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UNHCR joins hands with top business leaders to help refugees


UNHCR joins hands with top business leaders to help refugees

Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin and Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie have launched a Council of Business Leaders at the World Economic Forum to boost private-sector support for refugees around the world.
28 January 2005
(from left) Samuel A. Di Piazza Jr., Global Chief Executive Officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers; Sadako Ogata, President of Japan International Cooperation Agency; Wendy Chamberlin, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner; and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 28 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has launched a new initiative to rally corporate support and boost private-sector involvement in refugee work at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

On Thursday evening, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie announced the creation of a Council of Business Leaders to some 300 business leaders, opinion shapers and decision makers in Davos, Switzerland.

"The world leaders who are gathered here at Davos - politicians, media leaders and business executives - need to recognise that UNHCR cannot solve refugee problems in isolation," said Chamberlin. "Thankfully, some companies now see that UNHCR is able to empower refugees and returnee communities. When corporations help address the plight of refugees and returnees, they contribute to the development of more stable societies - and more stability is clearly good for business. There's scope for a virtuous circle here."

The Council consists of top executives from five major corporations that are working with UNHCR to improve opportunities for refugees: Merck and Co, Inc., Microsoft, Nestlé, Nike and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Together, they will advise UNHCR on its strategies to best catalyse innovative public-private partnerships, and help the agency find new sources of private-sector funding to complement the funds it receives in voluntary contributions from governments - funds that often cover only basic needs.

"With the involvement of our existing corporate partners, this Council will pave the way for ground-breaking, leading-edge partnerships between the United Nations and private sector corporations," said Chamberlin, who will chair the Council.

Microsoft and UNHCR have worked in partnership for five years, developing solutions to register and reunite refugees, supporting retraining programmes and now providing education through computer learning centres.

Nike and PricewaterhouseCoopers are helping improve refugee girls' access to education. In the first year of a programme that uses sports to boost girls' self-esteem and encourage them to stay in school, 1,000 more children have begun going to class in UNHCR's Dadaab camp in north-eastern Kenya.

Merck has helped UNHCR and the International Council of Nurses introduce Mobile Health Libraries that benefit both local communities and refugee camps in Tanzania. Nestlé is helping UNHCR improve a major water treatment facility and distribution system that is to be handed over to the local community when UNHCR closes its camps in eastern Ethiopia this year.

"UNHCR's Council is the business community's opportunity to place its skills and resources at the service of one of the noblest international institutions," said Samuel di Piazza, the Global Chief Executive Officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The theme for this year's World Economic Forum is "Taking Responsibility for Tough Choices", a theme UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Jolie linked to the desperate people around the world who are close to her heart.

"Refugees don't have the luxury of choice," she said. "They flee to save their lives. They are confronted with the toughest possible decision - to leave behind everything they have and everything they know - because of factors out of their control. It's up to all of us to help them. Right now, so many of them get so little help from so few of us - and that is something we can choose to change. It's not even that tough a choice."

The Goodwill Ambassador has travelled to some 20 countries on missions for UNHCR - meeting with refugees, working with UNHCR field workers and actively advocating the protection of refugee in meetings with national and community leaders.

"Refugees are strong people," she told the audience at Davos. "Give them a little help and support and they will work to secure their future. Refugees are the best partners you could have."