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Keynote Address: 36 Million Solutions: Africa Private Sector Forum on Displacement

Speeches and statements

Keynote Address: 36 Million Solutions: Africa Private Sector Forum on Displacement

2 December 2021
Kigali, Rwanda

Your excellencies, distinguished guests, partners, and friends, on behalf of UNHCR, I want to thank you all for an inspiring start to this Forum.

I would, of course, especially like to thank the Government of Rwanda for hosting us here in this beautiful city and for being a welcoming country for refugees.

It is indeed truly an honour to attend this first ever Africa Private Sector Forum on Forced Displacement and it is fitting that it is being held in Rwanda, a country that has been at the forefront in making pledges and actualizing refugee inclusion, self-reliance and solutions.

This Forum has been convened under the banner of “36 Million Solutions” but what do we really mean when we say that?

As most of you already know 36 million represents the number of children, women, and men who have been forced from the homes due to conflict across sub-Saharan Africa. 36 million people who have been deprived of one of our most basic human needs – a place to call home.

Each of these 36 million are individuals, who, like any of us, want to be able to earn a living and support their families, have access to schools for their children and be able to go to the doctor when they are sick.

36 million dreams and aspirations.

The young girl studying to one day become a doctor to find a cure for her own heart condition. The group of friends hoping to build the next big app. A tailor, who dreams of one day starting his own business to train and hire members of his community – refugees and locals. A boy who wants to become the next global football star, and his mother who thinks his confidence would suit him better as a teacher.

Each of these 36 million have their own stories and their own hopes – what they need is a fair shot at pursuing them.

This past week, I met with Jean-Marie. Jean-Marie is an advocate who served as a Refugee Youth Representative. He is also a student at the University of Nairobi studying journalism and media studies – an opportunity made possible with support of a DAFI scholarship. The DAFI scholarship provides young refugees support to study at universities, colleges, and polytechnics in their host countries.

While the scholarship was launched as an initiative with the German government – it is made possible through support from donors and strategic partners across parts of society – from multiple governments to charitable foundations, academic networks, and most pertinently for this Forum – from private sector partners. With only 5 per cent of refugees accessing tertiary education, the DAFI scholarship is a critical resource for refugees.

Jean-Marie is just one of these 36 million individuals – a young person brimming with passion and potential who, when given a fair chance to achieve it, was able to do so.

This forum is a call to intervene, invest, and respond. To pivot from intractable humanitarian crisis to investing in a massive amount of potential in people like Jean-Marie.

36 Million Solutions reimagines this acute force displacement crisis into one of endless opportunities – for action and change.   It is a call for us to respond collectively, to ensure that every person forced to flee their home because of violence, persecution, or conflict on this continent has the support, resources, and tools to fulfil that potential.

We should, can, and must answer that call - together.

But in truth, the result is not strictly to supporting these 36 million. Refugees and displaced people are part of our communities, locally and globally. When I said earlier that we must invest in their potential, the return is not only for them but by extension to host communities and the global community at large.

Take for example again Jean-Marie. In addition to being a student and advocate, he is also the chairperson and partnerships lead of the Youth Voices Community or YVC, a refugee-led organisation founded by DAFI scholars who wanted to support their community – including both refugees and their host community. In addition to other important work, YVC provides education and training for refugee and local youth, including digital skills training, especially for young women and girls. And as the pandemic forced school closures, YVC offered remote learning outlets for both refugee and local students to catch-up and maintain grade-level competencies. That program has already reached over 800 local and refugee students.

Again, Jean-Marie is not a singular case. Refugees are eager and ready to be partners to the communities they live in given the chance – economic partners, social partners, and so on. These 36 million solutions are about providing them a pathway towards maximising their potential to support not only themselves but the communities that have taken them in.

That being said, we know the road to this goal is not easy – the most important things rarely are – something I know many of the leaders in this room know well. But we know it is possible – I know it is possible.

I know it is possible not out of blind faith or naivety but because of what I have seen and what we know.

I have seen the impact that these pathways can have when finally opened. I have seen the unwavering commitment of the people of this continent to lead with open arms. And I have seen the private sector’s part in that.

The first of these is clear in stories like Jean-Marie’s but also in stories of some of you in this very room, who were refugees but found opportunities and pathways to pursue education, employment, social support, are now leaders in your industries.

This is clear – these pathways change lives – not only for those that pursue them but for those in their communities.

We have already seen that African countries and communities have time and time again, been among the first to step up to the plate in protecting refugee and displaced persons.

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention this year, it is important that we remember that it was the Organization of African Unity that adopted the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. This Convention broadened the applicability of the 1951 Convention and in its definition ensured the protection of millions of refugees in Africa.

It was the first of its kind to be initiated at a regional and united scale, thereby reaffirming the power and strength of a Pan-African initiative.

Again, more recently, in 2009, the African Union adopted the AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, better known as the Kampala Convention. The Convention was a breakthrough framework that systematized humanitarian responses for internally displaced people across the continent. It has been signed by more than half of the 55 African Union Member States.

And that compassion and open spirit to help those in need continues in practice to this day. Just two weeks ago, Uganda accepted 11,000 new arrivals in one day, fleeing their villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo seeking safety.

Thankfully most of them were able to return home in the days after, but often refugees remain forcibly displaced for too long.  

African countries have long demonstrated a willingness and resolve to answer the call to the forced displacement crisis – helping their neighbours in times of need, looking for solutions to ensure the protection and care for people forced to flee.  The unwavering support here is matched only by the willingness to lead.

Most recently, in the last few years, UNHCR has embarked on an effort to re-imagine how we work together, including governments and traditional non-governmental organisations and international non-governmental organisations partners, but also academic networks, individuals and activists, and again notably – private sector partners.

And once again, eight of the first countries to step up to lead and pilot this new model were here in Africa - including Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Zambia, and Rwanda.

UNHCR is proud and honoured to be a partner to African Governments and the civil society in our collective efforts to protect and provide solutions for displaced persons.

Four years ago, we launched the LuQuLuQu campaign to celebrate the resilience, courage and determination of people forced to flee. The campaign quickly received the support of many influential supporters from across the region who lend their voices and platforms to this initiative.

It is great to see some of the LuQuLuQu supporters have joined us here at the Forum:

  • 2Baba from Nigeria, representing the West Africa region
  • Nomzamo Mbatha and Leanne Manas from South Africa, representing the Southern Africa region
  • Jackson Biko from Kenya, representing the East African region.

Musician, media personality, actress, writer - representing extraordinary talent and compassion. They all began their journeys to support refugees and displaced persons with a movement referencing the beautiful African philosophy of Ubuntu – I am because we are. And in doing, seek to change the narrative of the African refugee.

We know that the private sector can be a powerful part of this collective action in changing this narrative. The private sector leaders joining us here in this Forum are the disruptors and innovators of their industries – willing to challenge what we have known to create something better.

We cannot meet the challenges we face without you.

A great example of this is the partnership with the Vodafone Foundation, that seeing the challenge to reach more refugee students, in coordination with UNHCR and Vodafone national affiliates in the DRC, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana and Egypt, began the Instant Network Schools programme to train teachers, provide technical support, and coordinate expanded digital learning opportunities for harder-to-reach refugee students.

That programme has already reached over 86,000 students from refugee and host communities, bringing expanded and more immersive curriculum developed by local content creators and additional partners in civil society, the private sector, national Ministries of Education, among others.

This collective approach recognizes that when we work together to help refugees, we provide support to host communities as well.

With Instant Network Schools, digital education platforms through the programme have also been able to support harder to reach students from host communities, especially in schools where national education programmes include refugee students to learn side-by-side with their local peers.

They are now on track to reach ONE MILLION students from refugee and host communities by 2025. One million lives changed through a collective partnership begun by a private sector partner.

I believe that globally, and very importantly here in Africa where we are on the cusp of an important shift in the configuration of corporate and non-profit relationships: One that recognizes Africa's private sector's position at the intersection of shared-value partnerships where both business and society’s needs and objectives are met.

Africa's private sector can be a critical agent of change in the forced displacement crisis on the continent. Through innovative business models, the private sector can champion more sustainable and dignified access to economic opportunities for forcibly displaced persons while at the same time creating value for their own companies.

When the private sector invests in Africa's forcibly displaced communities, you invest in Africa’s future. When forced displaced communities are given the tools and resources to rebuild their lives, they can participate in local economies, contribute to social development, and wealth distribution in their communities.

In the coming days, we will have the opportunity to discuss the most defining issues of our time – the intersection of forced displacement and poverty and inequity. I know those here today are among our best hope to view these challenges as they are challenges. Significant challenges that can be met and can be beaten.

And let me make a clear commitment today before we close on today's proceedings. UNHCR is committed to serving refugee and displaced persons every step of the way.

We are ready and eager to do this with you together.

We should, can, and must.

36 million people deserve our best effort.

The 36 million solutions.