract up to 50 more a month. Nonprofits that sign up populate the app with data about their services and locations, information that is then promoted in two languages to refugees and migrants using the platform.

Alongside helping users to find their footing, RefAid also acts as a single source for aid agencies to see which services exist, or are missing, in each location.

“For the first time [agencies] have a way to see what else is going on near them, with the benefit that now they are no longer all doing the same thing in the same place,” says Taylor, who funded the project with a mix of her own money, company assets and donations. 

“At the height of the migrant crisis in Europe, the tech community really stepped up”A decade ago, RefAid would have been an outlier. Now it is a sign of a wider trend that has seen technology firms begin to disrupt the traditional crisis response models of the aid sector. Beginning in 2015, the industry has seen an almost spontaneous response to the refugee crisis, with an army of techies rallying to find new and novel ways to help people in transit.

What emerged, by way of a flurry of hackathons and other hub-powered events, were fledgling tools and models to help tend to the needs of those crossing borders. From groups like Techfugees, a social enterprise that aims to steer the global tech sector’s response to the crisis, to established digital players such as Trellyz.

“It was a huge, welcome surprise when, at the height of the migrant crisis in Europe, the tech community really stepped up,” says Meghan Benton, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.

While the digital response hasn’t pushed aside traditional ways of delivering aid, it is helping to bring something new to the way over-stretched humanitarian agencies operate.  “The real potential is in working more closely together and thinking about how tech can be more disruptive and solve problems at scale,” she adds.

The recent migrant crisis has been unusual in more than just its size. For the first time, smartphones have become compasses: a way to find safe passage. Maps and GPS help find open border points, while apps translate foreign languages, wire money, or help to navigate government bureaucracies in a new country.

Each WhatsApp message or Facebook login is a lifeline to loved ones, one that comes without the burden of expensive call rates. For relief agencies, faced with a digital migration, mobile phone charging and wi-fi points have become as essential as aid packages for those they help.

For tech giants, familiar with digital delivery on a vast scale, this is an opportunity to lend their clout to the crisis response. Homesharing site Airbnb earlier this year launched Open Homes, a platform that allows hosts to offer free temporary housing to displaced people. Relief agencies can use the site to search for accommodation on behalf of refugees or those made homeless by natural disasters or other emergencies.

In June, there were 6,000 listings on the platform, and Airbnb aims to provide free, short-term housing to 100,000 over five years.

Professional networking site LinkedIn first piloted its ‘Welcome Talent’ microsite in February 2016. Available in English and Arabic, it connected refugees in Sweden with 50 local companies offering internships and jobs. By October it was expanding to Canada, and by January, the US, where it partnered with aid agency the International Rescue Committee. In June, LinkedIn said the programme had helped nearly 4,000 refugees to date.

Search giant Google has taken a hearts and minds approach. In May, it joined with the UN’s refugee agency to launch Searching for Syria, an immersive website that allows users to explore some of the details behind the five most searched questions about Syria and the Syrian people. The site offers a haunting insight into the conflict and resulting diaspora, using videos, photography, satellite imagery and refugee stories to bring the crisis to life.

The quest for tech solutions goes beyond helping those in transit, and into helping migrants forge a new life. Many – particularly refugees – have missing documentation; the result of fleeing without birth certificates, ID cards or degree certificates. Without papers to prove their identity, securing a bank account, home, or the right to work or study becomes a vast, administrative headache.

BanQu is one app taking aim at this issue. A private blockchain platform, it allows people to record transactions, health and education records, and credit histories to build up a personal digital identity. It is the brainchild of Ashish Gadnis, a tech entrepreneur and former US Aid country CEO for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We are able to connect displaced people to the basic things that are happening to them,” says Gadnis. “If they receive remittance money, aid or micro finance, BanQu allows the identity of the refugee to capture the transaction information.”

Launched in late 2016, BanQu has some 5,000 identities registered and is growing steadily in locations such as East Africa and Jordan, where it has partnered with digital payments company Boloro to help refugees receive and spend funds transferred from NGOs. While it is free for the poor, the displaced and refugees, the same platform turns a profit via its commercial arm, which in turn keeps its pro bono services in operation.

Building trust has been an important part of gaining users so Gadnis and his team have worked closely with existing aid agencies. “Whether it’s a co-operative or an NGO, we enable the platform so they can now capture the data and users can then register with us through their trust network,” he says.

From an employment perspective coding schools have produced impactful, if limited, outcomes, helping to propel refugees into lucrative work. For example ReBootKamp (RBK) was established in Amman, Jordan to train and deploy software engineers over an 18-week course.

“It occurred to me to use code bootcamps to translate the vast amount of intellectual potential in the refugee environment, into intellectual capital,” explains Hugh Bosely, founder of RBK.

After a year of partnership-building between Silicon Valley, the Jordanian government and NGOs, the first round of RBK kicked off in May 2016, aiming to produce eight engineers. It generated 17. Now into its third round, the programme received more than 2,000 applications for some 40 places.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, but that said the technology is very scalable,” says Bosely, who is hunting for donors to help scale RBK into other parts of Jordan and eventually Turkey and Palestine.

Education is another flashpoint. Of the 22.5 million refugees worldwide seeking asylum, hundreds of thousands are young students whose university years have shuddered to a halt.

Reenrollment is fraught with barriers both physical and administrative: paperwork may be lost or missing, while visa and legal constraints can slow the process to a crawl. Few refugees have the money to meet tuition fees, while foreign students may lack the fluency to attend English-language universities.

Kiron Open Higher Education, founded in Germany in 2015, hopes to come to their rescue.  The Berlin-based startup aims to offer refugees internationally recognised degrees, for free, without the need for complete paperwork. Its model uses digital learning to offer students two-year online courses in subjects ranging from engineering, to computer studies, to business and management. Students then have the option to transfer to a partner university and finish their studies on campus. 

Curricula is shaped by top universities such as Harvard and Yale, while leading digital learning providers such as EdX and Coursera offer the courses on their existing platforms.

“A refugee student can start studying with us online right away, they don't have to pay anything and they don't need documentation,” explains Hila Azadzoy, head of strategic partnerships and part of Kiron’s founding team. “They get their academic credentials recognised for everything they have done with us, then go on to the partner university and finish with a fully accredited bachelor’s degree.”

So far Kiron is working in four countries where it has registered some 5,000 students, 2,700 of which are currently active. Nearly half of these students originate from Syria where, prior to the war, 25 per cent of 18 to 22 year olds were pursuing higher education. Afghanistan and Somalia contribute 12 per cent and 5 per cent of the student body respectively.

Kiron is partnered with 41 institutions globally and has been funded through a mix of private and public money, including via one of Germany’s most successful social start-up crowdfunding campaigns.

“We are focusing on specific countries because we have limited resources,” says Azadzoy, whose own father migrated to Germany in the 1970s. “While the platform is highly scalable, the support services we are offering are a bit less so. To make sure every student gets the guidance they need, we’re now focusing these support services in Germany, Turkey, France and Jordan.”

Technology isn’t a panacea. But digital connectivity has the potential to shake up the traditional delivery of aid, using the innovation, capacity and scale the tech sector has become known for. Better use of data, shaped by closer tie-ups between NGOs and tech providers, has the potential to generate real impact for refugees, migrants and the displaced. As migration becomes digital, so too must the aid response to it.

Giving for results

The UAE's Big Heart Foundation disburses more than $4m each year to refugees in the Middle East and to children in Palestine. Director Mariam Al Hammadi describes how the foundation works to make every dollar count

Her Highness is a role model and her name brings great credibility to the work we do,” says Mariam Al Hammadi, director of the Big Heart Foundation (BHF). “More than that, she has a deep personal commitment to this work: when she goes into the field she doesn’t do it for show, she does it to learn. She helps us to better understand the needs of beneficiaries – and after all, that’s what really matters.”

The BHF is the creation and passion of Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the wife of Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, ruler of the UAE emirate of Sharjah. It disburses around AED10m ($2.7m) each year for the welfare of refugees in the Middle East, and a further AED5m in support of children in Palestine. It also funds programmes in Africa and South Asia, and conducts advocacy on behalf of refugees and underserved groups from Tanzania to Indonesia – causes adopted over the course of a busy decade during which Sheikha Jawaher has emerged as one of the region’s most engaged humanitarians.

The origins of the foundation date back to 2008, when Sheikha Jawaher launched Salam Ya Seghar (‘peace for the children’), a fundraising campaign to provide Palestinian children with healthcare, education, food security, water and sanitation and more. Her endorsement of Salam Ya Seghar, Al Hammadi says, reassured donors and persuaded them to reach into their pockets: in its inaugural year the campaign raised more than AED80m; four years later it would raise a further AED40m.

In 2013 Sheikha Jawaher was appointed as the first Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and launched the Big Heart Campaign, which was based broadly on the Salam Ya Seghar model but which would direct funding towards those displaced by the conflict in Syria.

Two years later, having provided lifesaving medical services to more than 365,000 Syrian refugees and given more than 400,000 others vital food and financial aid, Sheikha Jawaher consolidated all her humanitarian efforts under the banner of the BHF. Al Hammadi, who joined the royal office in 2012, was the first employee to be recorded with the foundation, which today retains nine full-time staff members.

Salaries and administration costs, Al Hammadi explains, are drawn not from donations but from “other sources” within Sharjah.

“Her Highness has always said that the donors are giving money to help the children, so we should not deduct anything from the money we receive in charity, to cover our own costs.”

Of total annual donations to the BHF, around 60 per cent come from the private sector, with private individuals and government entities accounting for the remainder. If the foundation does not spend its budget in a single year, then between 50 and 60 per cent of the balance is invested in sharia-compliant vehicles to raise further funds.

“Whatever investments we enter into must be 100 per cent capital secure, so we’re sure that we won’t lose our money. We never take even a 1 per cent risk of losing anything, and that makes the donors comfortable with our approach – after all we are making their money go further,” says Al Hammadi.

Such invention is crucial at a time of limited budgets and ever-expanding humanitarian crises. Al Hammadi notes that donations to the foundation earmarked for Palestine have dropped by around 70 per cent, as media attention has shifted towards refugees from Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“I don’t blame donors,” she says. “If, as a donor, I have supported the Palestinians for one or two or 10 years, and then there is a new crisis, I might focus on the other group because I have already spent years helping the Palestinian community. So that money is still coming into the foundation, but donors are asking us to channel it in another direction.”

Like many of its peers, the foundation witnessed a downturn in funding in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008, and is now feeling the effects of donor fatigue – as well as the oil price slump that has slowed economies across the region.

“I would expect that we [will see] a drop in donations,” she says. “[It is harder to raise money], especially now with the financial situation.”

Al Hammadi hopes that the issuing of a royal decree in May this year will enable the foundation to expand its donor base and bring in additional income.

“Now we will be able to welcome donations from people outside Sharjah and the UAE,” she says. “We will also be able to open an online page through which people can donate to us.”

In the meantime, Al Hammadi and her team will endeavour to select partners that will enable what money it does spend, to go further. The foundation has strict criteria by which it selects its partners, and proposals for funding are analysed rigorously. Once a project is launched, partners can expect to find themselves the subject of intense scrutiny.

“We tell our partners what we expect from them, and that’s quarterly reports with specific information including which performance objectives have been met in that quarter, and what objectives will be achieved in the next,” explains Al Hammadi.

“We compare the quarterly reports against the proposals we received before launching the project, and then assess whether our targets are being met or not,” she continues. “We also work with third parties who compile their own assessments, and we can then match those against the reports we receive from our partners, to make sure that everyone agrees on what targets are being met.”

The foundation also engages directly with beneficiaries, either face-to-face or via video conferencing, to gather feedback and build a complete picture of a project’s effectiveness. Funding is released in stages and the payment of each tranche is dependent upon results. “If the project is succeeding then I’ll send you the next instalment. Otherwise you won’t get it,” says Al Hammadi.

So far, she adds, the time the foundation spends assessing potential partners and projects, has proved time well spent.

“There have been no disappointments because we try our best to select the right partner and we are very clear before we sign any agreement,” she says.

UNHCR is the foundation’s partner of choice for the majority of its work with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

“UNHCR has been in the field for decades and they know more about the situation than anybody,” says Al Hammadi. “It’s not right to launch or support projects just for the sake of being able to tell people that you have done it. You have to find the right project and implement it in the right way. Large organisations such as UNHCR have the knowledge and experience to guide in those decisions.”

Between 2013 and 2016 BHF directed more than AED70m through UNHCR towards education, healthcare, sanitation, protection and emergency relief for refugees. More than 650,000 refugees have benefitted from BHF-funded programmes, which run from basic needs to cash assistance, psychosocial support and WASH programmes.

A BHF-supported healthcare clinic at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan has so far treated more than 48,000 patients.

“We built the clinic and we have covered the running costs for the past four years,” says Al Hammadi. “We’re willing to cover the costs for the next few years, too, because we know that the services are very important.”

The foundation’s work in Palestine, meanwhile, employs global bodies such as the World Food Programme, but also counts on the efforts of a wide number of other NGOs. Among its partners are Oxfam, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, MSF, and SOS Children’s Villages – the latter of which channelled $744,000 of BHF cash into the care, protection, and education of children in Gaza in the first six months of 2017. Over the period 2013 to 2016, BHF spent close to AED25m on programmes in Palestine, benefitting more than 184,000 people.

“Someone is always waiting for our support, and someone is always waiting for us to make a difference in his or her life.”All partners, large and small, are scrutinised on their operations as well as their impact. “We have been clear from the beginning that no more than 7 per cent of the money that we give can be spent on admin fees,” explains Al Hammadi.

“When smaller organisations are unable to fulfil the criteria that we have, for example in terms of the reporting schedule, or admin costs, then larger organisations can help them out with training and implementation.”

The wide scope of BHF operations – as well as the hands-on nature of Sheikha Jawaher’s leadership – demands dedication at all levels of the foundation. Long hours and working weekends are common and met without complaint.

“Someone is always waiting for our support, and someone is always waiting for us to make a difference in his or her life,” says Al Hammadi. “That thought pushes us to do more, to do everything we possibly can.”

The new Canadian dream

Canadian businessman Jim Estill put up $1.5m to bankroll an Ontario town’s resettlement of 58 Syrian refugee families. Now, he hopes to galvanise others around the world to do the same

A one-hour meeting was all it took for Jim Estill to get a plan to bring 50 Syrian refugee families to Canada off the ground, and into play. The CEO of multimillion-dollar home appliance firm Danby, he rounded up aid and religious organisations in his home city of Guelph, zipped through a brief PowerPoint presentation, and asked them to join the cause. “And they said they would,” he says easily, “so that was that.”

Estill is a doer. A serial entrepreneur, he has built companies and a career on the maxim that even indecision is a decision and that – when in doubt – do the right thing. In the summer of 2015, as the count of Syrians fleeing their country reached 4 million and the toll of those dying at Europe’s shores rose, Estill felt the need to act.

“I thought that if every Canadian citizen did their part, we’d be able to empty the lake with a bunch of thimbles”Over the next few days he appraised local rents, calculated a food budget, and checked his sums against the government’s welfare rates. Based on his estimates, he worked out that it would cost him C$30,000 a year to fund a family of five in Guelph, a small city about 93km outside Toronto. By putting up a budget of $1.5m, he could afford to support about 50 Syrian families for a year under Canada’s private sponsorship programme.

That was the plan he pitched to the Muslim Society of Guelph, the Salvation Army, and a clutch of local churches and synagogues, to ask for their help in fostering a citywide volunteer network to help settle the families into their new lives.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Estill says today. “As an entrepreneur, I always say ‘I do something’ – it’s not in my DNA to look the other way. Bringing in 250 people – it seemed proportional in a city of 130,000, and I thought that if every Canadian citizen did their part, we’d be able to empty the lake with a bunch of thimbles.”

Much of the world has reacted to the global refugee crisis with a mix of hesitancy and hostility. In Canada, citizens have rallied to welcome them. Private sponsorship began in the country in 1978, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and allows private citizens to bring in and settle refugees as long as they commit to shouldering their expenses for the first year.

More than 250,000 refugees have come to Canada so far under the scheme, including thousands of Syrians since the outbreak of war in 2011. As a child, Estill’s own family billeted two young men who had fled Uganda, though he mainly recalls annoyance at being moved out of his bedroom to accommodate them. “I was eight,” he laughs. “But they became fast friends.”

“The aim has to be independence. Success is not 50 families on welfare”Estill’s scheme was ambitious. Though staffed by volunteers – and buoyed by donations - it would run like a business: a full-scale operation offering refugees everything from English-language classes, to furniture, housing, and job training.

Each family would be matched with Arabic and English-speaking mentors, to aid in tasks ranging from finding a doctor, to setting up a bank account and  grocery shopping.  For the first month to six weeks, newcomers would be billeted with a host family.

The scheme’s success would hinge on a clear definition, Estill decided: 50 families who work, pay taxes, buy groceries, speak English and have a degree of integration. “The aim has to be independence,” he says. “Success is not 50 families on welfare. It’s not people who are ghettoised. You don’t help anyone by just writing cheques.”

Getting the city on board proved easy. Within weeks “we had people coming out of the woodwork,” says Estill, as more than 800 volunteers scrambled to join the cause. They were spun off into teams – healthcare, finance, education, jobs, transportation, mentorship – each led by a director, and charged with helping newcomers navigate one aspect of their new lives. In town, a large, rented warehouse strained at the seams with donations of furniture, kitchen appliances, bedding, dishes and clothes.

“I tell my friends, if you can run a business with 800 employees, you can run an organisation with 800 volunteers,” Estill says briskly. “This was no different. It’s just organising and executing on a bigger scale.”

“How do you choose who to help, when you can’t help them all?”Harder was choosing who would come. In November 2015, a story about Estill’s plan appeared in a local Guelph paper. Within days, it had been translated into Arabic and shared across the Middle East, lighting up news feeds from Beirut to Cairo. At first, Estill received just a trickle of messages from refugees pleading for his help. But as the weeks passed, the emails stretched into the thousands, as families in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and even Syria begged to come to Canada. Estill read them all.

“It’s terrible, because you are playing with their lives,” he says quietly. “How do you choose who to help, when you can’t help them all?”

Estill favoured those he thought were most likely to integrate in Canada: families with someone able earn a living, and those with relatives already in the area. Gradually, painstakingly, 58 families were selected, or about 220 people. The first reached Canada in January 2016, after a series of bureaucratic bottlenecks delayed their arrival and left pre-rented housing standing empty. The final families arrived in April of this year.

“It’s been incredible, how people have given their time, their money, their skills to help them settle in,” says Sara Sayyed who, along with her husband, Muhammed, of the Muslim Society of Guelph, helps oversee the volunteer network and the families’ resettlement.

The challenges, when they came, were not of the large-scale variety Sara had braced for. Instead, it was smaller tensions over the presence of pets in billet houses – something at odds with Syrian culture – or patting down a host family, ruffled by their guests’ failure to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

“We had to explain they had almost no English, and were struggling to communicate at all, so it wasn't a matter of being impolite,” Sara says. “I’d expected big, logistical problems – but it was the little cultural nuances.”

Estill encouraged refugees with little English to watch television and gain exposure to the language. During a home visit, he was surprised to find one family closely following a French-language show. “They just assumed,” he grins, “that if it was on TV it had to be English. I suppose it would be like asking me to distinguish between Chinese and Korean.”

As the families settled in, Estill found many struggled to break into the job market because they lacked the necessary experience and English skills. Some were almost illiterate in Arabic, which made learning a new language a titanic task.

“If you want to inspire your company, do a project like this. People are inspired by purpose”His response was to establish the ‘Ease into Canada’ programme at Danby, which offers the refugees three months of work experience to help them find their feet, along with interview coaching, résumé writing, and daily in-house English classes.

“We do 40 minutes a day of English, we have a lunch buddy scheme, we have an English word of the day – we introduce it in Arabic, then English – and we do our best to help them get used to the Canadian way of doing things,” says Estill.

His employees have risen to the challenge. “If you want to inspire your company, do a project like this,” he confides. “People are inspired by purpose. I’d love to say selling another 1,000 bar fridges is purpose enough, but it seems this has the edge.”

The scheme is open to all Syrians – not just those who are supported by Estill – and some have relocated across Canada to enroll in it. When the 90 days are up, Estill reaches into his rolodex and does his best to land them all jobs. “If we have work, we’ll keep them on. If not, I’ll try and transition them to my friends,” Estill explains. “I call around local employers and say, ‘give the guy a chance. He’s hardworking: you’ll be thrilled with him.’”

He has placed around 100 refugees in jobs so far, helped by his business network and Guelph’s largely blue-collar economy, where factory work is plentiful. It isn’t glamorous – and it can come as a shock to some highly educated Syrians, used to a professional role – but the goal is employment, however it comes. “It’s a way to support your family while you train to do something else,” Estill drills them.

It’s also been a way to head off any slow-burning tensions with local residents. “The community isn’t looking at these people and saying, ‘they’re living off my tax dollars,’” explains Estill. “They have jobs and are paying tax. I think of it in terms of helping people get on their feet – you want to teach people to fish.”

“I don’t know what would have happened to us without this opportunity. We had no hope and no future” Firas, 39, arrived in Guelph in December with his wife and six-year-old daughter. A qualified geologist, he’d lived in Damascus until war broke out in 2011 before leaving to take up a role with an oil company in Iraq.

His parents later fled to Saudi Arabia to live with two of his brothers, leaving him with no family in Syria. Firas, his wife and daughter stayed in Iraq until 2015, when rising unrest and falling oil prices saw his employer shutter its operations.

The family took a bus across the border to Turkey where, after seven months of searching, Firas found temporary work as a translator. He eventually secured a job with a global NGO, acting as an interpreter for fellow Syrian refugees, but – following Turkey’s attempted military coup and a spate of terror attacks – says the family “never felt safe” in the country.

In early 2016, Firas heard about Estill through a friend, who had already been accepted into the programme. He filled out the applications, and then endured almost a year’s wait to hear that his family had been successful.

“I was shocked, but so happy,” he says. “I don’t know what would have happened to us without this opportunity. We had no hope and no future.”

Today Firas works as a supervisor in Danby. He is studying, rents a home with his wife and no longer needs the $1,900 monthly allowance given through the sponsorship programme. Enrolling his daughter in kindergarten was “the greatest pleasure I’ve had in Canada,” he says.

Firas’ deep gratitude to the people who have helped settle his family into their new life is clear. “I once asked a volunteer if he was paid for helping me,” he remembers. “He said no: that he wasn’t able to stop the war in my country, but he was happy to do his bit and help a refugee from Syria.”

Estill is looking to the future. He hopes to bring at least another 50 families to Canada, and is lobbying to lift government caps on immigration. He also wants to motivate other wealthy businesspeople to put their money in motion, and find homes and jobs for refugees. The refugee response needs this new blood, he says.

“Entrepreneurs know how to scale, and they’re connected. We need good people to stand up.”

He remains baffled by the attention he’s received for his efforts. At best, his many previous gifts to charity earned him a plaque on a wall, but never global headlines. “I’m blown away by this,” he admits. “I really don’t see what the big deal is. It’s just – you know: do the right thing. I didn’t want to look back and know I stood by and did nothing.”

The payback he receives is from the families, becoming enmeshed in Canadian life. Of those who have lived in Guelph for more than four months, 80 per cent are now working and paying their way. For Estill and his wife, weekends and evenings now consist of visiting the homes of newcomers and seeing their progress.

“I drink more tea than I’ve ever drunk in my life,” he laughs, “but these families are friends. I see their children doing well; it’s extremely heartwarming.”

Rethinking the refugee crisis

Fixing the global refugee system means seeing refugees through the lens of development, not aid, write Alexander Betts and Paul Collier

In principle, when refugees flee a crisis they receive initial emergency assistance and are then offered a pathway towards reintegration into normal life. In practice, however, this rarely takes place; a response designed just for the emergency phase all too often endures. Indefinite dependency on aid has gradually become the default long-term response to refugees. The imagined needs of refugees have almost universally been reduced to two basics – food and shelter – and it has become assumed that the most viable way to provide such rights is through camps.

It was not meant to be this way. The refugee regime was originally intended to promote access to autonomy;  almost half of the Refugee Convention focuses on socio-economic rights such as the right to work and freedom of movement. But these rights are simply not implemented, at least not since the global shift towards encampment from the 1980s.

With the option to abrogate long-term responsibility to the international humanitarian system, host states have invariably restricted refugees’ participation in labour markets. The denial of the right to work has had catastrophic consequences for many refugees, leading to a long-term erosion of skills, talents, and aspirations, and often exacerbating a sense of alienation and hopelessness. It has also left refugees less well-placed to contribute to their host states or to eventually rebuild their own societies when they go home.

“We need a paradigm shift in how we think about refugees’ needs. And it starts with recognising that refugees have skills, talents and aspirations”If our duty is to restore the life of the displaced to as close to normality as possible, restoring autonomy should be high on the agenda. This is especially so given many refugees stay in this limbo for years.

One of the most important components of autonomy is the right to earn a living. Being able to participate in labour markets can enable refugees to regain a sense of dignity, enhance their quality of life, and improve their skills. As with all of us, the ability to work to support themselves, their families, and their communities, is a high priority.

However, not only is the right to work almost universally restricted for refugees by host governments, but the existing refugee protection system also lacks the necessary expertise to change the status quo. Because the refugee system has become a humanitarian system, it lacks expertise in development or the tools to guide market-based solutions that can promote autonomy. The general assumption has been that the primary duty is aid delivery rather than the restoration of independence and capacity. Yet there is nothing antithetical about someone being both a refugee and also a person capable of enjoying socio-economic autonomy.

We need a paradigm shift in how we think about refugees’ needs. And it starts with recognising that refugees have skills, talents, and aspirations. They are not just passive objects of our pity, but actors constrained by cruel circumstance. They do not have to be an inevitable burden, but instead can help themselves and their communities – if we let them.

Imagine if, instead of the humanitarian silo, we could conceive of an approach that could support refugees’ autonomy and dignity while simultaneously empowering them to contribute to host communities and the eventual reconstruction of their country of origin. Central to this vision is the idea that refugees do not have to be understood just as a humanitarian issue; they can also be seen as a development issue. Humanitarianism may be appropriate in the emergency phase but beyond that it is counter-productive.

The humanitarian toolbox offers food, clothing, and shelter; it focuses exclusively on refugees and their vulnerabilities. The development toolbox offers employment, enterprise, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and governance; it focuses on both refugees and host communities, and it builds upon the capacities of both rather than just addressing vulnerabilities.

As soon as we recognise that the assumption that refugees will go home quickly is a fiction, then it becomes imperative to embrace a development-based approach as early in a refugee crisis as possible. If refugee camps are becoming like cities, then we need an approach that can treat them as such.

For the period that refugees are in limbo, we should be creating an enabling environment that nurtures rather than debilitates people’s ability to contribute in exile and when they ultimately go home. This should involve all of the things that allow people to thrive and contribute rather than merely survive: education, the right to work, electricity, connectivity, transportation, access to capital.

Ideally refugees should be allowed to fully participate in the socio-economic life of the host state. But even when full participation is politically blocked, we should at least be able to reimagine geographical spaces that can empower people, and allow them to become self-reliant pending a longer-term solution.

To achieve this vision, host communities must share in the benefits. Just as we recognise that there are pressures for more sustainable refugee policies in the North, so too this applies in host counties in the South.

Host governments are under pressure from their own citizens to ensure refugees do not become a source of competition for scarce resources. Service provision that supports refugees’ access to health and education should also benefit surrounding host communities. Jobs and markets that are created to help refugees must also benefit host country nationals.

Additional funds should come from the international community in order specifically to support refugee-hosting areas, enabling them to perceive refugees as a potential boon rather than an inevitable burden.

Put simply, policies are needed that move host community/refugee relations from a zero sum relationship to a positive sum relationship.

About the writers

This is an edited extract from Refuge: Transforming a Broken Refugee System, by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, published by Allen Lane. Alexander (top) is the Leopold W. Muller Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs at the University of Oxford, where he is also director of the Refugee Studies Centre. Paul is the Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government.

‘Sometimes a photograph can change someone’s life’

War doesn’t end with peace treaties. In cities and towns across the globe, citizens bear the long-term cost of conflict. Photographer Giles Duley, author of the project ‘Legacy of War’, aims to bear witness to their plight through his work – and to encourage change

The only thing I’ve ever learned about war is that everybody pays a price for it. At school, we learn the history of conflict – the dates of wars, the number of casualties – but never of the long-term consequences. Yet war affects the people caught up in it for the rest of their lives, and beyond. The impact can ring across generations.

I became a photographer by accident. At 18, I was involved in a car crash and had to give up sport, which at that point was my life. During this time my godfather died, leaving me his camera and a book by the war photographer Don McCullin. And as I lay in hospital, I looked through this book – at stark, black-and-white photographs of the Vietnam war, of famine in Bangladesh, the war in Biafra – and I was so moved that I decided this was what I wanted to do with my life.

I taught myself photography lying in a hospital bed. By the time I was in my mid-twenties I was a rock photographer, travelling the world to capture bands and take fashion photography. I made a lot of money and I had great success, but as the years went on, I was incredibly unhappy and increasingly cynical about celebrity culture.

The turning point came in 2002 when – in the middle of a photoshoot – I threw my camera down on to a hotel bed, and it bounced out the window and smashed. It was, I thought, the end of my career. But eventually I began to think about how I could use my photography to help people, to advocate for them and to help tell their stories – a sort of activism with imagery. It made sense to me, and that’s really where my second life as a documentary photographer began.

"No matter where people are, the stories of those affected by war are the same. The themes are universal"I first had the idea for ‘Legacy of War’ in 2011. At the time I was mainly working with NGOs and charities – the Italian NGO Emergency, Médecins Sans Frontières and several others – to help share their stories and those of the people they work with. I’m not a war photographer: if anything, I’m an anti-war photographer, and my interest has always been in what happens to countries when wars end.

My plan was to document the toll of war on civilians and the longer-term legacy – whether it’s displacement, or psychological and physical injuries – and perhaps, eventually, to help change the way we speak about conflict. Because if there's one thing my work has taught me, it’s that no matter where people are – Cambodia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Syria – the stories of those affected by war are the same. The themes are universal.

Afghanistan was to be the first part of the project. I was embedded with an American unit in Kandahar as I’d decided to do a story on the impact of war on soldiers. I felt it was important to record all sides of the conflict, and show how sometimes those fighting in a war can also become victims. Then one morning, while out on patrol, I stepped on a landmine.

The first few moments were bewilderment. I remember the blast; flying in the air and then thinking I was going to die quite quickly. My legs were blown clean off – I could see bits of them in the tree above me - and my left hand was shredded. I had one focus, and that was to stay alive for another minute, and then for another five minutes, and another. I was still conscious when they wheeled me into surgery.

I had 37 operations that first year. Four months later, I sat up in bed unaided. After a year, I began learning to walk again. I never questioned that I would get my life back: it’s all I kept saying and I was only annoyed that it took so long. Eighteen months later, I was back in Afghanistan and taking photos.

Is it hard? Yes. I am in physical pain every day, and it is exhausting. I don’t have the mobility I had: I can’t run and I can’t kneel. But it was very important to me to realise I could still achieve work of the same level. I would only do it if I felt I still had something to offer.

"The best photographs are never taken, they're given"In 2015, I was approached by UNHCR to document the refugee crisis. They gave me probably the greatest brief ever given to a photographer, which was “follow your heart”. I spent the next seven months crisscrossing Europe and the Middle East, from the beaches in Lesbos, to Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, where the real crisis was taking place, finding stories and people  to focus on.

When you have millions of people displaced by conflict, those statistics can become overwhelming. But each family has a different story, and within that will be something people can relate to. As a photographer, I’m very interested in intimacies – a father brushing his daughter’s hair, or a mother cooking for her children. It’s little moments like that which are universal and sometimes, when the focus is on the horror of war, it distances us from that. My work is all about reminding us of the similarities. That it doesn’t matter whether you live in a refugee camp, or a penthouse, your intimate moments with those you love are identical.

Many of the families I’ve met have gone on to become part of my life. Shamah was a Syrian lady in her 90s, with a tattooed face, who was living in dire conditions in Jordan. When I turned up in her camp, she shook her finger at me, as if to say: “We don’t want a photographer here.’ And I couldn’t argue with that.

I spent the next few days meeting people, talking to the families, and eventually I asked the community to help me set up my white sheet, which I carry with me to use as a backdrop. I turned away to fiddle with my cameras, and when I turned back, Shamah was standing there in front of the sheet. She was the first portrait. The best photographs are never taken, they’re given.

Months later, I sold that photograph as a print, and the money raised was sent to Shamah to buy a hearing aid she needed. So in the end it did bring her some help.

Khouloud I met in 2014. She, her husband and their four children were living in a makeshift, windowless tent in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley. Khouloud had been paralysed from the neck down by a sniper’s bullet, and her husband was her full-time carer: she couldn’t leave the bed.

When I returned in 2016, I remember showing her a photo I’d taken during my previous visit; of her husband Jamal sitting at the end of the bed, holding her hand – a photograph of love. But two years later, here they were in exactly the same position, and I remember bursting into tears and telling them I’d failed them because they'd trusted me with their story and still nothing had changed.  

But this is the power of a story. That photograph was shared by an American charity called Random Acts, and they began crowdfunding money, using my photographs, and within the space of about two weeks we raised $250,000.

Earlier this year, we were able to use some of the money to move Kholoud into a new home in Lebanon, which has been adapted for her wheelchair. She has a garden now, and to see her and her husband’s face and the children running around, it makes it all worthwhile. That’s the power of a story and I’m privileged that I get to tell them. Sometimes a photograph can change somebody’s life.

To learn more about Legacy of War and Giles' work, visit http://legacyofwar.com/

 

Life lessons: Education for Employment’s Ron Bruder

Philanthropists and industry insiders share their advice on intelligent giving, and the experience they’ve gained along the way

When starting a new venture, envision your ultimate goal and then look at the worst-case scenario.  Based on the latter, be realistic in assessing if you have the time, resources and capability to achieve your objectives

Don’t rush. A slower pace gives you the chance to learn the pitfalls while they’re still small and you’re still nimble. I started EFE wanting to build schools. But years of research showed us that demand-driven job training and placement fit a more critical need.

"It's critical that all parties – including your beneficiaries – have skin in the game"When going into an unfamiliar area, local insight is indispensable. Without the 70-plus national leaders serving as EFE affiliate board members in the Middle East and North Africa, we would have pursued many dead ends and missed key opportunities.

Collaborate wisely. A partner with integrity can turn a challenging situation into a success. But a dishonest partner can derail a dream venture and turn it into a nightmare.

It’s critical that all parties – including your beneficiaries – have skin in the game. Requiring that all stakeholders invest within their capacity produces more earnest and sustainable engagement.

Listen to your failures: sometimes they will teach you more than your successes.  We would not be operating in eight countries today if we hadn’t failed in our first.

About the writer
Ron Bruder is the founder of Education For Employment (EFE), the leading nonprofit network linking unemployed youth to skills and job opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa. A serial entrepreneur, Bruder in 1977 founded The Brookhill Group, which owns and manages properties throughout the US.

 

Life lessons: Epic Foundation’s Alexandre Mars

Philanthropists and industry insiders share their advice on intelligent giving, and the experience they’ve gained along the way

Success is like a mountain climb. Once you’ve reached the top, it’s your role to pull up those left behind, to go out of your way to find those who may be lost, and to prepare the path so more can climb as well. Be successful, but do something with your success

The two biggest dangers I see among wealthy people are fear and entitlement. Fear settles in when you can't part with your money, when you think you need every dollar you own. Entitlement is when you believe that you earned that money, that it is rightfully yours and that it should not serve anyone else. Neither perception is correct.

"If people could realise that philanthropy means sharing, we’d have many more philanthropists"Successful people are usually vocal advocates of their cause, but too often they become jaded. To keep your energy, you need to face the reality of the causes you support. Seek out those you help; ensure you visit the shelters you support. Travel to see the impact of your philanthropy. It makes your advocacy more authentic.

The word ‘philanthropy’ has a stigma. It often feels like a word for the rich and famous. The word ‘sharing’ also has a stigma, but quite the opposite: nobody wants to be known as selfish. If people could realise that philanthropy means sharing, we’d have many more philanthropists. Sometimes a change of heart comes from a change of words.

As you advocate for deeper philanthropy, allow people to not be ready to engage. It is easier to judge than to educate, faster to frown than to smile. Look for the good in everyone: if not giving, what can they do to help? Assume they are capable of goodness, and help them turn it into greatness. 

The value of your wealth is what you make of it. Giving it back to help others is truly the only path to a higher level of happiness. Giving does not take away from your wealth – it adds value to it.

About the writer
Alexandre Mars is a tech entrepreneur and engaged philanthropist who started his first venture at 17. He founded Epic Foundation in 2014 to bridge the gap between a new generation of individual and corporate donors, and organisations supporting children and youth globally.

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