6 Ways BAM Can and Should Make a Difference to Refugees and Migrants

by Jo Plummer

One of the goals of our global BAM network is to be part of the solution to the world’s most pressing issues. Undoubtedly the issue of migration, and in particular the rapid increase in refugees, presents one of the most pressing challenges of our day.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR estimates that there are an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world who have been forced from their homes. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

We live a world where nearly 34,000 people a day are forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or persecution. Many more choose to migrate because of poverty, unemployment and the ‘pull’ of better economic prospects elsewhere. The UN estimates that in total there are 244 million migrants globally.

How do BAMers engage? Why should they engage?

While we should certainly have a compassionate response in the name of Christ, we should also recognise that business is uniquely equipped to help refugees and migrants – and that doing so is good for business!

Here are 6 strategic reasons that business can and should make a positive impact on the current refugee crisis – and migration in general. These reasons are chiefly drawn from my own observations, commentary in the mainstream business media and from Joao Mordomo’s excellent paper ‘BAM to, in and through Diaspora’ in Scattered and Gathered: A Global Compendium of Diaspora Missiology. For those wanting to delve deeper into this topic, Joao’s paper is a must-read.

1. BAM companies can be part of the frontline response

While I was in the UK recently we visited Christian friends who have senior roles in the Government department responsible for receiving and integrating the 20,000 Syrian refugees the UK has pledged to home this year. Among many other initiatives, they are putting systems in place that encourage organisations and churches to come alongside the government at a local level to assist refugees. It was heartening to hear from Christians in the political sphere at the frontline in assisting refugees. It was also encouraging that Christian organisations and churches were very much recognised as valued contributors. But how can businesses contribute?

Obviously companies can give financially to humanitarian disasters – and that is exactly what many European companies pledged to do as the Syrian Refugee crisis escalated. Beyond direct giving, companies may also contribute according to their product or service (e.g. housing if you are a guest house, or food distribution if you are a restaurant). Businesses can also give business hours by encouraging their employees to engage in volunteer work. Government schemes, like the one in the UK, can help match the resources businesses can offer with the needs of refugees in a particular local area.

2. Help meet the consumer needs of refugees

Refugee and migrant communities are often underserved as consumers. They have a need for housing, food and essentials for life. This can open up new business opportunities. For example, James was on the ground immediately after the 2004 Asian Tsunami and as a result began a new and much needed business building homes for internally displaced people. His company became a contractor to build homes for groups like Habitat for Humanity, the UN, and the Red Cross. He shared that, “After the Tsunami we built over 3,300 homes and many other buildings. After any disaster there will be many opportunities for BAMers to start companies, for instance, almost any service-type company that would cater to the reconstruction such as laundry services, catering, accounting anything in hardware or construction material, training and education of laborers for any type of construction skill, and so on and on.”

Tent.org was started by a Kurdish entrepreneur Hamdi Ulukaya after seeing firsthand the refugee crisis in the Middle East; it’s stated aim is to be “A platform for corporate leaders to join forces to more effectively leverage the support, ingenuity and dynamism of the World’s businesses to help end the refugee crises.” Tent recently published an article titled How Businesses Can Help Refugees And Why It’s A Good Investment, stating that, “Many [refugees] remain isolated, unserved, and unwanted in their host community… The majority need basic services: housing, food, education, hygiene and medical services. UNHCR and various aid agencies do a laudable job of addressing these needs under very difficult conditions. However, businesses’ clear comparative advantages in product design, manufacturing, logistics and service delivery could improve quality and lower cost. IKEA’s partnership with UNHCR to develop high-quality, easily-assembled shelters for refugees is a great example of a company applying its core capabilities to this challenge. Smaller and local companies also have a role and could use their proximity and local supply chains to more efficiently address the needs of refugee populations.”

3. Creating jobs

The Financial Times quoted Ulukaya in an article entitled The Business Case for Helping Refugees, arguing that business should hire refugees not just for humanitarian reasons, but for reasons of economic self-interest as well, “If a refugee has a job, they are no longer a refugee.”

Indeed, Joao Mordomo in his BAM and Diasporas paper argues that “Job creation (and its resultant wealth creation) is a key component of BAM and meets a primary need of diaspora communities. At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two broad socio-economic groups among migrant communities that relate directly to entrepreneurship and job creation: One group consists of those migrants whose push-pull factors relate to poverty and their desire to escape it. The push motivation is stronger than the pull motivation. They are pushed away from poverty and a context where jobs are scarce, toward opportunity in contexts where jobs are available. The second group consists of migrants who are motivated less by ‘push’ and more by ‘pull.’ In other words, they generally are not considered poor and rather than being driven by something, they are attracted to something. Research indicates that while the motivations of this group are not financial, per se, they are, as in the case of the first group, job-related.” [Emphasis mine].

Mordomo goes on to quote Neal Johnson’s observation that more than merely creating jobs, BAM “will allow people to retain the dignity, self-esteem, healthy pride, and realistic hope that come from being usefully employed and economically self-sufficient [and] this increased purchasing power ignites the economic multiplier effect and spreads the economic benefit to the entire community.”

BAM can also help prevent unhealthy economic migration that breaks up families and entrenches poverty. For example, job creation is a critical felt-need in Nepal, with 40% of the workforce unemployed. Hundreds of the nation’s youth get on airplanes each week in search of work in the Middle East, often with no choice but to work for years at a time in dangerous conditions. For this very reason, BAM companies in Nepal often have job creation as one of their primary goals.

4. Job skills, training and re-training

Alongside creating jobs, businesses are uniquely positioned to utilize skills that migrants or refugees already have, boosting their economic prospects and providing essential re-training as appropriate. It is likely to be cheaper to re-train a refugee who already has skills and experience, compared to training someone from the beginning.

Companies can also provide apprenticeships, internships, language and vocational training programs to enhance job skills and employability among the immigrant population that have less transferable skills. This helps refugees and migrants integrate better and more rapidly into the host society, has an immediate benefit to the local economy and may even have a long-term economic benefit to the home nation of the refugees. An article in The Guardian on why ‘Europe’s refugee crisis is a major opportunity for businesses’ observes that, “Not all of these refugees will remain in Europe permanently. One day, many may return to their homeland. When they do, they will have the skills to help rebuild their societies and economies, as well as provide strong ties to the country where they sought refuge. The importance of this investment in future state building, as well as business relationships, cannot be underestimated. Although the payoff may seem distant, investing in today’s refugees could make all the difference in building tomorrow’s strong, stable trading partners.”

Likewise, Joao Mordomo points out that, “Entrepreneurship is highly encouraged and valued by BAM, and many diaspora people by nature and/or experience are entrepreneurial. It is not difficult to imagine BAM entrepreneurs in host countries creating businesses to employ members of unreached diaspora communities. What is less obvious and, in the long-run, more important, is to recognize that ‘Diaspora entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to recognize opportunities in their countries of origin, to exploit such opportunities as “first movers,” and to contribute to job creation and economic growth’ (Newland and Tanaka, 2010). In other words, Christians reaching out to migrant communities, even when done through BAM initiatives, is only half of the equation. There is tremendous and eternal value and blessing, of course, for the migrants who come to know Christ in their host country, for they likely never would have had that opportunity in their home country. The long-term benefit, however, is in equipping these now Christ-following migrants themselves to bless their home country, peoples and people by employing an entrepreneurial spirit in or on behalf of their home context.”

5. Providing wider benefits to immigrant employees

Creating jobs and skills training already go a long way to help migrants integrate into the host culture. However, there are many other creative ways that BAM companies can benefit their employees, the sky is the limit! Cultural orientation and language lessons, assisting with family needs, sponsoring children’s educational costs, and simply extending the hand of friendship and welcome are just some of the ways that BAM companies can help their employees integrate faster and better.

As well as helping refugees integrate, employee benefits can also to improve the lives of employees where there is a high number of migrant labourers. For example, one agricultural business in the USA realised it could do much to impact the lives of its seasonal migrant workforce. They achieved this by starting to provide year-round employment opportunities, as well as childcare benefits, employee benefits packages and annual profit sharing. Some of the initiatives they have started include: an affordable housing scheme, guidance for families dealing with alcohol abuse and parenting problems, ESL classes, a computer lab, health clinics, daycare for pre-school children, recreation programs and essential services such as a library, laundry and convenience store. All this has been good for business.

6. The opportunity to fulfil Jesus’ mandates to us

Last, but certainly not least, is that Jesus has asked us for a holistic response to people’s needs – spiritual, social, physical and economic – and BAM companies are often uniquely positioned to address this broad range of needs.

Jesus calls us to go into all nations to tell all peoples about his message (Matt.28:19), and certainly the task of reaching the remaining people groups with the gospel is another of the world’s pressing issues.

Jesus also warns us not to neglect the needs of the poor (Matt.25:40-46) and calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt.22:39). In the story of the Good Samaritan, He makes it clear who the neighbours are: the weary traveller, the one who has been battered on the journey, who has lost everything, and the one who is less socially acceptable.

Joao Mordomo advocates the importance reaching the unreached among migrants and diaspora communities pointing out that “42% of the world’s migrants come from historically unreached ethnic groups and/or countries… [and] over half of all international migrants reside in Europe and North America i.e. in countries that are economically developed and historically Christian, and that afford both religious and economic freedom.” Mordomo goes on to say, “It is clear from Scripture and history that God intends to fulfil the Great Commission both through the scattering of his people and the use of business, and the dynamic interaction between the two.”

BAM activities can and should be undertaken to, in and through unreached diaspora communities not only for their sake, but also for the sake of engaging – to borrow from the Lausanne Movement’s motto – the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. – Joao Mordomo, BAM to, in and through Diaspora

Immigration and the movement of refugees means the unreached are making their homes in our communities and the poor are coming to our doorsteps! How will BAM companies both at home and overseas respond as they seek to share the love of Jesus with these people?

Jo Plummer Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website. 



Image credit: UNHCR